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THE 

ENGLISHMAN AND THE SCANDINAVIAN. 



BAl.LANTYNE, HANSON AND CO. 
EDINBURGH AND LONDON 



THE ENGLISHMAN 



ANl) 



THE SCANDINAVIAN; 



A COMPARISON OF ANGLO-SAXON AND 
OLD NORSE LITERATURE. 



FEEDEEICK METCALFE, M.A. 

FELLOW OF LINCOLN COLLEGE, OXFORD ; 

TRANSLATOR OF "GALLUS" AND " CHARICLES ; " 

AUTHOR OF "the OXONIAN IN ICELAND," ETC. 



LONDON: 

TKUBNER & CO., LUDGATE HILL. 

1880. 

[ AH rights reserved. ] 



HZ 

M56 



PREFACE. 



The germ, or rather an outline sketch, of this volume is 
contained in a tractate, printed by the author for private 
circulation in the autumn of 1876. This caught the 
attention of persons who read it, men and women alike. 
They were interested in the subject, which in this light 
was comparatively new to them. Could not the outline 
be filled in and the essay developed into a book ? What 
they wanted was an exposition of the subject — the cus- 
toms, notions, language, and literature of the two peoples, 
based on the most rigid research, but adapted for a wider 
class of readers than students only — a kind of bird's-eye 
view of the whole matter, but with sufficient depth and 
colour. Dry facts by all means, but so grouped as to catch 
the fancy as well as inform the understanding. The two 
need not clash. The author took the hint, and has striven to 
the best of his ability to meet their wishes. The. result is 
before the reader. When the writer was a boy, the days of 
our forefathers seemed portentously far off, almost more so 
than those of the ancient Greeks. In the study of them, it 
required, so to say, a strong effort in order to place oneself in 
a posture of mind suitable to the occasion : " Um sich ein 



1331279 



vi PREFACE. 

zu denken," as the Germans would say. To take in and 
comprehend the dim and the distant was more of a task 
than a treat. Aforetime and to-day seemed unable to 
shake hands even in metaphor. Our ancestors and our- 
selves appeared to have few points of sympathy or con- 
tact. A master of the ceremonies was wanted to throw 
down the barrier. For want of this missing link, Anglo- 
Saxon times, and things, and thoughts have been voted 
by most Englishmen obsolete and abstruse ; in fact, a bore, 
and out of their line. Might not this indisposition to culti- 
vate an intimacy so natural and improving be in part due 
to the way of introducing the parties ? Was there not too 
much stiffness and formality in the manner in which they 
have been presented ? It seemed as if a few natural easy 
words had to be said by somebody, and they were lacking. 
The writer has, as far as was possible, essayed to do this, 
though he may have failed in the execution. Familiar 
expressions may occur in the work, which might jar on the 
nice ear of fastidious critics. To such he will recount a 
scene he once saw in a court of law. It w^as a suit be- 
tween an author and a publisher. A frivolous and vexa- 
tious witness emphatically condemned the style of a book, 
much to the wonderment of the judge, a Senior Wrangler 
and Chancellor's Medallist. " What's the matter with 
the phrase ? " inquired his Lordship. " I consider it too 
familiar, and beneath the dignity of the historic style." 
" Humph ! that's your opinion ! Now to my mind it is 
good, strong, idiomatic English, such as might well ap- 
pear in a Times leading article." Whereupon counsel 
hurriedly withdrew the hypercritical censor. The jury 
would not allow the judge to sum up, and the author won 



PREFACE. vii 

his suit. " The wOj 3 of the wise are as goads," and what 
the judge said stuck deep in the author's memor}'. He 
has endeavoured to treat the subject in a free, uncon- 
strained, natural manner, avoiding anything like a solemn 
and doctrinaire tone. Instead of taking all things a\h 
serieux, he has ever and anon, as Horace recommends, 
tried to temper the grave with the gay, to enliven the 
subject with illustrations new and old, to point the 
theme with novel applications, and thus to carry off 
agreeably what might otherwise have proved heavy read- 
ing. He has, moreover, abstained — as being beyond the 
aim and object of the book — from all pretence at generali- 
sations and philosophic speculations, about which people, 
desirous of combining entertainment with instruction, 
often don't care one farthing. The Scandinavians are 
very communicative ; they have placed themselves before 
us with great minuteness of detail. Unfortunately, the 
Anglo-Saxons are too reticent concerning themselves, 
their domestic interiors, and the ways and manners of the 
sexes out of doors. In the absence of any Anglo-Saxon Pei- 
thetserus or Euelpides, to show us how citizens of London 
viewed current matters in those days ; of any Gorgo or 
Praxinoe, any wife of a burgher of Eboracum chatting at 
home under the roof-tree while the husbands are away, or 
pushing through the crowd in the streets at a religious 
festival, with the accompanying adventures, full of natu- 
ral humour, — we are compelled to glean scanty traits of 
notions and manners, bits of mosaic, as it were, here and 
there, and thus to impart as much human interest as may 
be to our theme. The author has given prominence to any 
touches of nature, any characteristic incident, which might 



viii PREFACE. 

make their world and our world more akin and acquainted. 
He has tried to interview the two races, the Anglo-Saxon 
and his Scandinavian brother. He has asked the nineteenth- 
century man to turn aside and survey his incunabula; 
to stand by the cradle, so to say, of two great branches of 
the Gothic family when they were just crossing the thresh- 
old of history ; to follow the young hopeful onwards in his 
career through his several ages, to listen to his untutored 
words and language, to take note of his thoughts and feel- 
ings, his ways of looking at things, from the days when 
his writing was runes scratched on wood or stone, to the 
time when he copied beautifully and cunningly on vellum. 
He has shown how the Anglo-Saxon nature was some- 
what dull and devoid of " go," while the Scandinavian was 
just the reverse, far removed from the lotus-eater, and 
not in the least disposed to get behind the north wind for 
shelter. He has exhibited them in the infancy of their 
faith, not so much perhaps stretching out their palms 
to heaven, if haply they might find the true God, as 
dividing their worship and belief indiscriminately between 
the god Thor and their own might and main. Passing 
from their Pagan days to those of their new Christian 
creed, he has shown how it sat on each people, loosely 
or otherwise ; picturing, too, the quaint stopgap, often 
dashed with drollery, that intervened between Paganism 
and Christianity, and the way the missionaries looked on 
the affair — the more pious of the clergy aghast at the 
fatuous jumble, while others winked at it, or perhaps in- 
dulged in the same themselves. The Scop and the Scald 
are here confronted, their social status, their modes of song. 
The Anglo-Saxon, sober and didactic, sedate and subdued, 



PREFACE. ix 

but with a hiiih moral and religious idealism redeemini/ 
the prevailing gloom ; the Icelander with the poetic in- 
stinct vibrating through his whole being ; the one waver- 
ing on the brink of emotion, the other plunging into its 
inmost depths ; submitting often, unfortunately, to the 
restraint of green withes and cords, the strait waistcoat of 
artificial poetic rules, but still a Samson. He has given 
specimens of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Snorri's His- 
tory of the Kings ; the one accurate and precisely kept as a 
ledger, the other a history, if history means recalling the 
dead past and making it speak for itself. He has tried to 
show how much the Anglo-Saxon has revealed to us of his 
family life and individuality, and how much the Scandi- 
navian. Ecclesiastical and legal documents of both races 
have been quoted ; their stores of proverbial wit and wis- 
dom, their vocabulary, without which our knowledge of 
the meaning of our speech is incomplete, have each passed 
in review. 

The last thing we discover in making a book, says Pas- 
cal, is to know what to put at the beginning. Tliis has 
certainly been the present writer's experience. Here were 
two things to be treated of, neither of which need, of 
necessity, precede the other ; except that the Anglo-Saxons 
stand first in history, and their word -hoard is older. 
It was not, liowever, a case of horse and cart, when to 
put theone before the other would be absurd and a solecism. 
The literature and language of the Anglo-Saxon and the 
Scandinavian, as well as the people themselves, nationally 
and individually, was the subject to be discussed, and the 
one branch of it might be taken first, or the other, with 
almost equal propriety and convenience. But there were 



X PREFACE. 

other elements in the decision. Scandinavian literature is 
very attractive in itself, very sparkling, full of verve and 
energy, like the people themselves, and would have made an 
excellent head and front to the book. Anglo-Saxon litera- 
ture, on the other hand, is not so attractive. Good, solid, 
honest work it is, dignified and melodious, but of no great 
brilliancy. The average John Bull, how^ever, would not 
have relished seeing the Scandinavian put first, and him- 
self postponed. He prides himself above all things on being 
an Anglo-Saxon. He vaunts of his pure Saxon speech, 
and delights to vapour about his downright Saxon character. 
80 John Bull comes first. As you might say, " Business 
first, pleasure afterwards." If he will only read the book 
through, he will perhaps be disenchanted of his chauvinis- 
tic illusion that he is Anglo-Saxon pure and simple, and 
nothing if not that. 

The author is not aware of any book of the same cha- 
racter, instituting a comparison between the Anglo-Saxon 
and the Scandinavian. Doubtless it abounds with imper- 
fections and shortcomings, w^hich he must beg the reader 
to be lenient with. The precious ore lay remote or hidden 
deep, and it was no light matter for him both to rough- 
hew and to shape the material to his purpose. 

Tor the rest, his best thanks are due to Professor 
Stubbs, who, in the midst of incessant and engrossing 
work, has most kindly read through the proofs for the 
press. 

Nor must he omit to mention the name of Professor 
C. linger of Christiania, one of the foremost of that band 
of Scandinavian scholars, distinguished alike for patient 
industry and sagacity, pursuing knowledge for its own 



PREFACE. xi 

sake with self-denying simplicity of purpose. To his 
intimacy with that gentleman and Professor Stephens 
of Copenhagen through many years, and the encourage- 
ment they gave him, the author chiefly owes his own 
interest in these studies. 

Last, not least, he must thank his two fair amanuenses 
who wrote out the whole book for the printer. 

Oxford, March iSSo. 



CORRECTIONS AND ADDITIONS. 

Page 32, joT " Ethelred," rtad " Ethelbert." 
,, 112, jor " Skorunger," read " Skorungr." 

,, 121. The identity of the supernatural story of Glamr in Gretti's 
Saga with that of Grendel in "Beowulf" was first suggested 
to the author by Mr. Vigfusson. As it stands in the 
Icelandic tale, it is adventitious, and has nothing to do with 
the real exploits of the hero of it. 

131, omit " on a sudden he." 

1^2, for " unmitigated," rea(i "unmixed." 

185, for "Oswin," read "Oswiu." 

22.6, for "Johnson," read "Johnstone." 

250, for " aitte," read "oitte," 

235, for " Bartholimus," read "Bartholinus." 

258, for " Jon Finsen," read "Fin Jonson." 

267, for "Sigudrifa," 7-ead "Sigdrifa." 

273, for "Grami," read "Grani." 

281, for "Skidbladnir," read " Sleipnir." 

300, /o?' "Drottkvdedi," read " drottkvaeSi. " 

324, for " Eyrlyggia," read " Eyrbyggia." 

327, /or "Eafn," read "Hrafn." 

327, a/icr " survive," insert "long." 

333, add Gunlaug's Saga, ed. O Rygh, Christiania, 1862. 

371. Saga of Thomas a Becket, ed. E. Magnussen, Eolls Series. 



COIfTENTS. 

Part E 

OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 



CHAPTER I. 

THE STUDY OF ANGLO-SAXON REVIVED BY ARCHBISHOP PARKER 
AND SIR H. SPELMAN. 

PAGE 

Archbishop Parker rescues Anglo-Saxon MSS. from destruction — 
Sir Henry Spelman follows him — His corresponrlence with 
Ole Worm, the Danish antiquary — The origin of family names 
in England — The etymology of ' rune ' — Spelman's glossary 
— His death, ....... 1-13 

CHAPTEE II. 

JUNIUS, HICKES, AND SIR ROBERT COTTON HELP ON THE WORK. 

Francis Junius : His industry in the restoration of Anglo-Saxon 
learning — George Hickes : His "Thesaurus" a complete 
palaeography of the Northern tongues — Sir Robert Cotton : 
A great collector of Anglo-Saxon books — The net outcome 
of their labours— The beauty of the Anglo-Saxon tongue — 
The earliest Christians in Britain — King Alfred translates 
Latin books into Anglo-Saxon— His "Orosius"^ — The interest- 
ing original episode therein, ..... 14-26 



xiv CONTENTS. 

CHAPTEE III. 

BEDE : niS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF THE ANGLES. 

PAGE 

Bede : His addiction to Latin — His "Ecclesiastical History of 
the Nation of the Angles " — Its scope — Tlie dates of the 
conversion of tlie different parts of England — Aidan and the 
Northumbrian Church — The Italian Church forgets the in- 
structions of Gregory— The different rules about Easter and 
the tonsure — The speech of the Northumbrian noble — A jiic- 
ture of Paulinus, the apostle of Lincolnshire — King Oswald's 
miracles — Aidan gives his horse to a beggar— The visions of 
Fursey — Purgatory — Wilfrid's theoi-y of mission-work — The 
miracles of John of Beverley — The Yorkshire love of horse- 
racing — Dryhthelm's passion for cold water — Adamnan's 
"Life of Columba," ...... 27-43 

CHAPTER IV. 

BEDE's life of ST. CUTHBERT AND OF THE ABBOTS OF WEAR- 
MOUTH AND JARROW — ST. EDMUND, ST. SWITHIN, ST. NEOT, 
AND ST. GUTHLAC. 

Anglo-Saxon biographies teeming with miracles — Cuthbert : His 
fondness for athletics — He becomes a zealous missionary 
— Some of his presumed miracles may be explained in a natu- 
ral way — His visit to Coldingham — He spends the night up 
to his neck in the sea — He is watched by a monk — A similar 
incident in the life of Columba — Cuthbert at Lindisfarne — 
The refractory Chapter — He retires to Fame Island, but is 
compelled by the King and Archbishop to become Bishop of 
Lindisfarne — Again retires to Fame — He is visited by the 
monks — His austerities bring him to death's door — He dies — 
His name a word of power for centuries in England — His re- 
mains "translated" — "The Grave" — St. Edmund murdered 
by the Danes — St. Swithin — St. Neot spreads the Gospel in 
Cornwall — Asser's " Life of Alfred " — St. Guthlac in the 
Fens — The tale of "Wayland (Weland) Smith localised on the 
banks of the Welland, ...... 44-66 

CHAPTEE V. 

THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM, BONIFACE, AND ALCUIN. 

Aldhelm : He becomes Abbot of Malmesbury— His letter to Gerun- 
tius — The Roman system triumphs— His skill in English 
poetry — Boniface, the apostle of Germany — His correspond- 
ence — Alcuin : Is librarian at York — Enters the service of 
Charlemagne — Head of the monastery at Tours — His corre- 
spondence — Warns the English against the luxury of the age 
— Tithes — He is visited by friends from England— Dies, . 67-84 



CONTENTS. XV 

CHAPTER VI. 

THE LAWS. 

PAOB 

The Anglo-Saxon laws extend from Ethelbert to the Conqueror— 
Bot, or scale of compensation for injuries— By Ina's laws a serf 
forbidden to work on Sunday— Alfred's dooms— The peace of 
Wedmore— The Denalagh— Disunion among the Irish— The 
Codex Aureus— The ordeal— Coiners— The " Parish "—Forest 
laws— The condition of slaves— A bishop's day's work— Lyke- 
wakes— Morals of the clergy— Penitentials— The Wer— Charm 
for barren land — Cuthbert and the crows, . . . 85-106 

CHAPTER YII. 

ANGLO-SAXON CHARTERS. 

Anglo-Saxon Charters a valuable source of information— The names 
of boundaries in grants of land—' Tun ' and ' ham ' — The will 
of Jithelstan the Atheling— Ancient swords— The sign of the 
cross— The business habits of our forefathers— A woman of 
mettle — Swine-feeding — Scene at the sick-bed of Harold 
Harefoot— The will of Leofric, Bishop of Exeter, . . 107-114 

CHAPTER VIII. 

ANGLO-SAXON POETRY BEOWULF, BRUNANBURH, ETC. 

Anglo-Saxon poetry — The epic "Beowulf" of foreign extraction — 
Fine passages in the poem— Mxtiiic_accretion.s in tlie Icelan dic^ 
Saga of Grettir traceable to the "Beowulf" legend— Descrip- 
tion of the Goda-foss— "The Gleeman's Tale"— Odes on the 
battle of Brunanburh and of Saucourt — Norsemen in the 
army of Athelstan — Poem attributed to King Caiivite — "The 
Battle of Maldon "—Earl Byrhtnoth a benefactor to Ely, . 1 15-128 

CHAPTER IX. 

ANGLO-SAXON POETRY CONTINUED — " JUDITH," "ANDREAS," 
" ELBNE," ETC. 

" Judith " conjectured to be by Csedmon — It is a poem of the highest 
merit— The story of Cajdmon — A similar one to be found in 
Iceland— German theory that the " Heliand" and " Caedmon" 
are by the same author disproved— Many transcripts of Eng- 
lish poems made in Germany — Beautiful Irish MSS. — " Elene, 
or the Findiug of the Cross," by Cynewulf—" Dream of the 
Cross " proved from the P>,uthwell Cross to be by Caedmon — 
" Adventures of St. Andrew " conjectured by J. Grimm to be by 
Aldhelm— "The Wanderer"— "The Exile"— The Life of St. 
Guthlac— In " Deor the Scald's Complaint " reference is made to 



CONTENTS. 

PAGE 

the Weland myth— " The Tluin" — Tlie sombre tone of Anglo- 
Saxon poetry — " The Whale" — The Gnomic verses a string of 
proverbial sayings — Murder will out — " The Departed Soul's 
Address to the Body " found in Icelandic — Alliterations — The 
German poem of ''Gudrun" — Was there an Anglo-Saxon 
Edda? — The expedient of the missionaries— Their use of 
mythic words — An old Shetland ditty — " King Waldere's 
Lay," ........ 129-159 



CHAPTER X. 

TjjE aiVTHOLOGY OF GERMANY, SCANDINAVIA, AND ENGLAND 
ALIKE. 

Folklore attests this as well as the allusions in "Beowulf" — The 
Merseburg charm recurs in Scandinavia — Old abjuring formula 
— Aser worship in England proved by the spell against sudden 
stitch, ........ 160-164 



CHAPTER XL 

" cleric's colloquy " ANGLO-SAXON WRITERS SOMEWHAT VAGUE 

AND TAME. 

■'.iElfric's Colloquy" throws light on the home-life of the Anglo- 
Saxons— Hunters and fishermen — Divers trades — The various 
lots of men — The game of Ttefl — Domestic manners of the nuns 
— The Saxon Chronicle disappointing — The origin of " King 
Lear" — Vagueness of Anglo-Saxon writers as compared with 
Scandinavian, ....... 165-175 



CHAPTER XII. 

THE NATIONAL SITUATION IN BRITAIN DURING THE ANGLO-SAXON 

PERIOD. 

The national situation in Britain before and after the departure 
of the Komans — The Saxon Shore — Precipitate retreat of the 
Komans — The Celts fly from the new invaders as one fleeth 
from fire — The sack of Anderida and victory at Mons Badonicus 
— England now seems to disajipear from view — Procopius's 
description of it as the abode of souls — Remains of Roman 
grandeur in the island — Its great fertility — The Roman 
Church succeeds to tlie dominion of the Roman Empire — 
Latin learning overspreads the land to the exclusion of the 
vernacular— The Exeter Codex— National poetry discouraged 
by the clergy — Many of these in Alfred's time could not un- 
derstand the Church service, ..... 176-184 



PAGE 



CONTENTS. 



CHAPTEE XIII. 

PILGRIMAGES FALSE MONASTERIES THE NORTHMEN THEY 

SETTLE DOWN WITH THE ANGLO-SAXONS ANGLO-SAXON IS 

DEBASED, BUT REVIVES AS MODERN ENGLISH. 

The Northumbrian Church submits to Rome— Aidan more beloved 
than Paulinus— Rage for pilgrimages to Rome— Abbot Ceol- 
frid dies on the journey— High-born ladies join the rush— 
Alcuin, Bede, and Boniface are all against the movement- 
Various motives alleged for it— Bede's letter to Archbishop 
Ecgbert on the low state of morals of the clergy as well as 
laity— Boniface holds the like opinion— England, priestridden 
and spiritless, is unable to cope with the Northmen — "Was 
RoUo a Dane or a Norwegian ?— The irruption of the Vikings 
—Their descent upon Lindisfarne— With them piracy was an 
honourable profession— Their passion for foreign travel— Our 
naval heroes descended from them— They infused new blood 
into England— The Saxons and Northmen settle down ami- 
cably—The Norman Conquest— The national speech is de- 
based and again revives, ...••• 185-196 

CHAPTER XIV. 

THE SCANDINAVIANS IN RUSSIA AND THE EAST. 

Nestor's Chronicle— Russ, the name of the Swedish immigrants into 
Russia— They descend the river Dnieper to the Black Sea- 
Mentioned by Arabian authors— Their method of interment 
on board ship— Illustration of this in the museum at Chris- 
tiania— Some of them visit Ingleheim— Their nomenclature 
of the rapids on the Dnieper— Many Arabic coins found in 
Sweden — ' Ruotsi,' the Finnish appellation for Sweden— The 
Varangians from Thule mentioned by Anna Comnena— The 
etymology of ' VarangiaUj' ..... 197-202 

CHAPTER XV. 

A MEDLEY. 

Anglo-Saxon considered philologically and grammatically — Our 
infinitive mood— The sound of ' th '-Anglo-Saxon cumbrous 
case-endings well-nigh abolished — Curious shif tings in the 
meaning of words— Etymologies of words— The name lona 
arose from a blunder— Anglo-Saxon names for the months- 
Alliteration more easy in Anglo-Saxon than in English- 
Bishop Lupus's address— Latimer's " Sermon of the Plough" 
— Alliteration in the confessional, .... 203-212 



CONTENTS. 



ICELANDIC LI TEN A TUNE. 



CHAPTEE I. 

THE REFORMATION IN ICELAND. 

PAGE 

Suppression of the monasteries— Bishop Jon Areson firmly opposes 

the movement — He is beheaded, .... 213-222 

CHAPTER II. 

COLLECTORS AND COPYISTS OF MSS. — ARNE MAGNUSSON. 

Icelandic MSS. rescued from destruction by private enterprise- 
Various copyists— The fire at Copenhagen— The great collec- 
tor, Arne Magnusson — Bishop Percy provokes the study of 
Icelandic literature in England— The poet Gray and the Kev. 
J. Johnstone help the movement, .... 223-228 

CHAPTER III. 

PROSE EDDA AND ITS DISCOVERER, ARNGRIM JONAS. 

The discovery of the Prose Edda due to Arngrim Jonas — His cor- 
respondence with Worm — Who wrote the Edda? — Sir H. 
Spelman sends greetings to Arngrim — Arngrim's death and 
epitaph— Cardinal Mazarin's interest excited in the Edda, . 229-235 

CHAPTER IV. 

THE PROSE EDDA. 

The Gothic deities of the Edda a revelation to Europe— The Viilva 
and the Valkyrs— Snorri's main object in composing the 
Prose Edda to teach the art of poetry to his countrymen — 
The "Shield Lays," 236-239 



CONTENTS. xix 

CHAPTER V. 

THE PROSE EDDA — CONTINUED. 

PAGE 

The plot of " Gylfaginning "—The Aser and Asgaard— King Gylfi in 
the lofty hall— A new tale of creation— Night and day — 
Whence comes the wind? — Odin or All-Father — His son 
Baldr- His death— Loki, the Evil One— The earth-serpent— 
Valhalla— The twilight of the gods— Fenris wolf loose— The 
strand of the dead— Palingenesis— The Ash Yggdrasil— Droll 
tales in the Edda— Thor's adventures— The preface to the 
Prose Edda an absurd jumble, '240-249 

CHAPTER VL 

THE POETIC EDDA. 

Various meanings ascribed to the word— The discovery of the 
Kegius Codex by Bishop Sweinson — The idea that Saemund 
the Learned was the author of the Edda has no solid basis — 
The age of the Eddaic poems— Their preservation by oral 
tradition compared with that of the Veda hymns— The 
Solar Ljod by a Christian author — The diiferent kinds of 
metre used by the Icelandic poets— The contents of the 
Poetic Edda— The " Vtiluspa" resembles the Chaldean legend 
of chaos and creation— The " Grimnismal"— The earth, sea, 
and sky made from the giant Ymir— The apples of immor- 
tality stolen by Loki— Remarkable coincidence between the 
religion of the Edda and other faiths, Pagan as well as 
Christian— The " "Wessobrunner Gebet" — Thor's hammer— A 
catechism font— Odin merges into All-Father — Grisly de- 
scription of Hel— The sacred writings of India— Recent theories 
as to the authorship and the date of the Eddaic poems, . . 250-264 



CHAPTER VIL 

HEROIC EDDA. 

Sigurd, Brynhild, and Gudrun— Brynhild's jealousy and revenge- 
Murder of Sigurd— The suttee of Brynhild— The fierceness of 
the Northern blood— Gudrun deaf to all consolation— At the 
sight of Sigurd's corpse her tears flow- Women true to the 
death — Sigyn and Bergthora — The Anglo-Saxon women 
fair and colourless— The fatal fascination of gold— The 
demon Fafner— The Volsungs— The slaughter of an otter 
considered a great crime— Regin the dwarf — The language 
of birds- The question of the nationality of the tale of 
Sigurd— Points in the story historically true, . . . .26: 



XX CONTENTS. 

CHAPTER VIIL 

OTHER POEMS IN THE EDDA. 

PAGE 

The ballad of Sigrun and Helgi compared to a Danish ballad — The 
god Freyr in love — The origin of 'honeymoon' — The song of 
Thrym humorous and beautiful— The wedding banquet — The 
flaming collar— The holy sign in Scandinavia and the East, . 279-283 

CHAPTEK IX. 

THE MYTHIC WORDS IN " BEOWULF," 

The earth called Eormengrund — Thor's fishing — The Norns — Eager 
or the sea — Ean and her nine daughters — Wayland Smith 
— Volundr's brother, Egil, the prototype of Tell — Alfred's 
mistaken translation of a passage in " Boethius " — Kegn-heard 
— The story of Sigurd immortalised in the Kunic inscription 
on the Gowk Stone —Middan-geard, 284-291 

CHAPTEE X. 

SAGAS OF ICELAND. 

The minute personal details in the Icelandic Sagas — Causes 
of the literary activity of the Icelanders — Literature will 
germinate even in frost — Snorri's " Heimskringla," lost sight 
of for some time, made known by Clausen — Its literary power 
and historic value — Its basis — Thorodd the Icelandic gram- 
marian — Ari Frodi and the " Landnama bok " — His authorities 
for his History — Snorri's statement as to his own authorities 
— Paulus Diaconus and Jornandes— The truthfulness of the 
Greenland Chronicle — The pillar of Forres explained by the 
"Flateybok" — Prose description of battles based on the 
words of the Scalds who were eye-witnesses — The "Biarka- 
mal" : Scaldic circumlocution — Snorri indebted to his genius 
rather than his education — He was deeply versed in poetry — 
His character — The battle of Svoldr and death of Olaf 
Tryggvason — Snorri's predecessors in history-writing — The 
fascination of his descriptions — The murder of Hacon Jarl — 
Snorii rises above the superstition of the age — Eric Bloody-axe 
and Hacon Athelstan's foster-son — Gregory's missionaries 
compared with those of King Olaf, .... 292-307 

CHAPTER XI. 

THANGBEAND, THE MISSIONARY OF ICELAND. 

Thangbrand— His visit to England — Sets about the conversion of 
Norway — His riotous living there displeases the king — Is sent 
to convert Iceland — The first baptisms in the island— Romish 



CONTENTS. xxi 

PAGE 

doctrines gain a footing— Rafn the Red's belief in the efficacy 
of pilgrimage— Thangbrand ridiculed at the parliament — 
Makes short work of his lampooners— He slays a Berserker— 
Primsigna— Hiallti's doggrel on Frey— Olaf Tryggvason in- 
censed against Iceland — The great controversy at the Althing 
— Description of the Law Hill — Thorgeir the Speaker's sage 
compromise— In a few years heathenism discarded, . . 308-315 



CHAPTER XII. 

THE EGIL's saga. 

Egil's family hatred to Harold Fairhair— The contradictions in his 
character — "Wrecked on the English coast— Falls into Eric's 
hands — Composes a "Drapa" under adverse circumstances — 
Poetic use of the natural world in Icelandic poetry as in 
Shakespeare— The victory of Bruuanburh vividly described — 
Portrait of Egil in the presence of King Athelstan — His 
sorrow for his drowned son— His meditated self-destruction 
— "Sonar torrek "—England a mart for the furs of Finmark, 316-323 



CHAPTER XIIL 

OTHER ICELANDIC SAGAS. 

The Northman at home— Visiting his stables— Surrounded by his 
friends at Yule— Horse-fights-Wrestling— Thor and Elli— 
The Saetersdal throw — Ball-play — The poet-blacksmith — 
The women — Gudrun and Kjartau — The awful widow 
— Realistic pictures— Dr. Todd's theory on the composition 
of the Sagas — Irish bombast and alliteration— Sars refers the 
descrii^tive power of the Saga writers partly to Irish culture 
— Importance of family pedigrees in Iceland, . . . 324-332 



CHAPTER XIV. 

THE GUNLAUG'S SAGA. 

Gunlaug betrothed to Helga — One tongue in England, Norway, 
and Denmark — He composes a poem in honour of King 
Ethelred and slays a Berserker — Passes over from London 
to Dublin — Arrives at Upsala, where he quarrels with Hrafn 
the Scald- The Danish gold-diggings— Hrafn in revenge courts 
Helga— Gunlaug again in London — Arrives in Iceland too late 
to prevent Hrafn's marriage with Helga — Holmgang at the 
Althing^Interview with Helga — He is treacherously slain 
by Hrafn — Helga's grief — All these circumstances were fresh 
in the people's memory when the Saga was written — Death of 
Ronald, the Orkney Earl, ..... 333-343 



xxii CONTENTS. 

ClIArTER XV. 

THE SWERRl's SAGA. 

I'AdE 

8weriir broxiglit iip to tlie Cliurch in Faro — Lands in Norway and 
competes for the throne — King John of Enghind his friend — 
His striking qualities — Kesemblance to Cromwell — Carl 
Jonsson, Abbot of Thingore, wrote the Saga at the dicta- 
tion of Swerrir — The accounts of Swerrir by the English 
Chronicles inspired by his enemy, Archbishop Eystein — 
Norway at the time at the feet of Kome — The Pope excommu- 
nicates Swerrir, but he is crowned king notwithstanding — A 
picture of the man and of his rival, King Magnus — Is he justly 
branded as a hypocrite ? — His speeches before the battle of 
Ilevold and at the grave of Jarl Erliiig — His Birkibeins — He 
dies like a king in his high seat — Innocent III.'s jubilation 
thereupon, ....... 344-354 



CHAPTEE XVI. 

THE "king's mirror." 

I'he " King's Mirror " not written by King Swerrir — Graphic account 
of early Arctic discovery — A Norse Lord Chesterfield— Irish 
wonders — The origin of Yorick to be found in this book — The 
Saga of Hacon Haconson — The defeat of Largs due to the ele- 
ments — The Melrose Chronicle errs — King Hacon dies at 
Kirkwall — He is shown by Professor Munch to have been 
fond of literature and the arts of peace — The Faroese Saga — 
Its hero, Sigmuud, receives the fatal ring — He gives off ence to 
King Olaf Tryggvason — He is murdered by Thorgrim the Bad 
— Thrand's and Helga's jumbled creeds, . . . 355-365 



CHAPTER XVII. 

HAROLD HARDRADA AND THE SCALDS. 

Harold Hardrada and his Scalds — His adventures in the East — A 
saga-teller arrives at his court — The king becomes his patron 
— Stump, the son of Cat, recites poems by the score, and is 
taken into the royal household — The Njal Saga — Halgerda's 
thief's eyes— She marries Gunnar against the will of his friends 
— She embroils him with everybody, and is the death of him 
at last — Irish deerhounds — The woof of war— Gray's ver- 
sion of it, . . . . . . . 3^^-3^9 



CONTENTS. xxiii 

CHAPTER XVIII. 

ICELANDIC PROSE LITERATURE OF FOREIGN EXTRACTION. 

PACE 

The saga of Thomas a Becket — "Barlaam and Josaphat," a version 
of the Greek legend of John of Damascus — An Eastern 
parable of life— The high culture of the Norwegian kings— 
The vision of Duggal the Irishman— Purgatory— The story 
of Theophilus, who sold himself to the devil — Diter Bernhard 
— Old Norse version of Gregory's Dialogues, . . . 370-380 



CHAPTER XIX. 

OLD NORSE SCALDS. 

Starkadr— Bragi— Song of Lodbrog— Thiodolf and Hornklofi— " The 
battle of Hafrsfjord" — Harold Fairhair's court — The dirge on 
Eric Bloody-axe — " Hakonarmal " — Death of Hjalmar — Her- 
vor and Angantyr — The best Scalds natives of Iceland, . 381-393 



CHAPTER XX. 

THE LAWS. 

The origin of Greygoose — Ironside and Jonsbook— The various sub- 
jects embraced by the Greygoose— The Gulf Stream— A whale 
ashore— Our word 'law' is of Icelandic origin — The law- 
speaker — Trial by jury : is it derived from Iceland? — Court 
leet and hustings— The status of the Thrall— The " Rigsmal " 
—Few intercede for a slave— Grottisongr— Princess Herborg 
in " Gudrun " — Dead men tell no tales, . . . 394-403 



CHAPTER XXI. 

ICELANDIC CHARTERS, ETC. 

The Archbishopric of Hamburg founded — Icelandic pilgrims at 
Keichenau — The " Liber Vita; " of Durham — Nicholas Break- 
spear — The sale of falcons a monopoly of the Church— Bull of 
Innocent III.— Bishop Thorlak's Penitential- The Bann— 
The founder of Norwich Cathedral and the poachers— The 
witty Archdeacon of Oxford on clerical celibacy— The Viking 
in Rome— Macbeth absolved— The Suet Bishop—" Diploma- 
tarium Norwegicum," ....•• 404-410 



x\iv CONTENTS. 

CHAPTER XXIL 

ICELANDIC WIT COMPARED WITH ANGLO-SAXON. 

PAGE 

Tlie composition of Adam — The " Demaundcs Joyous " — Who wrote 
the poems ridiculing the gods ? — A step from tlie sublime to 
the ridiculous — J. P. llichter's paradox — The slanging dia- 
logue in the Harbard's Lay -^ Odin and Thor's shares in the 
slain, ........ 411-419 



CHAPTER XXIII. 

ICELANDIC WIT CONTINUED. 

Icelandic riddles — Likeness between a Danish ballad and one 
of our Christmas carols — The ballad of the "Four Sisters" — 
" Captain Wedderburn's Courtship"— Features in the ballad of 
" Svend Vonwed " reappear in the " Mabinogion " — Its Eddaic 
source — Trougemundslied — Why the sea is salt^Fenia and 
Menia, the goblin grinders — King Frodi's end — The cause 
of the Swelkie — Hamlet traceable to an Icelandic poem— 
Loki's bet— The pound of flesh — The fate of Kvasir a caution- 
Let every man be wise but not overwise, . . . 420-428 



CHAPTER XXIV. 

ICELANDIC PEOVEEBS. 

Icelandic proverbs and Alfred's proverbs — "The Song of the High 
One" — Its reflections on friendship — A string of wise saws — 
A motto for the Temperance League — Soft words butter no 
parsnips — Legal maxims, ..... 429-434 



CHAPTER XXV. 

ICELANDIC AND DANISH BALLADS. 

Icelandic ballads dispense with alliteration— German poets domi- 
ciled at the Danish court— Theories on the date of the Danish 
ballads — Identity of Scotch ballads and Northern songs — 
The story of Gunhilda, daughter of Canute — Explanations of 
Geyer and Grimm of the likeness between the songs of the 
two countries — Jack and his Beanstalk and the Man in the 
Moon appear in the Edda — The mythology of the Eskimo 
mainly Scandinavian, ...... 43S"439 



CONTENTS. XXV 

CHAPTEE XXVI. 

A MEDLEY. 

PAGE 

English ■words and phrases which are of Scandinavian parentage — 
'Fellow,' whence derived— The Boar's Head at Queen's — Drink- 
ing Sconces— Beefsteak and dreams — The Yorkshire Ridings 
and Filey Brigg — The Calf of Man— Carr and Scroggs— 
Worsaae, the Danish antiquary — Sir Hugh Evans — 'Ran- 
sack ' — Foster-brotherhood, ... . 440-450 



CHAPTER XXVII. 

FURTHER STUDY OF WORDS. 

Rita and Rista— 'Spick and span ' — The etymology of 'fussy ' — To 
count noses — Ale r. beer — Sir John Barleycorn — The language 
of the gods and the language of men— Nightmare — " Alvismal" 
— The etymology of ' lady,' ..... 451-456 



CHAPTER XXVIII. 

RUNES. 

Professor A. Munch thereupon — Their origin still a vexed 
question — Professor Thorsen on Danish Runic monuments — • 
Professor G. Ste]iliens's old Runic fragments — He believes 
runes to be absolutely of Scandinavian, not German origin^ 
Wimmer's theory is opposed to this — Bugge's theory on the 
origin of runes — His explanation of the runes on the Forsa 
church door-ring — English missionaries in Sweden— Helsing 
runes — The legend of the two Jotuns — Thorsen's new book 
on non-monumental runes— The Runic MS. of the Scanian 
law — Runes first mentioned by Venantius Fortunatus — The 
" sealed letters " in Hamlet — Egil's " Coronach " — The Danes 
wi-ote the deeds of their ancestors on the rocks — A priest ship- 
wrecked in Greenland leaves a record of bis sufferings in runes 
— Snorri Sturleson warned by runes — Tree-runes — Bind-runes 
— Love-runes — A Jutland ballad — The Runic book at Holar 
full of black art— Bede's curious story of the captive whom 
no fetters could bind — Alcuin's mention of the heathen phy- 
lacteries worn by the English — Literse Ephesise — Runes in 
ordinary use in Dalecarlia in Ihre's time — Rask's father — 
Three hundred runes on one tombstone — Isaac Taylor's new 
theory on the origin of runes, ..... 457-479 



xxvi CONTENTS. 

CHAPTER XXIX. 

CONCLUSION. 

I'ACK 

The power and range of Old English and of Old Norse — The Scan- 
dinavian pen very versatile — Vast numbers of Anglo-Saxon 
writings may or mny not have perished — The Aureus Codex 
most lilcely written by Irish monks at Bobbio— The Lindis- 
farne Gospels — Much in "Beowulf" has a strong Scandinavian 
tinge— Aldhelm gets a MS. cheap — Picture- words in the Old 
Norse — ' Blue-moor ' for the sea — Many features of our natural 
scenery reappear in Scandinavian — Sweyne's vow — The god 
Thor driving through the air — Our national character partly 
derived from Scandinavia — Rask's verdict on the Icelandic 
tongue, ; . . . . . . . . 480-486 



APPENDIX. 

The fight of Ferdiad and Cuchulaind— A mixture of prose and verse 

like the Old Edda — O'Curry's works on the ancient Irish, . 487-497 

Index, ......... 499 



THE 

ENGLISHMAN AND THE SCANDINAVIAN. 



part L 

OLD ENGLISH LLTERATURE. 



CHAPTER I. 

THE STUDY OF ANGLO-SAXON REVIVED BY ARCHBISHOP 
PARKER AND SIR H. SPELMAN. 

In the days of Queen Elizabeth, about as little was known 
of Anglo-Saxon lore as of the papyrus rolls at Pompeii, or 
the terra- cotta tablets in arrow-head lying dormant under 
the mounds at Mmroud. What our forefathers had 
written was clean forgotten and out of mind. It was a 
happy inspiration which prompted that mighty collector 
of books, Archbishop Matthew Parker (born at Norwich, 
1504, died 1575), to rescue from present oblivion and near 
impending destruction the monuments of our old English 
language and literature which still survived in various 
corners of England. Armed with an order from the Privy 
Council, his hue and cry was pretty successful, 6700 
volumes being, according to Strype,^ collected by one of 
his emissaries, Batman, alone. Never was a law of 
treasure-trove passed to better purpose. It was a measure 
after Sir John Lubbock's own heart. It came, too, in the 

1 n. 497. 



2 OLD ENGLISH LIT ERA TURK. 

Yery nick of time ; for, says Bale,^ " A great number of 
them that purchased the monasteries reserved the books 

of those libraries ; some to serve their , some to scour 

their candlesticks, some to rub their boots; some they sold 
to grocers and soapsellers, and some they sent over sea to 
the bookbinders, not in small numbers, but at times whole 
ships full, to the wondering of foreign nations." Foreign- 
ers, however, need not so greatly wonder, for did not an 
Italian, Polidore Vergil, according to Strype, having got a 
licence from Henry YIII, to search the libraries of Eng- 
land in writing his history, after accomplishing his work 
by the aid of the books he found therein, " pile those same 
books together, and set them all on a light fire"? — a piece 
of insensate Vandalism, which reminds us of that " moun- 
tain heap" into which Archbishop Zumarraga collected 
the picture-written national archives of Mexico before 
reducing them to ashes ; or of the similar auto-da-fi of 
Arabic MSS. which Cardinal Ximenes perpetrated in 
Granada not many years before — symbols forsooth of a 
pestilent superstition, and doomed as such to be extir- 
pated ! To this timely raid of Parker's for the preservation 
of ancient monuments the College of St. Benet's, Cam- 
bridge, owes her priceless collection of 482 manuscripts, 
the bequest of the Archbishop, of which Puller says that 
it contains more materials relating to the history of this 
kingdom, both civil and ecclesiastical, than can be found 
anywhere else. Among the spolia opima thus achieved 
was the MS. which has every title to rank first in the 
list of Saxon Chronicles,^ the curious " Dialogue between 
Solomon and Saturn," ^ and Alfred's " Paraphrase of Gre- 
gory's Pastoral Care." * But besides collecting, Parker at 
once wisely resolved to multiply the scarcest of these old 
books, and kept in his employ a number of skilful penmen 
to copy as well as make good deficiencies. He also re- 

^ Lelaiul's laboryouse journey aiid - Ed. Earle, Oxford, 1865, B. 

serclie for Englandes antiquities, given Thorpe, lloUs Series, 

as a newe years gifte to King Henry ^ J. M. Kemble, London, 1845. 

VIII., enlarged by John Bale. Lou- •* Ed. Sweet, London, 1871. 
don, 1549. 



THE STUDY OF ANGLO-SAXON. 3 

vived the study of Anglo-Saxon (or, as it is the fashion 
nowadays to call it, ' Old English '), by ' putting out ' in 
print several books in that language. He will always be 
remembered for the publication of the first Anglo-Saxon 
book printed in this country — ^Ifric's " Easter Homily" — 
which is chiefly valuable for the light it throws on the 
doctrine of the Eucharist as held by the primitive Church 
of England. Before the doctrine of the real presence 
gained a footing among us, it was customary, as we know 
from Bede's description of the death of Ciedmon (a.d. 
680), to receive the consecrated Eucharist in the hand.^ 
To him also we owe the " Anglo-Saxon Gospels," edited 
by Foxe, not to mention Gildas, and our other earliest 
historians. Of Parker's immense industry there can be 
only one opinion, but his merits as an editor have found 
but scant favour from the keen criticism of modern 
investigators. In spite of his protestation,^ however, that 
he had, according to his invariable practice, not added or 
diminished, interpolations and errors have been clearly 
brought home to him or his copyists.^ 

When the master-mind of Parker was removed by his 
death, another dark time seems to have gathered round 
these studies, and Camden saw reason to fear that " de- 
vouring Time would soon swallow up the study of Anglo- 
Saxon antiquities." After an interval of some years, 

1 Lingard (Anglo-Saxon Church, ii. from St. Albau's to Westminster, 

314) will have it that ^Ifric's Ian- where the manuscript was continued 

guage was borrowed from a foreigner, by other writers ; and from the latttT 

Bertram, and that nothing like it is portionsof it being the work of amonk 

to be found in any Anglo-Saxon writer at "Westminster, the entire work was 

before or since. attributed to one Matthew of that 

^ Preface to Asser's "Alfred," 1574. house, — a mistake which, though de- 

^ It is from Parker, or from Josce- tected by Palgrave and apparently 

line his secretary, that we trace the proved by Madden from the original 

story of one Matthew of Westminster copy of the work which he discovered 

being the author of the " Flores His- in the Chetlmm Library at Manches- 

toriarum," when in fact the existence ter, is perpetuated in Ijohn's edition, 

of such a person is doubtful. Matthew and will no doubt die very hard, if at 

Paris, the monk of St. Alban's, was all. Be it said, however, that Sir J. 

authorbothof the greater History and Hardy very stoutly contested Mad- 

of this abbreviation, the "Plores." den's conclusions, and the question 

This last was continued by another cannot be regarded aa closed, 
hand down to 1265, and then removed 



4 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

however, that learned knight of iSTorfolk, Sir Henry Spel- 
niau (born 1561, died 1641), ste})ped upon the scene, 
destined hereafter to be called by Whelock " heros litera- 
turie A. Saxonicffi." How he found matters he has himself 
left on record : " Paulatim ita exhalavit animam nobile 
illud majorum nostrorum et pervetustum idioma, ut in 
universe, quod sciam, orbe uec unus reperiatur, qui hoc 
scite perfecteque calleat, pauci quidem qui vel literas 
noverint." With no grammar or dictionary to help him, 
he set about the study of Anglo-Saxon ; and subsequently, 
encouraged by Usher, Lord Keeper Williams, Selden, E. 
Cotton, and others, he projected his Glossary. In collect- 
ing materials for this and his other well-known works, 
he entered into correspondence with the learned men of 
Germany and Northern Europe. 

Among these, not the least notable in those days was 
Ole Worm. Born at Aarhus in Jutland, 1588, he studied 
medicine in Germany. Thence proceeding to Italy, he 
frequented the famous anatomical school of Padua, where 
he arrived in 1608, just six years after the great Harvey, 
who most likely conceived there his first idea of the circula- 
tion of the blood, had obtained the degree of M.D. from 
that University. Journeying into Trance, he became the 
personal friend of Isaac Casaubon at Paris,^ which city he 
left on the murder of Henry IV. Subsequently he resided 
for a year and a half in England, and visited Oxford in 
161 1, where, as his panegyrist, Thomas Bartolinus, tells 
us, " Academioe Bibliothecam nulli in orbe secundam vidit 
simul et obstupuit." He does not seem to have ever 
revisited Oxford himself, but his son became a student of 
the University,- where his father's merits were duly re- 
cognised. Antony Wood records that Walter Charlton's 
"Chorea Gigantum, or Stoueheuge Pestered to the Danes" 

1 The acquaintance did not drop, student this year and after in Oxford, 
Worm writes to Arngrim Jonas, 1634, where, obtaining several accomplish- 
" I used to talk familiarly with Ca- ments, he became after his return to 
saubon twenty years ago in England." his own country secretary to the King 

2 " Peter Worm, a Dane, son of the of Denmark." A. AVood, Fasti, ii. 
great antiquary, Olaus Worm, was a 318 (a.d. 1619). 



THE STUDY OF ANGLO-SAXON. 5 

(London, 1663), was due chiefly to a correspondence between 
the author and Worm, " the great antiquary of Denmark." 
After his return to Denmark, Worm was appointed Pro- 
fessor of Medicine at the University of Copenhagen, 1624. 
But he by no means confined his energies to the study 
of medicine and chemistry. As an antiquary,^ his fame 
had become widely spread, and to him Spelman longs to 
turn for help in his Northern studies; but how was he 
to approach him ? An opportunity presently offers. A 
tractate by Worm on an old Danish monument had been 
shown to him by an attach^ of the Danish Embassy in 
London, in which Worm had sought to show that family 
names were in use in the North as early as 290 a.d. The 
knight, in a letter to Palpemon Eosencrantz, the Danish 
ambassador in London, replete with learning, not unmixed 
with a spice of delicate banter, takes exception to this 
statement. Neither in any English historian, nor in 
Gregory of Tours, nor in Paulus Diaconus, has he ever 
met with a family name. " The people of England, whether 
Anglo-Saxons or Anglo-Danes, never used family names 
before the arrival of the Normans ; and in the whole of 
this country, which even now abounds with Danish vils 
and families, I have, after a careful inquiry, failed to dis- 
cover any instance of two names. There is an old story 
extant in support of this. A noble Norman lady refused 
the offer of an Englishman because he had only one name, 
whereupon everybody rushed into the custom of the Nor- 
mans, and assumed a second name from farms, villages, 
towns (which was a habit very prevalent among the 
Normans as well as the French), or from endowments of 
mind or body, or from an office, magistracy, handicraft, 
illustrious deeds, and so forth, and left the same to their 
posterity." He goes on, " De Uteris Eunicis plura cupio : 
unde nomen, quaenam regio, quis populus ? " Pliny talks 

' Modern criticism acknowledges in of the translation into Danish of 

Worm a man of wonderful capacity Snorri's "History of the King," begun 

anil industry. To him belongs the by P. Clausen, who died before it was 

merit of briugiiis out the first edition finished. 



6 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

of the Einnci,^ who, according to modern authors, were 
near the Frisii, the tongue of which people is said to be 
very like the old Gothic. Tlien Tacitus in his " Germany " 
speaks of the ' Sunici,' where some read ' Eunici.' Doubt- 
less all this enigma would be explained in Ole Worm's 
" Literatura Eunica," if he could only get a sight of it.'-^ 
He then gives a copy of a Eunic inscription on the stone 
cross at Beaucaster, also another ancient inscription from 
Cumberland. Would his Excellency the ambassador send 
these to the great Mystagogus, Wormius, of whom he 
hopes to become the friend and correspondent? This 
letter was written from London, xiv. Calend. Maj 1629 
old style, and the correspondence which ensued, and which 
lasted till 1640, is to be found in that delightful volume, 
containing one thousand and thirty-four letters,^ all in 
Latin, written by or addressed to Worm, from many of 
the literary celebrities of Europe, on all sorts of topics : 
medicine, chemistry, physics, runes, Icelandic MSS., 
the site of Thule, whales, narwhales, nephrite (jade), &c. 
Most of them are couched in excellent Latin, though 
perhaps that of the Danish professor in purity of style 
surpasses all the rest of his distinguished and hetero- 
geneous correspondents. His sentences are short, sharp, 
and vigorous, as appears still more fully when we compare 
them with the prolix periods of Cardinal Mazarin's erudite 
librarian Naudteus. Keen, clear- eyed criticism, quite in 
keeping with the searching look of the portrait heading 
the book, is everywhere apparent. While he is learned 

1 Compare Camden's gxiess at the of Fiibolgs = men of the bags, i.e., 

etymology of Britain, viz., from Brith leathern bags, in which the Greeks 

= painted, to which the old Greek had, whilst slaves, made them carry 

rovers added iama (as in Mauretania), burdens of earth. Skene's "Celtic 

i.e., the land of the painted men. Scotland," i. 173. 

Modern Celtic philologers derive the '^ As early as 1561, D. Rogers, Eng- 

word from Breit= cloth; the Britons lisli ambassador at Copenhagen, had 

pluming themselves on being clothed, got a copy of a Runic alphabet from 

not sansculotte savages like their Ibe- the Chancellor Frij's, which doubtless 

rian predecessors in parts of these found its way to Spelman. 

islands, who erected the Megalithic ^ Olai Wormii Epistolse Havnise, 

monuments. These went by the name 1751. 



THE STUDY OF ANGLO-SAXON. 7 

he is never tedious; when brief he never becomes obscure; 
and there is a happy goodhumour manifest throughout, 
which gives a relish to all he says.^ As with the exception 
of one letter by Spelman, which is printed in his Glossary 
under the word ' Pame/ none of this correspondence has 
ever appeared in an English dress, we shall give further 
notices of it. In the following July the Northern anti- 
quary replies to Spelman direct, thanking him for a copy 
of his Glossary (Part L), and begging his acceptance of his 
" Fasti Danici," inviting the knight's candid criticism ; for 
indeed all this is quite new ground, and he has such an 
infinity of other occupations, that it is quite possible errors 
may be found in it. He next defends his assertion of the 
great antiquity of family names in Denmark by citing 
Saxo and others. That family names were not used in 
Eno-land before the Conquest he is ready to admit, but 
one could not argue from thence for a similar absence of 
them in the North. He then proceeds to chaff the knight 
in most elegant Latin on his ignorance of runes — though 
he himself was destined, as we shall see, to be set right by 
him in the next letter, even on the origin of the name — 
winding up with most genuine expressions of delight at 
this commencement of their friendship. 

Spelman having received from Worm a sketch of his 
forthcoming " Literatura Eunica," writes from the Barbican, 
London, nones of May 1630, " when the epidemic (plague) 
was just beginning, whicli may God avert." He excuses 
the apparent temerity of an Englishman in venturing to 
dispute with a Dane on tlie etymology of a Northern word, 
and he does so on the ground tliat " English is quadruply 
allied to the Danish. First, through the old Saxons ; 
secondly, through the Jutes or Goths, who came over with 
the Saxons ; thirdly, through the Danes themselves ; and 

1 One sentence in a letter to Arn- have been a plain speaker when need- 
grim Jonas, referring to some supposed ful : "What would they not attempt, 
spurious inventions by monkish liands to make the legends of their saints 
in a document about Greenland, indi- appear more probable, and to gain 
cates Worm, with all his suavity, to greater credit for their gods ! " 



8 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

fourthly, tlirough the Norwegians, who came with the 
Danes, and afterwards with the ISTormans." He takes 
leave to doubt the correctness of Worm's conjectures as to 
the origin of the word 'rune.' ' Eun'r^' ductus aquarum,' 
and liun=r'mark of the plough,' find no favour with the 
knight ; who in the Anglo-Saxon 'geryne' ^ = 'res occulta 
vel mysterium,' with which he compares to ' roune one in 
the ear ' — an exptession then common in the vernacular — 
had soon ferreted out the true linguistic affinity for ' rune.' 
Eune then was a mysterious and occult character, similar 
to those of the Egyptian priests or the statue of Canopus. 
He moreover shows that Ulfilas, the translator of the 
Scriptures into Gothic, was not the inventor of runes, but 
of the Gothic alphabet, which was likewise, it is true, used 
for a sacred purpose — thus anticipating the dictum of 
Hickes in his Thesaurus. To this letter, dated nones of 
May, which he only got in the succeeding November — let- 
ters for abroad being, in those days, generally confided to 
a private friend, who might be delayed on the journey — 
Worm replies at once in his usual flowing Latin. He at 
once assents, with the best grace imaginable, to Spelman's 
etymology of ' rune.' " Nunquam ejus f ui animi ut mordicus 
meas defenderem opiniones." All he wants is to elicit 
truth. He would write more, but he is prevented " infinitis 
negotiis." This letter, sent by a private hand, does not 
reach Spelman for more than a year. In his hurried reply, 
necessitated by the imminent departure of the messenger, 
and by his own carriage waiting at the door to take him 
into the country, he rejoices that Worm agrees with him 
about the word ' rune.' " What you write is most true, that, 
in antiquarian researches, your tongue and ours may mutu- 

^ ' Heofena rices gerynii," ' The niya- words bnt great mysteries are enclosed 

teries of the kingdom of heaven;' in it.' By an easy transition it came 

Anglo-Saxon, Matt. xiii. ii. Cf. the to signify 'confidant,' 'bosom friend.' 

address in Old High German to the Jarls and courtiers are the king's 

heathens of the eighth century: 'runes,' Prose Edda, 1,458. Wifeisher 

'Fohiu uuort sint : uzan michilu husband's rune, ibid., ii. 612; cf. M. 

garuni dar inne sint pivangen'='Few Casaubon.DeLinguaSaxon , v. 'round. ' 



THE STUDY OF A. \G LOS AX OX. 9 

ally help each other." He has therefore been trying to get 
an old Danish or Latin vocabulary and some works on the 
Danish laws and ancient rites, but hitherto without success. 
A Mr. Hoel, secretary to Lord Leicester, the British 
ambassador to the court of Denmark, had promised to 
convey a whole budget of letters from Spelman to his 
friends living ' prope circulum Arcticum,' but to Spelman's 
considerable chagrin, as he writes to Worm from the Bar- 
bican, February 14, 1634, old style, he had left them at 
Hamburg. "As for the second part of the Archa3ologia 
(Glossary), which theDanish ambassador Eosencrantz drove 
to my house to inquire about, it cleaves to the shelves, a 
prey to the moths and worms, and I have not bestowed so 
much as a thought or an effort on the printing of it. The 
fact is, our printers and booksellers are a bad lot. Through 
their devices the first part, which was printed at my own 
expense, has been a wreck and a failure, as far as I am 
concerned. But for a whole six years I have been called 
away from these studies by the weighty duty his Majesty 
has imposed on me of inquiring into the extortions and 
illegal exactions, both in town and country, committed by 
the magistrates and officials of the kingdom, as well 
ecclesiastical as civil. Meantime I have not forgotten the 
matter, and long to bring out the second part of the work, 
being moved thereunto not a little by the kind letters of 
yourself and many other friends. As you write me you 
can hardly get hold of the copy of the first part which I 
sent you, I herewith send another unbound copy, which 
you must take care not to let slip from your own hands. 
Farewell, and let us both do all diligence to foster our 
friendship." From the above letter we see that the book- 
sellers of the days when Charles the First was king enjoyed 
quite as evil a report among authors as they do now. 
Worm in his reply, written in the autumn of 1634, offers 
a suggestion how Spelman may baffle the common enemy. 
" In Belgium I have no doubt you will meet with more 
willing publishers than in England, where they seem to be 



lo OLD EXuLISH LITERATURE. 

pretty nearly as slow-paced as here in Denmark, and 
fonder of books that are likely to be popular and profitable 
to themselves than of what is rare and useful." This is 
the very reason why his own treatises on Gothic letters 
and liuuic monuments have never yet seen the light. 
Iveferring to the Eunic monuments from the North of 
England mentioned above, he expresses a hope that some 
Selden woulil Itring tlie powers of his mind to bear on 
these matters. In answer to Spelman's inquiry, he informs 
him that no Danish work had ever appeared on the ancient 
rites of the country. Of the laws there were three different 
codes : the Cimbriccc., which are in print ; the Sclandicce, 
which only existed in rare manuscripts ; and the Scanicce} 
which are nearly out of print. He, however, sends him 
his own copy of the last as a present, together with a 
Nomenclator Danicus, or Danish dictionary for the use of 
schools. As for the old tongue (Icelandic), he was not 
aware that any vocabulary of it existed.^ Spelman in his 
reply (5 1(\. Jun. 1635) explains the difference between 
the two methods of purgation of an accused person among 
the Anglo-Saxons, that called Corsned^ (or offa judicialis), 
and that by panis Eucharistica ; and he quotes Canute's 
Ecclesiastical Laws, cap. 5, in proof of his statement. The 
Corsned was one of those curious ordeals once used in this 
land. If one ministering at the altar was accused of crime, 
a slice of barley cake or cheese was given him by a priest. 
If he ate it freely he was considered innocent, but if it 
stuck in his throat he was guilty. In the ordeal by water, 
the accused had no chance of escape, for if he floated he 
was pronounced guilty, and if he sank, innocent. In the 

1 A beautiful Runic MS. of tliese dictionary of Magnus Olafsson, an 

last, six hundred years old in the Icelandic clergyman, who had died 

oiiiuion of Professor G. Thorsen (the twelve years before. It was entitled 

editor), and which formerly belonged " Specimen Lexici Runici ;" and hence 

to O. Worm, has recently (1877) been it was that the word 'Runic' was 

published in facsimile at Copen- applied to ' Icelandic' 
bagen. ^^X^ccoj-Jing ^^ Ettmiiller= 'Curse- 

- In 1650 Worm published in the bite;' Grimm, 'proof-bite.' See 

Runic character the MS. Icelandic Schmidt, Anglo-Saxon Laws, sab voce. 



THE STUDY OF ANGLO-SAXOX. ii 

ordeal by hot iron or hot water, the odds were quite 
acjainst him. This erudite epistle closes witli a pun on his 
friend's name, " Vivat valeat floreat quasi o \aov op^io'i." 

On the 28th October 1636, Worm writes from Copenhagen 
with a copy of his " Literatura Runica," and he begs Spelman 
to tell him candidly if he has committed any blunders, 
which is quite on the cards, as this field of letters is an 
entirely new one.'- Of course the old topic, the appearance 
of the second part of the Glossary, is not overlooked. He 
never ceases to urge, entreat, conjure Spelman, ' per omnium 
musarum sacra,' to bring it out and complete the work. 
" People kept borrowing the first part, and were devouring 
it one after another." And he winds up his appeal with, 
"Cave igitur, vir humanissime, tot vigilatarum noctium 
ta3dio, tot olidarum membranarum foetore, tot priscoruni 
voluminum tricis, ingenium te frustra fatigasse dicat pos- 
teritas." " The King's Chancellor begs me to urge upon 
you the necessity of no further delay. You see how that 
man of lofty intellect, Selden, has been snatched away. 
Who can promise himself the morrow ? " The knight replies 
from his house at the Barbican, July i, 1638, thanking his 
" dearest Ole " for his present. " I am a mere sojourner 
here, quite alone and solitary, as all my family are in the 
country to escape the plague, if God so will. You need 
not mourn for Selden; he is not dead but alive, and, 
as, far as I know, has never been sick. Meanwhile 
I was supposed by everybody to be dead, and was so 
announced by the passing bell; and the same was re- 
ported to the King, who deigned to present me with a 
most splendid testimony of his munificence at this pro- 
vidential escape of mine from the jaws of the grave. 
By God's mercy I have escaped death, it is true, but 
with all my vital faculties shaken almost out of me, 
especially my memory, which, however, I hope wiU never 
fail in regard to you." It is nearly a year, May 1638, 

1 Johan Bure was the first to awaken in the North an interest in runes by 
his "Rune kiiusloues Larospiln,'' Upsala, 1599. 



12 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

before Worm replies. No wonder at the delay. Apart from 
the tardiness of the messenger, — " a learned youth, and 
modest withal, one Ivar Bang," — for the plague has been 
raging in Denmark, and carried off four thousand people, 
and among them his dearest wife,^ overwhelming him with 
grief, and so prostrating his mental vigour that he had 
scarcely been able to attend to his usual occupations. 
" Sed quid agam ? Voluntati Divinoe quis resistat ?" " The 
wound is still so fresh that I cannot touch it without great 
pain ; but He who inflicted it will provide the cure." With 
this letter he sends the knight a very rare MS. of the 
" Leges Cimbricce," and also fifty copies of his " Litera- 
tura " for Pliilemon Stephens, Spelman's bookseller, who 
may send him in exchange any English books likely to be 
of use to him in his studies. The barter, be it said, proved 
exceedingly satisfactory to all, so that Philemon Stephens, 
at all events, was not open to the charge of mercenariness 
which the knight had brought against the London biblio- 
poles. It is refreshing to witness the generous feelings 
Spelman entertained for learning, however far away from 
the great world of London it was to be found. In these 
letters he constantly speaks with admiration of Arngrim 
Jonas, the learned Icelander, and author of that magnuTn 
oj)us the " Crymogsea," which first appeared in Hamburg, 
1610, the difficulty attending its printing in the North 
being insurmountable. Thus to a letter to Worm, 4th 
August 1638, he adds the postscript, " If you meet with 
Arngrim Jonas, the Icelander, greet him from me." Spel- 
man had in this letter subscribed himself " ^ger sed 
cordate tuus;" and now, 23d August 1639, in his last 
letter to his friend, he describes himself as " worn out 
with age, and at the threshold of the tomb." He will 
never live to finish his Glossary, which was half dead, 
half alive ; but meantime he begs Ole to accept his work, 
" The Councils of Great Britain," asking him to criticise 

1 Susanna, daughter of Matthew Janus, Archbishop of Lund, the second 
of his three wives. She died of the [ilague at Roskild, after a premature 
coufinement. 



THE STUDY OF ANGLO-SAXON. 13 

it, and also a Latin and Anglo-Saxon psalter by his sou, 
and subscribes himself " Tuus ex animo." Worm replies 
to Spelman, 27th March 1640, thanking for the Councils, 
a work so near perfection " that not even Momus could 
carp at it ; " but he ventures to make a few valuable notes 
from his own reading. Eeceiving no answer to this letter. 
Worm writes to John Spelman, the knight's son, March 
30, 1641, "fearing his letters had miscarried," or lest 
" parenti humanitus quid contigerit." " If the latter be the 
case, I shall feel most keenly the loss of so great a friend. 
But in any case, pray see that the second part of the 
Glossary comes out speedily." Worm's last surmise was 
correct; the knight died iu this year 1641, and so ended a 
correspondence so creditable to the heart and head of these 
men, who, in their day, achieved so much in the study of 
Northern literature and antiquities. The interest of their 
letters, which have never appeared in this country, must 
be our excuse for any apparent digression we may have 
made from the main object of this part of our work — the 
revival of Anglo-Saxon learning. 

And what was the fate of that wonderful work, the 
Glossary, in the England of that day ? It was offered by 
the author to a publisher for the nominal price of five 
pounds, but refused; and it remained unsold till two 
booksellers (1637) took it off his hands. Within a short 
time of his death, Spelman showed his further interest in 
Anglo-Saxon by founding a chair ^ on the language at 
Cambridge, which was occupied successively by Whelock 
aud Somner (called by Hickes " pater Anglo-Saxonicse 
literaturae "), the one the editor of the Anglo-Saxon ver- 
sion of Bede, 1643, and of the "Anglo-Saxon Laws," 
Cambrid-e, 1644; the other the author of the "Anglo- 
Saxon and Latin and English Dictionary," Oxford, 1669, 
nearly a century after the appearance of Jilfric's Homily. 

1 The funds failing, the chair feU into abeyance, and has only recently 
been revived by the munificence of the late Dr. Boswurth, with Mr. Skeat 
ai> professor. 



( H ) 



CHAPTEE II. 

JUNIUS, HICKES, AND SIR ROBERT COTTON HELP ON 
THE WORK. 

That must be counted a day of good omen for the study 
of Anglo-Saxon and the kindred dialects in this country 
when Francis Junius, born at Heidelberg, 1589, arrived in 
Oxford for the purpose of working in the library. Here 
he discovered (says Grrevius, the writer of his Life) some 
Anglo-Saxon books of great antiquity, upon which he 
began to study that language, which was here greatly 
neglected, and spent much time and labour to obtain a 
true knowledge of it. In all, he was thirty years in Eng- 
land, eight of which he spent at Oxford. The corre- 
spondent of Archbishop Ussher, of Hugo Grotius, of 
Claudius Salmasius, of Gerhard John Voss ; upright in 
character, of engaging and modest manners, full of anec- 
dote and humour, he was clearly a man worth knowing, 
and he was much sought after accordingly. Vandyke's 
portrait of him in the Bodleian shows a capacious head, 
shaded by curly hair, thin face, and most intelligent eyes ; 
one could hardly have imagined that he was capable of 
such superhuman labour. Eising at four, winter and 
summer, he laboured at his manuscripts till one, when he 
dined. At three he again repaired to the Museum,^ work- 
ing till eight, when he supped. He seldom appeared in 
the streets of Oxford, but took his exercise "in area sub- 
divali" (a college cloister), now at a walk, now at a run ; 
and if the weather was bad, '•' per omnes scalas in ccenaculo 
ascendendo valetudinis tuendi causa." Such was the life 

1 The Bodleian was opened in 1604. Macray, Annals of Bodleian. 



JUNIUS AND OTHERS HELP ON THE U'OKK. 15 

of a student in those days. But, as liis biographer explains, 
lie had a formidable task before him ; great darkness pre- 
vailed in the domain which he was exploring. " Loca 
peragrabat avia, et tetra caligine, necnon vepribus et 
dumis horrida." 

True there have been men since who, for hard literary 
work, have surpassed Junius. There was Balsac, who beat 
him daily by two hours. He used to rise at midnight, 
breakfast at eight in fifteen minutes, work till five p.m., 
when he dined, and then to bed, and by this means wrote 
five volumes in forty days. But what a difference in the 
objects which actuated these men ! The one worked from 
a simple love of learning, the other to gratify his taste for 
luxury and display. Lane, the author of the Arabic Dic- 
tionary, who for some years worked from breakfast to mid- 
night, is a fair parallel to Junius. 

After a short stay in his native land, Junius returned to 
Oxford three years before his death, and dwelt in a house 
opposite Lincoln College, to be near his former pupil. Dr. 
Marshall, the rector, whom he helped in his Anglo-Saxon 
works. Here, finding himself much interrupted by the 
visits of his many friends, with no oak perhaps to sport, 
he removed to an obscure house in Beef Lane, where his 
acquaintance could not so easily find him out. Junius 
died at Windsor, at the house of his nephew, Isaac Voss, 
November 29, 1677, and is buried in St. George's Chapel, 
with a monument to his memory erected by the University 
of Oxford. Besides writing a voluminous and learned work, 
" De Pictura Yeterum," he brought out an edition of the 
" Codex Argenteus," the very sight of which costly relic threw 
him into a rapture of delight : he first edited the so-called 
" Caidmon,"^ and wrote a poly glott " Etymologicon Linguae 
Anglicanaj," ^ and a " Dictiouarium Saxonicum," ^ which 
includes Maeso - Gothic words, and Icelandic words in 
Runic characters. In the former of these works he cites 

1 Amsterdam, 1655. 2 Edited by Lye, Oxon., 1743. 

- On this is based Lye's Diet. Sax., London, 1772. 



i6 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

" nobilissimi Spelraanni glo>sarium " with great respect. 
A Irauscript of Alfred's translation of Boetliius' ^ " Consola- 
tions of Philosophy," of the King's translation of Gregory's 
" Pastoral Care," of Caedmon and Orosius, were also among 
his labours. These, with other elaborate compilations, 
written in a beautiful fair hand, ready for the press — a 
miracle of accuracy, considering the scanty appliances of 
those days — together with his transcripts and many origi- 
nal vellum manuscripts, he bequeathed, as is well known, 
to the University of Oxford. But perhaps it is not as 
well known that, according to the statement of a recent 
critic, all our Anglo-Saxon dictionaries, as far as prose is 
concerned, are based on Junius' wonderful work — dic- 
tionary-makers having borrowed from his accumulated 
stores without acknowledgment and without revision. 
" Sic vos non vobis." 

We have mentioned three representative men who 
stand forth pre-eminently as preservers of Old English 
learning from utter extinction. 

But another yet remains to be mentioned, the well- 
known George Hickes (born 1642), servitor of St. John's, 
Fellow of Lincoln, 1664; D.D. 1679, two years after the 
death of Junius: 1683, Dean of Worcester, but deprived 
for refusing allegiance to King William III. It was 
in his impoverishment and seclusion in London that this 
learned scholar collected the materials for his " Thesau- 
rus," a complete palasography of the Northern tongues 
and of the literature of the Gothic tongues, of which 
little was then known. In this work, which is a huge 
storehouse of information to all time,^ Hickes, who was 

1 The single original SIS. of Al- remains to be found here (I. pt. iii. 

freil'a metres of lioethius in the p. 99) is the famous sermon of Eishop 

Cotton Library was burnt up. For- Lupus (alias ArchUishop Wulfstan 

timately .Junius had previously made of York), so valuable as a picture of 

a copy, which is now in the Bodleian, the wretchedness of the times some 

- Tliesaurus Grammatico - Criticus three or four years before Ethelred's 

et Archoeologicus, linguarum vete- death (1016), which the writer of 

rum Septeiitrionulium, Oxon., 1705. the Saxon Chronicle whines over so 

One of the many curious literary piteously ; what with the ravages of 



JUNIUS AND OTHERS HELP ON THE WORK. 17 

a great admirer of Icelandic, gives an annotated edition 
of Eunolph Jonas' Icelandic grammar and glossary, in his 
preface to which he tells Eoger Sheldon, who had been 
questioning him closely — as to what was that mysterious 
Eunic tongue — that the tongue of the old Jutes and 
Angles was the same, or not much different from what 
is called by writers the Danica, Cimbrica, Scandica, 
Eunica lingua, which is, in fact, all one tongue with many 
names ; the last appellation being derived from the fact 
that the ancient inhabitants of the North used to incise 
inscriptions in Eunic letters upon their monuments. 

The " Dissertatio Epistolaris," addressed to his friend 
Bartholomew Shower, on the utility and beauty of the 
ancient Northern tongues, is in itself a mine of learning 
out of which whole treatises have been elaborated.^ 
Last, not least, among the contents of this work is 
Wanley's catalogue of all the Northern manuscripts then 
known in England, which preserves its interest to the 
present day, although many of the manuscripts are burnt 
or lost. Hickes' work, imperfect as -it may be in some 
respects, being written at a time when philology was less 
understood, did much to stimulate inquiry and check the 
progress of popular indifference to these branches of 
learning. Sir E. Cotton also (b, 1570, d. 163 1) for his 
Anglo-Saxon charters alone is entitled to great praise. 
While the bequeathal by Eichard Gough to Oxford 

the heathen and the miserable immo- burn, they drag to their ships; we 

ralifcy and cowardice of the English, give, give." Here was a man who 

and their treacherous treatment of could write like very few Aiiglo- 

their Saxon kith and kin. Anti- Saxons. Bede in his letter to Egbert 

Christ, says the impassioned preacher, had at an earlier period put his finger 

was indeed on earth, and the devU on that plague spot of England, the 

too ! Here also we have notices of accumulating in the hands of monas- 

the slave-trade and its results in teries falsely so called of lands which 

England ; these down-trodden jieople ought to be given to the worthy 

joining the invaders when they had a defenders of the country, 

chance. " But the upshot was this," ^ "As the father of the study of the 

continues the Archbishop, "that by Anglo-Saxon language, as a careful 

God's permission the English now, investigator in old Northern tongues 

for long, are unvictorious, and the and antiquities, Hickes is immortal." 

mariners so strong that often, in fight, — Ersch and Grubefs Encyclopedia, 

one chaseth ten ; they devastate, they 5m6 voce. 

B 



1 8 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

University, 1809, of his valuable library of Old Northern 
literature, worked in the same direction. 

What Spelman had done in the seventeenth century 
for Cambridge, in the foundation of an Anglo-Saxon 
chair, was achieved with more permanent success by 
Dr. Eawlinson in 1755 for the University of Oxford. 
Subsequently the appearance of Grimm's " Deutsche 
Grammatik," ^ and of E. Eask's " Angel Saksisk Sprog- 
laere,"^ set up a new standard of philological criticism, 
which quite eclipsed all previous insular conceptions 
in that department. No time was lost by our modern 
English philologers in making us acquainted with the 
new lights thrown on the Anglo-Saxon language from 
abroad. Of these, Kemble perhaps has done more than 
any other Englishman to make us acquainted with the 
remains of Anglo-Saxon literature and the genius of 
Anglo-Saxon institutions. Next to him Thorpe will always 
be known as the editor of " Beowulf," of " Apollonius," of 
" Cffidmon," ^Ifric's Homilies, of the Ancient Laws of 
England, of the five parallel Chronicles, under the Master 
of the Eolls, &c., &c., and as the translator of Eask's 
Grammar, of Lappenberg's " Anglo-Saxons," and of Pauli's 
" Alfred;" while Wright, Bos worth, and others have helped 
to bring us more abreast of the foreigners. 

But what has been the net outcome of the labours of 
Parker, of H. Spelman, of Junius, of Hickes, not to mention 
Lambarde, and Camden, and Cotton — almost as successful 
a collector of Anglo-Saxon books as Parker, his field of 
operations being the bookstall and the private hands into 
which the MSS. had passed on the plunder of the monas- 
teries — Gibson and others ? They have rescued and made 
intelligible to us the records of our early history. Had it 
not been for Parker and his coadjutors, those fast perishing 
memorials of our island might have perished altogether. 
We know from occasional allusions in later writers that 

1 Grimm, first edition, 1819 ; second edition, 1822. 
- Stockholm, 1817. 



JUXIUS AND OTHERS HELP ON THE WORK. 19 

there were once sources of our history which do not 
now exist. Aldhelm was styled by Alfred the prince of 
native poets, but all his ballads in the vernacular have 
disappeared, while his pedantic Latin effusions have come 
down to us. Henry of Huntingdon's graphic and spirited 
narrations are, with good cause, thought to be owing to 
his intimate acquaintance with the old songs of the 
people. Surely it was the monks as well as the Danes 
who wrought their destruction ; for was it not a main 
charge against Dunstan by the clerical bigots that he 
was fond of pagan poems, " avita3 gentilitatis vanissima 
carmina " ? 

Would that King Alfred had caused those national 
songs about his ancestors to be copied down, w^hich at an 
early age, as Asser tells us, he committed to memory, 
and to which he was never tired of listening ! Infinitely 
more entertaining they than all the lucubrations inter- 
preted by him of Gregory, Orosius, and Boethius ! Had 
there been a man of Parker's advanced intelligence and 
energy living in earlier days, the world would not now 
have to deplore the loss of that precious collection of old 
ballad literature which, according to the reliable tes- 
timony of his secretary, Eginhard, " the man of little 
stature and large mind," the great Frank Emperor caused 
to be collected,^ and which the dotard, Louis the Pious, 
would not even read, but carelessly permitted to perish 
— poems which, while they caught hold of the fancy, 
would doubtless have been rich with domestic and his- 
toric traits of that Teutonic race from which we are 
partly sprung. But this is only a thrice-told tale, an 
experience of many lands, which has made early his- 
tory what the Frenchman called it, nothing but a 
falle convenue. " Would," exclaims Cicero (Brutus, xix.), 
" we had the old ballads of which Cato speaks ! " 
He is here alluding to the statement of Cato the 
Censor that many ages before his time (in the second 

1 Einhardi Vita Caroli Magni, 29. Pertz. 



20 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

Punic War) there were ballads in praise of illustrious 
men, which it was the fashion for the guests at a banquet 
to sing in turn to the sound of the pipe. Pity these 
ballads are gone, which might have thrown so much light 
on modern Eoman excavations ! But then Macaulay's 
lays would never have seen the light. 

Again, the Saxon Chronicles, jejune though they be, 
yet by the very changes in the vernacular as centuries 
went on, and different writers took up the tale, guarantee- 
ing the innate truth and fidelity of the record of passing 
events, — had these humble records perished amid the 
ravages of the Danes, or in the cold shadow of the 
Norman aristocracy, what a history of these isles we 
should have had from a.d. 597, the date of the landing 
of St. Augustine, to 1066, the landing of William ! Tradi- 
tion would have done little for us, for tradition in 
England, with all its stir and turmoil, and in quiet 
Iceland, where even now the natives will recite whole 
Sagas by heart, were two very different things.^ 

Or had the homilies and other religious treatises of 
.iElfric, pronounced by Sweet to be the most perfect 
model extant of pure simple literary English of the be- 
ginning of the eleventh century perished — whether the 
author was Archbishop of York (died 105 i), or of Canter- 
bury (died 1006), or the Abbot of Eynsham, does not 
greatly matter,^ — we should have never seen his beauti- 
ful exposition of the parable of the labourers in the 
vineyard. We should have been indebted to Rome, not 
only for the conversion of Saxon England, for which she 

1 When Professor Keyser was in miracle of Europe. WLataquickener 
Iceland, he listened to an old lady to their memories ! 
reciting "Njala" by the page to- ^ "Homilies," edited by Thorpe; 
gether ; and he verified the accuracy see vol. ii. p. 267, that for Easter 
of her memory by the volume in his Day. He also translated into Anglo- 
hand. See Metcalfe's "Oxonian in Saxon, with abridgments and omis- 
Iceland," p. 185, for a similar case. sioiis,tliePentateuch, Joshua, Judges, 
As Hickes rightly observed some hun- and portions of the books of Kings, 
dred and eighty years ago, " The Esther. Job, Judith, and Maccabees, 
tongue of these people is almost the The Pentateuch has been edited by 
same as of yore." It is the linguistic the late Professor Greiu. 



JUNIUS AND OTHERS HELP ON THE WORK. 21 



has our thanks (without prejudice, however, to the share 
Ireland and Wales may have had in our earlier conver- 
sion and civilisation), but also for a description of what 
our primitive faith was ; to Eome, not as she was in 
Gregory's time, but what she became in later days, when 
the lust of power and wealth and worldly importance 
and the adoration of saints and the bribes of sinners, and 
that sore temptation, the fatuity of the multitude, had so 
altered her that her best friends would not know her 
acrain-i Had Saxon Enc^land known the end from the 
beginning, spiritually begotten though she was of Eome, 
she would have been less effusive and gushing in her 
respect and regard for her parent, less anxious to slip the 
collar on her own neck — the pall, for instance (see Alcuin, 



1 Parts of Britain, inaccessible to 
the Komans, had been evangelised by 
208 A.D. Tertullian is our warrant. 
What happened before that it is dif- 
ficult to say. Was Claudia, men- 
tioned by St. Paul (Tim. ii.), the 
Claudia, wife of Pudens (Mart. iv. 
13), and identical with the beautiful 
English lady of that name (ibid., xi. 
53), whom British tradition calls 
Gladys? If so, there were British 
Christians in Britain in St. Paul's 
time, A.D. 68. Bede expressly tells 
us that King Lucius of Britain sent 
messagers to Pope Eleutherius, A.D. 
156, asking to be admitted to Chris- 
tianity, and that he and his people 
were evangelised accordingly. But this 
story, palmed upon Bede, was clearly 
hatched at Rome, and that after a 
very long incubation — three hundred 
years or more (Haddan & Stubbs' 
"Councils," &c., p. 25). More reli- 
able is Bede's story that on St. Aiig- 
ustine's arrival, A.D. 598, he found 
outside of the walls of Canterbury a 
chapel dedicated to St. Martin, built 
during the Roman occupation. And 
further, his statement that King 
Ethelbert, when converted, permitted 
Augustine and his followers to build 
and repair churches in all places, 



points to an earlier Christianity down 
south (Bede, i. 26). Most likely 
Christian emigrants reached this 
island from Southern Gaul just after 
the fierce persecution in Lyons and 
Vienne, A.D. 177. British bishops — 
Eburius of York, Restitutus of Lon- 
don, and Adelphius, probably of 
Lincoln, i.e., representatives of the 
three chief cities of Romano-Britain 
— were at Aries Synod in 314. So 
much for British Christianity as a 
settled Church during the Roman 
period. Subsequently it seems gradu- 
ally to have succumbed. Its fir.st 
resuscitation in the North seems to 
have been due indirectly to St. Pat- 
rick, born A.D. 393, near Dumbarton, 
in the British principality of Strath- 
clwyd, and the founder of the Irish 
Church about A.D. 430, who drew his 
teaching and ordination from the 
Gallic and not the Roman Church. 
In 563 the monastery of lona, an off- 
shoot from Ireland, was founded by 
St. Columba, more than thirty years 
before the arrival of St. Augustine 
in Britain. From lona Columba 
carried the torch of Christianity 
to Pagan Northumberland (Anglo- 
Saxon Chronicle, 565) ; and an eccle- 
siastical community on the model of 



22 OLD ENGLISH LITERA TURK. 

k.v>. 780), that symbol of suLinission to Eome, which 
she had very much ado to get rid of in after days. 
The Anglo-Saxon version of the four Gospels^ might 
not have come down to us. "VVe do not refer to the two 
Northumbrian glosses — the so-called Lindisfarme and 
Rushworth. Such vivid passages as, e.g. (St. Matt, vii.), 
the parable of the house on the sand and the house on 
the rock would not have challenged our attention and 
admiration. Scarce an Englishman in the sixteenth cen- 
tury had a notion how his simple forefathers voiced their 
w^orship of the Supreme, what a beautiful word they had 
in ' Haelaud,' the Healer, for Him whom we call the 
Saviour ; w^hat concrete force there lay in ' Wuldor,' a 
word connected with the Gothic ' vuljjus,' and with 
' Uller/ the name of the snow-bright winter god of the 
North, which has long since given way to the romance 
' glory.' ' Invit ' = ' inward sense/ may be understood 
by a child, whereas for the English equivalent, ' con- 
science,' he requires a dictionary, and for ' Pharisees,' 
acquaintance with Hebrew, when ' sunder-halga,' i.e,., 
' separated from others by holiness,' bears its meaning on 
its face. ' Patriarch ' may be a very good word, but it 
is mere Greek. Why should it have superseded the 
venerable ' hehfader ' of our early tongue ? What a 

the Celtic Church w.as established at of Mayo, "A great light of know- 

Lindisfarne, whence it passed later ledge has gone out from you to divers 

southward to other parts of England parts of our country.'' 

not under Saxon sway or conforming 1 London, 1571, with dedication to 

to the customs of the Roman Church. Queen Elizabeth by Eoxe, the m.ar- 

In the fifth century St. Perran and tyrologist, under the auspices of 

St. Petroc, both Irishmen, invaded Archbishop Parker. The edition in 

us in the far west, and converted the 4to, by Dr. Marshall, rector of Lin- 

l^eople of Cornwall, so that Ireland coin, Dordrecht, 1665, with Junius' 

or Scotia bore no mean part in the Gothic version. Anglo-Saxon Gos- 

conversiou of Britain. This is further pels, Thorpe, 1842. The Anglo-Saxon 

attested by a MS. at St. Gall, the and Northumbrian versions (Lindis- 

work of Dubduin, an Irishman, which fame and Eushworth), synoptically 

celebrates the praises of those many arranged, begun bj' Kemble in 1858 ; 

Irish saints, " Semina qui vitae Anglo- the last three Gospels by Skeat, 

rum sparsere per agros " (Report on Cambridge University Press ; a tri- 

Rymer's " Foedera," App. A., p. 92). umph of editorial labour and accu- 

So Alcuin writes to monks iu county racy. 



JUNIUS AND OTHERS HELP ON THE WORK. 23 

volume of instruction there lay in a single word, ' dned- 
bot ' = ' deed-boot,' ' amendment of our ways,' which 
modern English obscured into ' repentance,' a term to 
which your average Englishman will be found to attach 
very little practical and active significance. Again, our 
" strain at a gnat " forsakes the meaning of the original 
Greek, which the Anglo-Saxon version, " ge drehniag 
aweg " (ye drain (strain) away the gnat), does not (Matt, 
xxiii. 24). Surely there is something more than senti- 
ment at stake in these matters. 

Had it not been for Parker and others, that interview 
between Abbot Gregory and the fair-haired Angle slave 
boys, which led, when he became Pope, to his sending 
missionaries to their heathen home, would not have been 
told us in the Saxon tongue. 

The great similarity between Anglo-Saxon and English 
ought to encourage beginners in our early tongue. Take 
the passage, St. Luke iii, " And his fan is in his hand," 
&c. Here is the Anglo-Saxon, almost word for word the 
same : " And his fan ys on his handa, and he feormaS (to 
farm = cleanse) his bernes flore, and gaderag his hwaete 
into his berne ; haet ceaf he forbsernS on unacwencedlicum 
fyre." No better witness is wanted to the beauty and 
power of Anglo-Saxon than the fact that Gray's " Elegy," 
the widest known of all our poems, is Saxon throughout, 
in its words, its alliterations, its homely music, and staid 
earnestness. 

But for Parker, the Bodleian Library would not pos- 
sess that Anglo-Saxon version of Gregory's " Dialogues, ' 
attributed by Asser to Werfrith, Bishop of Worcester, 
written at a time apparently when the language was at 
its best, which hitherto has remained unpublished.^ So 
also but for him the " Pastoral Care " of Pope Gregory, 
with its translation by King Alfred, sometimes word for 
word, as he explains in the preface, sometimes the mean- 

' An Icelandic version of these " Heilagra Manna Sogur," C. Unger 
Dialogues has recently appeared in (i. 179), Chriatiania, 1877. 



24 OLD ENGLISH LLTERA TURE. 

ing of a whole sentence given, might never have reached 
us, although this very preface, with the similar one pre- 
lixed to the King's version of Boethius, affords us one of 
our most satisfactory glimpses into the character of our 
great King. Here we have the true Pater Patrice, only 
solicitous for the welfare of his countrymen, and work- 
ing honestly in their behalf, quite content to submit to 
the drudgery of a translator if he can elevate the character 
of the clergy and, through them, of his people. He intends, 
he says, to send a copy of this book to all the bishops in 
his land. And well he might, for " few priests on this 
side the Humber, and not many beyond it, could under- 
stand the ritual in English, or translate a letter from 
Latin into their native tongue." This " Pastoral Care " 
and the translation of Orosius — Bede copied whole 
chapters from it — are the. only works of Alfred preserved 
in contemporary manuscripts.^ The latter book, the work 
of the Spanish presbyter Orosius, the friend of St. Augus- 
tine, Bishop of Hippo, a Latin history of the world on 
Christian principles, was very popular in those days. 
But it is uninteresting enough, its chief feature being the 
way in which the author retorts on those who inveigh 
against Christianity, by showing how much better things 
were now than in the times of heathenism. What gives 
the work an interest not its own is the sudden interpola- 
tion by Alfred, without any preface, of two narratives of 
travel, the one by Ohthere, a native of Haligoland in the 
north of Norway, of a coasting voyage of discovery to the 
White Sea and Biarmaland ; the other up the Baltic, by 
Wulfstan, starting from the old town of Hedaby or 
Sleswig. Tlie two narratives only fill up about five pages, 
but the bit of real life in them — so simple, so pithy, and 
direct, so refreshing after the pompous phraseology and 
artificial reflexions of the Spaniard — is worth infinitely 
more than all his volume put together. The notices of 
the Finmark coast and of the Quains, the account of the 

1 Gregory's "Pastoral Care," by H. Sweet, Introd., p. xxi. 



JUNIUS AND OTHERS HELP ON THE WORK. 25 

curious burial customs of the Esthonians, and of the rise 
in the price of horses in consequence, are quite unique. 
The two navigators throw a light on points of contem- 
porary manners and geography to be found nowhere else. 
Ohthere, the Norwegian, was, if the dates can be properly 
adjusted, very likely one of the great men of Norway, 
driven thence by the tyranny of Harold Harfager after 
the knock-down blow to the freedom of the petty states 
by his signal victory at Hafursfiord. He then became 
attracted to England by the fame of King Alfred, to whose 
court he attached himself as one of his gesiSas or com- 
rades, and who would therefore be Ohthere's Hlaford. 

A distinguished historian has stated that Alfred fore- 
stalled our own age in sending expeditions to explore the 
Northern Ocean. This inference can hardly be made from 
the text of Orosius. Ohthere tells the King that he once 
started up north, partly from motives of curiosity, to find 
out how far the land lay northwards, and partly and 
chiefly for the walruses (hors-hvaelum), which have teeth 
of very costly bone : some of which teeth he brought to 
the King. This / extraordinary voyage,' as it^has been 
called by another writer, sinks into nothing in comparison 
with the Swede Gardar's discovery of Iceland, 860, with 
that of Greenland, 877, and that of America, by North- 
men, centuries before Columbus. 

But we must give the reader a paragraph or two from 
Wulfstan : — 

" There is a custom among the Esthonians, tliat when 
any one is dead he lies in the house unburnt with his 
relations and friends for one month, sometimes two ; 
and the kings and other great men so much longer as 
they have more wealth. Sometimes it is half a year 
that they remain unburnt, and lie aboveground in their 
houses ; and all the while that the corpse is in the house 
it is the fashion to have drinking and sports till the day 
tliey burn it. Then, the same day that they carry it to 
the pile, tliey divide the property that is left, after the 



26 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

driiikiug and the sports, into five or six, sometimes more, 
parts, according to the value of it. Then they lay the 
largest part about a mile from the homestead, then another, 
then a third, until it is all laid within the mile ; and the 
last portion must be nearest to the dwelling where the 
dead man lies. Then shall be assembled all the men who 
liave the swiftest horses in the country to the distance of 
five or six miles from the property. Then they all run 
towards the property ; then comes the man who has the 
swiftest horse to the first and largest portion, and so each 
after other, untU the whole is taken, and he takes the 
least portion who gets that which is nearest the dwelling. 
And then each one rides away with the property and they 
may have it all ; and for this cause swift horses are uncom- 
monly dear. And when all his wealth is thus distributed, 
they carry him out and burn him with his weapons and 
raiment. And chiefly they spend the whole wealth of 
the deceased by the dead man's lying so long in the 
house, and for that they lay on the way that which the 
strangers run to and take." 

All honour to Alfred for the way in which he resolutely 
assays to rehabitate the vernacular. Pity he had nobody 
at his elbow to hint to him that Latin literature had 
something more worth translating than Boethius and 
Orosius. As, however, he frequently inserts matter of 
his own, and himself penned the prefaces to three of his 
translations, we are not left without the means of seeing 
that his style was clear and forcible. The loss of his 
' day-book,' mentioned by Malmesbury, leaves a hiatus, 
vol de dejlendus, in our knowledge of the King and his 
character. 



( 27 ) 



CHAPTEE III. 

BEDE : HIS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF THE ANGLES. 

But before continuing our list of Anglo-Saxon works 
saved to us by Parker, perhaps it will be best to begin at 
the beginning and say something about English writers 
before Alfred, whether they wrote in the vernacular or 
not. Bede of course stands foremost (born 672 or 6"]},, 
died 735). He was one of that bright galaxy of pious, 
learned, and energetic men who, each in their several 
vocations, contributed to make Northumbria during the 
seventh century the famous abode of learning and religion. 
While that other great Northumbrian, the splendid Wil- 
frid, was ever on the move revealing the wonders of 
foreign art in connection with religion, and spreading 
abroad learning and culture, Bede was content to keep at 
his monastic home and move the world with his pen. 
Born in the vicinity of Wearmouth, he entered the 
monastery at the age of seven as chorister, and passed 
thence to the sister foundation at Jarrow, where he 
dwelt all his days hard at work. " It %Vas my constant 
delight either to learn or teach or write " (H. E. A., v. 24). 
But though thus preoccupied, he did not neglect to set a 
good example to the brethren in his conscientious attend- 
ance on public worship. " Bede, our master and your 
patron, used to say, ' I well know angels visit the congre- 
gations of the brethren at canonical hours. What if they 
should not find me there with the rest ? Will they not 
say. Where is Bede ? why comes he not with his brethren 
to the prescribed prayers ? ' " (Alcuin's Epistles, 844). 



28 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

Assisted most likely in his study of Latin and Greek 
by the successors of Theodore and Adrian, he would 
doubtless ransack the many literary treasures brought 
chiefly from liome and stowed away in the twin monas- 
teries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, and the result was 
the ripest scholar of the time. None more illustrious 
in the history of literature and science is to be found in 
the Middle Ages. Anything from his pen was eagerly 
sought for abroad as well as at home. ' Send me that 
tractate of Bede's,' was the constant request of the learned. 
His treatises on chronology and astronomy are more clear, 
comprehensive, and accurate than those of his contem- 
poraries or immediate successors. Skilled in the theory of 
music, he was no trifling mathematician. In fact, had an 
encyclopaedia been started in those days, Bede must have 
written every article. But it is as a divine that he is pre- 
eminent. In the list of thirty-seven works written by 
him which he appends to his History, at least thirty are 
of a theological character. Good use indeed must he 
have made of his opportunities. That he was able to 
construct a history at all is a marvel. It was but the 
other day, so to speak (a.d. 626), that the Ptoman mis- 
sionary Paulinus had effected the renaissance of Chris- 
tianity in Pagan Northumbria, and with his departure 
darkness must have crept again over the land. But must 
we not believe that from the days of the Scot, Columba 
(565), and his mission to the Picts, a protoplasm of cul- 
ture and Christian light had always been alive in the 
North, which further developed after the Scots (634) 
began their episcopal government of Northumberland in 
the person of Aidan. Or rather we know that, long before 
Bede, many English resorted to Ireland for study and 
instruction (H. E., iii. 27). 

He was a light in a dark place ; the lamp of the Church, 
as Boniface said (Monumenta Moguntina, p. 181), when 
she was groping along blindly with uncertain step. A 
signal testimony to his erudition is offered by Iceland, 



BEDE AND HIS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY. 29 

which spoke of him as ' FroSi,' the learned. In the pre- 
face to the " Landnamabok " or history of the colonisation 
of Iceland, Ari FroSi (born 1067, died 1148) states that 
Bed,e, who died more than a hundred years before the 
Northmen set foot in Iceland, talks of it under the name 
of Thule ; and he conjectures that Bede must have got 
his information from the Papte or Irish monks, Culdee 
eremites, who visited Iceland long before the Norwegians, 
and disappeared again, leaving, however, traces of their 
visit in Irish books, bells, and croziers, which were found 
in the north-west of the island.^ 

The solution of the question why so godly a man 
came to be called 'venerable,' and not 'saint,' after 
his death, is given in an Icelandic MS. of the fourteenth 
century. A clerk wished to compose his epitaph, he 
got as far as " Hac sunt in fossa," but could not manage 
to introduce ' sanctus ' into the rest of the hexameter. 
Soon after he visited Bede's tomb, and sure enough 

1 Here tlien we have traces of that is on the Like, whom I seek to hurt, 

Ireland said to have been known as the but in vain. I sought to damage his 

Isle of Saints and of learning as early net, but I was foiled. He never sleeps, 

as the fifth century. From hence is- and is always guarded by the emblem 

sued men like St. Gall, 585, St. Colum- of prayer.' The saint hearing these 

banus, about 612, St. Kilian, 680, St. words, at once crossed himself all 

Fridolin, the patron saint of Glarus, round by way of safeguard, and cried, 

compassing sea and land to spread ' In Christ's name I bid you vanish 

Christianity. Of these men wrote and hurt no one in this place. ' Then 

Alcuin (Ep. p. 714), " In ancient times he at once made for the shore and 

most learned men used to go from told his abbot what he had heard." 

Ireland to Britain, Gaul, and Italy, — Pertz, Moii. Germ. Historica (anno 

to the great profit of the Churches of 610), ii. 7. To the ear of the enthu- 

Christ. '' Lotus here describe an inci- siast at supreme crises of human fate 

dent in their Swiss mission. St. Gall such notes have often sounded. Such 

was once fishing with a net in the was that agonised cry, " Great Pan is 

silence of the night when he heard the dead ! " heard in tlie reign of Tiberias 

spirit from the top of the mountain on that loue isle in the Ionian Sea. 

calling to the spirit of the lake, ' Kise Such that mysterious "Let us depart 

and help me! The strangers have hence!" proceeding from the Holy of 

come and ejected me from my temple.' Holies when Titus was advancing to 

(Saints Gall andColumbauus had been the siege of Jerusalem. So Cuculain, 

breakingthree gilded idols worshipped borne aloft on his fairy chariot, an- 

by the natives. ) ' Come and help me to nounced to weeping Evin the coming 

turn them out of the land.' The spirit of the Christian. 
of the lake answered, 'Lo! oncofthem 



30 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

there was the line complete " Hac sunt in fossa Bedae 
venerabilis ossa." This tale is somewhat varied in the 
Mariusaga, 65 i (Unger, Christiania). It greatly resembles 
a legend in the Flateybok, i. 214, told of a Scald. 

Bede's great work, written by him 731, is the "Ecclesi- 
astical History of the Nation of the Angles : "^ a name which 
he, a native of Anglian JSTorthumbria, and born during the 
predominance of that state, applied to the whole of Eng- 
land. It is derived from original and valuable materials, 
and abounds with facts otherwise unknown, and a number, 
of traditionary anecdotes and bits of verbal information 
from the mouths of different individuals. Such were 
Albinus, Abbot of Canterbury, who sent Nothelm to Eome 
to search the Papal archives for information; Daniel, Bishop 
of the West Saxons, who enlightened him on his part of 
the island ; and the monks of Lastingham, near Whitby 
(iii. 23). Abbot Esi was his authority about the eastern 
counties; while Bishop Cunebert and others of credit 
informed him about Lindsey. Eor Northumbria there was 
no lack of reliable people whom he consulted. All these 
sources he seems to have drawn upon with honest careful- 
ness and impartiality. As for the earliest portion of the 
book, he copies some portions straight from Eutropius, 
Orosius, and Gildas. His history cannot be considered as 
representing the general, much less the political, history of 
the people for whom he wrote.2 But such was the badge 
of the whole tribe of media3val historians ; they were 
always special and local. Secular matters he doubtless was 
acquainted with, but they were not in his line. Moreover, 
Bede's History has another drawback. It is written in 
Latin, which, with no claim to purity and elegance, is 
nevertheless free from the pedantic affectations of Aid- 
helm, the upholder of learning in the South of England. 
Not that he was a mere Latiner. He could quote with 

1 Venerabilis Bedse, Hist. Eccles. "- Hardy, Descriptive Catalogue of 

Gentis Anglorum rcens. J. Steveu- Materials for British History, p. 

son. Londiui, 1838. Moberly, Ox- xiii. 
ford, 1869, 



BEDE AND HIS ECCLESL4STICAL HISTORY. 31 

approbation the laws of Ethelbert, written in Anglo-Saxon 
(H. E., ii. 5). He cited a snatch of an old ballad on the 
death of King Oswald near Oswestry. He turned, as he 
says, the Lord's Prayer and Creed into the vernacular for 
the use of the idiotse, or clergy ignorant of Latin (Epist. 
ad Ecgb., p. 211); and, as we learn from the affecting 
letter of Cuthbert,i in his last moments he sang bits of old 
Saxon religious hymns, " in which literature he was well 
skilled ; " such, for instance, as that one concerning the 
fearful severance of soul and body, which ran thus : — 

" Before his need-faring (death) none can he 
More careful than lie should 
In reflecting ere his exit 
On his soul, whether good or evil 
At his death-day will be doomed." 

This addiction to Latin somewhat denationalised Bede. 
What would Livy's countrymen have thought had his 
History been composed in Greek ? What should we 
Englishmen have deemed of Scott or Macaulay had 
they written in Latin, even though their Latin miglit 
savour, like that of Bede, of the refined influence of 
Virgil ? 

But, putting aside this defect, Bede's work must ever be 
the pride and rejoicing of England, as being a monument 
of literary power when literary power was rare. His last 
work was no doubt a translation in Old Northern English 
of St. John's Gospel, the last verse of which he penned just 
before he died. But surely this is slender ground for the 
assertion made by some, that he tried to render English the 
literary language of England. 

His History does exist, it is true, in an Anglo-Saxon 
dress, the free translation attributed to King Alfred, but 
which could not have seen the light till some century and 

1 When he died, all bis worldly among his friends. Truly an admir- 
goods consisted of pepper, napkins, able character, simple, self-denyiug, 
and incense, which he distributed affectionate. 



32 OLD ENGLISH LITERA TURE. 

a half after Bede's death. Over and above the linguistic 
loss there is another and a real one. The writer in a 
foreign tongue can never give his nicer shades, whether of 
feeling or thought. The native aroma is exhaled and lost. 
For the rest, we may be assured that to the best of his 
ability he employed the materials before him conscien- 
tiously and with fidelity. In proof of this, we may state 
that he wrote a work called " Eetractationes," to correct 
errors in his previous writings. Through Bede only our 
forefathers learned all about their conversion from Eome, 
and the order in point of time in which the various parts of 
England received the gospel ; how Christianity ebbed and 
flowed throughout the country till at last Paganism and the 
British Church were alike overborne by the mighty tide 
setting in from Eome ; how Kent received it first, a.d. 597, 
owing greatly no doubt to the fact that its king, Ethel- 
red, had a Christian wife from over sea ; the East Saxons, 
in 604, apostatising, however, on the death of their king, 
Saberct, and not recovered till 653 ; how ISTorthumbria was 
gained over, 627; how Lincolnshire renounced Paganism 
in 628 at the teaching of PauKnus ; how the AVest Saxons, 
called by Bede " Paganissimi " (iii. 7), were converted, 635, 
by Birinus, who had been consecrated bishop by the Arch- 
bishop of Milan ; how Mercia, which longest resisted the 
Christian teachers, succumbed in 656 ; and Sussex was first 
converted by Bishop "Wilfrid in 681 ; and how the Nor- 
thumbrian Church, which at its first conversion received the 
Eoman use, on the death of Edwin went to pieces, and was 
restored by King Oswald, but upon the Scotch model, like 
many other Eoman Churches in Britain. To aid him in his 
enterprise the King sent for Aidan from lona (H. E., iii. 2), 
where he himself had learned Christianity in his exile. 
Aidan was a bad hand at Saxon, and so, when he preached, 
the King acted as his interpreter, " a very beautiful spec- 
tacle" (iii. 31). Aidan, says Bede, was a man of kindness, 
Xjiety, and moderation. " He was zealous towards God, 
but not fully according to knowledge." In fact, he and 



BEDE AND HIS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY. 33 

his successors at Lindisfarne adhered to the more ancient 
rule about Easter and the tonsure,^ and being now virtually 
the ecclesiastical heads of England north of the Humber, 
the Eoman teaching of course went to the wall. But the 
usa<2;es of lona and Lindisfarne grew out of favour, and the 
memorable synod at Whitby, 664, rehabilitated Eoman 
Christianity as taught by Paulinus. On this occasion, in 
spite of the sturdy arguments of Bishop Colman, the ultra- 
montane Wilfrid triumphed, and his discomfited antago- 
nists retired to lona ; and thus British Christianity was 
squared on the Procrustes bed of Eonie, and the Celtic 
Church, the purer and more self-denying of the two,- sub- 
ordinated to the Apostolic See — a state of subjection which 
was further consummated by the despatch from Eome, 
four years later, of the Greek monk, Theodore, who became 
Archbishop of Canterbury. But much of this was achieved 
by Eome's usual methods. She persecuted all gainsayers 
to the bitter end. Even St. Augustine carried matters 
with too hicrh a hand in his dealings with the British 
Christians. In her zeal for conformity the Italian Church 
forgot the instructions of the great and tolerant Gregory. 
But leaving these and other grand historic features of the 
work to the researches of the student, let us rather cull 

1 Bede, iii. 25. Up to the Council knew nothing of the new - fangled 
of Nice the practice of the British tonsure, which had meantime come 
harmonised with that of the Roman into fashion in Rome. It cLiimed to 
Church. The most ancient Roman be derived from St. Peter, and oc- 
table for Easter tallies precisely with cupied the crown of the head, while 
the British Easter. From the Coun- the Irish or more primitive style of 
oil of Nice up to the middle of the tonsure, said by its adversaries to have 
fifth century, the Britons agree with come from Simon Magus, was marked 
Rome in its gradual divergence from by aline drawn over the forehead from 
that of Alexandria and the East, aris- ear to ear in the form of a large semi- 
ing mainly from the use of different circle, the hair behind being allowed 
lunar cycles. But in 458 the Roman to grow naturally. Columbanus and 
Church changed its rule, and the his followers startled the Continentals 
British Church, owing to its long not a little by his old-fashioned ton- 
isolation, was unaware of the novel sure. He claimed the right to follow 
method of keeping Easter brought the Irish Church in these matters. See 
over by Augustine. Another red rag in Reeves' " Adamnan," Haddan and 
Rome's eyes was the tonsure. Owing Stubbs, i. 152. 
to the same cause, the British Church 



34 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

from it here and there bits likely to interest the general 
reader, premising, however, that the first chapter describes 
England as it was then — its vines and its corn and cattle ; 
the fishes in the sea and in the rivers ; the tin, iron, lead, 
and silver in its mines. To talk of this History and not 
to mention the famous chapter xiii. of the second book, 
would be to give the play of "Hamlet" without the Prince of 
Denmark. It is the account of the conversion of the Pagan 
King Edwin of Northumbria in 627, and the speech of one 
of his notables at the supreme controversy upon the re- 
spective merits of the one true God and His counterfeits, 
where a woman, the King's spouse, Ethelberga, alias Tata, 
daughter of Ethelbert, had, as in the case of the conversion 
of Kent, a good deal to do with the final decision : an old 
story, we see — 

"When love can teach a moiiarcli to "be wise, 
And gospel light first dawned in Boleyn's eyes." 

This speech was clearly that of a man whose mind owed 
its culture, not to book learning, but to the poetic fancies 
of the minstrel; interesting, moreover, as the first recorded 
specimen of British parliamentary eloquence. "Man's 
present life upon earth, when compared with the uncer- 
tain future, is to my mind somehow thus : When you sit 
at supper, King, in winter-time, with the fire blazing in 
the middle of the hall, and all is warm within while rain 
and snow are raging without, in comes a solitary sparrow, 
entering by one door and presently passing out at another. 
While it stays in the hall it is secure from the winter's 
storm, but anon it returns to whence it came and vanishes 
from thy sight. Just so the life of man appears for a 
little while ; but of its past and future we know nought. 
Wherefore, if this new doctrine can give us any more 
certitude about this matter, I vote for its adoption." 
What a true picture ! The poor shivering sparrow — 
sparrows, we see, did frequent men's houses in England 
a thousand years ago, as they did in Palestine goodness 



BEDE AND HIS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY. 35 

knows how long before — rushing, as birds will do in the 
blustering night, towards the light revealed to it by the 
opening of the hall door; forthwith aghast at the blaze 
and the din of the hall, and fluttering hither and thither 
till it finds a place of exit and is seen no more. The com- 
parison of this bird's lot and ours, that is a piece of homely 
poetry which goes straight to its mark. It makes us feel 
we should have liked to have had speech with that man ; 
yes, and we are delighted with an author who could, out 
of his abundant material, select an incident so simple and 
telling to illustrate his narrative. The picture, which 
succeeds, of the Saxon Coifi,^ converted by the preaching 
of Paulinus, and riding lance in rest to the destruction of 
the heathen altar at Goodmanham, will recall to the Ice- 
landic student similar iconoclastic doings in Norway, 
where Christianity, however, found much less favourable 
material to work upon than among the more tractable 
Saxons. The short tale of the conversion of Lincolnshire 
by Paulinus (a.d. 628), told to Bede by Deda, a most vera- 
cious monk of the monastery of Partney, has a special 
interest from the realistic portrait of the great missionary. 
"He used to relate that Paulinus was a man of tall 
stature, somewhat bent, \vith black hair, lank face, a 
curved very thin nose, with a venerable and awful look " 
(H. E., ii. 16). 

And the anecdote of this same King Edwin is no less 
interesting, viz. : — " In his reign so profound a peace 
reigned in Britain that, as the proverb ran, a woman Avith 
a newly-born baby might have gone through the whole 
island on foot without molestation." ^ But, after all, this 
might only have been an echo of the much more ancient 

^ A nickname for c6f (= Is. akafr), ^ " The Lay of Grotti ; or, The 
'bold,' 'strenuous.' Can our slang Mill Song." The contemporary 
'cove' be a descendant of Coifi? Our author of the " AVar of the Gaudhill 
forefathers affected nicknames. The with the Gaill" (cap. Ixxx.), de- 
sons of Saberct, king of East Anglia, scribes the universal peace that pre- 
ciilled their defunct father 'Saba' vailed in Ireland during the reign of 
(H. E. , ii. 5). Others derive it from King Brian Borumha (died 1014) in 
coibhi — helpful. these terms :— " A lone woman might 



36 OLD ENGLISH LITERA TURE. 

mythological tale in Snorri's " Skaldskaparmal," cap. 43, 
of King Frogi's peace, and how it came to an end. King 
FroSi was a powerful king, who is said to have ruled in 
Denmark about the Christian era. In those Saturnian 
days " no man injured another, though he might chance 
to meet his father's or brother's murderer in freedom or in 
fetters. Then there was no thief or robber, so that a gold 
ring long lay untouched on Jalanger heath." Bede tells 
another tale about this king. " So much did he consult 
the convenience of his people, that in many places, for 
the refreshment of travellers, he erected fountains at the 
public cross-ways, near which he suspended brazen cups 
on poles, which nobody, either out of great fear or great 
love of the king, dared to touch except to drink out of " 
(ii. 16). So that we see the public fountain movement 
is not so modern as some people imagine. 

Was a more miraculous cure ever heard of than 
that effected by the mere dust of the spot where the 
young King Oswald of Northumberland fell at Maser- 
field ! — one of the five monarchs slain by the ferocious 
Penda. " It chanced that a horseman, not long after this 
monarch's death, rode by the place, when his horse sud- 
denly made a dead stop, bent its head to the earth, foamed 
at the mouth, and, as its pain became intense, was on the 
point of falling. The rider leaped down, and strewing 
some straw about, began to await the hour when his steed 
would get better or die. The animal in its agonies kept 
rolling about till it came to the spot where that famous 
monarch died, when on a sudden it ceased from its mad 
contortions, . . . rose up at once, and, with all the 
appearance of being perfectly well, began greedily brows- 
ing on the herbage around " (iii. 9), 

" This was merely the offspring of chance," exclaims 
some Judffius Apella. Then listen and be convinced. 

have walked in safety from Torach Glandore, co. Cork), i.e., through 
(i.e., Tory Island, in Donegal) to the wliole length of Ireland, carrying 
Cliodhna (a rock in the harbour of a ring of gold on a horse-rod." 



BEDE AND HIS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY. 37 

How, to wit, the deceased monarch's queen, when once 
staying at Bardney Abbey, now a railway station a few 
miles east of Lincoln, gave to that venerable lady, the 
Abbess Edilhilda, who came to see her, a modicum of the 
dust which had been scraped from the spot where the said 
king's soap-suds used to be cast out of his bed-chamber 
window. The Abbess stored it up in a little box. Not 
long after, a stranger, who had called at her abbey and 
received a good supper, went to bed and was suddenly 
seized with a fit of ' the blue devils,' or rather, as he 
foamed, gnashed his teeth, writhed his body, he gave 
every sign of being possessed by the devil himself. A 
servant immediately ran to arouse the Abbess. Up she 
got, and, accompanied by a single female attendant, went 
to the men's quarter, and called out a presbyter to accom- 
pany them. On reacliing the patient, the priest began 
exorcising with all his might, but his efforts were of no 
avail. What was to be done ? In this strait the Abbess 
bethought herself of the powder, and at once despatched 
a female to fetch the box. With this she entered the 
apartment where the sufferer writhed in agony. Imme- 
diately on her entrance he became silent, sank down his 
head, and composed his limbs to slumber. " Conticuere 
omnes," says the historian, in Virgilian vein, " intentique 
ora tenebant." Those around looked on in silent amaze- 
ment. After about an hour the sufferer sat up, gave a 
great sigh, and in reply to the anxious questionings of the 
bystanders said, " When this lady entered the apartment 
with the box, all the evil spirits left me" (iii. 1 1). 

The tale Bede tells us (iv. 24), in his History of 
Coedmon, how that when the rustics of the North Eiding 
were at the ale-bench, the fiddle (cithara) passed round in 
order, and each one sang his song to its accompaniment, 
surely whets our curiosity to know what the songs were 
about; certainly they were not of a grave cast. Bede 
distinctly says they were sung " Isetitise causa." Perhaps 
songs of Ingald, an epic hero in Beowulf, which the 



38 OLD ENGLISH LIT ERA TURE. 

monks of Lindisfarne used to sing after supper, and were 
reprimanded by Alcuin for so doing (Mon. Ale, 357). 
"William of IMalmesbury mentions these profane songs. 

We may here observe that in the so-called Alfred's 
Anglo-Saxon version of Bede the impromptu verses of 
the heaven-made poet are given in Anglo-Saxon. But 
whether these are the actual words of the cowherd, or a 
metrical paraj)hrase, or retranslation from the Latin text, 
which, Bede himself confesses, gives the sense and not the 
order of the words, is a moot-point.^ Be it remembered 
that the poem of Ceedmon, as it is called, is quite another 
thing centuries after the date of the poet. 

When we read anecdotes like the following, one seems 
to regret that no charity organisation society was at work 
in those days. " King Oswin was tall and handsome, of 
pleasant address and attractive manners, and open-handed 
to rich and poor alike. He gave Aidan the priest a first- 
rate horse, in order that he might cross the rivers, or use 
it wherever there was need, although he was in the habit 
of journeying on foot. Shortly after he encounters a 
beggar who asked for alms. He immediately descended 
from his horse, and made the beggar a present of it, 
royally caparisoned as it was " (iii. 14). The King 
naturally resented this, and took the holy man to task 
for giving to such a person so valuable an animal. 
Certainly in this age such an act would be justly looked 
on as absurd, but the duties of Christianity were in those 
times somewhat misunderstood, to the encouragement, 
doubtless, of much idleness and imposture. But it must 
be remembered that those were days when a man who 
deserted his wife and family and went touring it to Eome 
was thought to be doing a most meritorious act. 

The visions of Fursey, who had arrived in England, ^-i^-i^, 
must have been of a very striking character, for we are 

1 Wanley's Catalogue, p. 287, prints initial lines in the old Northumbrian 
from the margin of a MS. of Bede's dialect. These, therefore, probably 
Latin History of the year 737 the are the ipsissima verba of the poet. 



BEDE AND HIS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY. 39 

told that when narrated by that holy man himself, it 
made an auditor sweat as if it were the dog-days, although 
it was really midwinter, the earth hound with ice, and he 
wearing at the time quite a light suit of clothes (iii. 19). 
An incident of a somewhat ugly look is recorded in one 
of this saint's visions. In company with an angel he 
approached close to a very fierce fire, when the unclean 
spirits immediately pitched at him one of those wdiom 
they were engaged in burning, and who, coming in con- 
tact with him, burnt his shoulder and jaw, leaving a mark 
never to be erased. The guardian angel pitched back the 
man, but not before Fursey recognised him as one who, 
just before he died, made him a present of his cloak. The 
enemy cried out, " Don't repel one whom you formerly 
took charge of. You got this sinner's goods, why not 
partake of his punishment." The angel resolutely stood 
up in defence of Fursey, but said aside to him, " It is all 
your fault ; if you had not received the money of this man, 
who died in his sins, you would not have had a part of 
his punishment"' (iii. 19).^ Fursey here, inadvertently as 
it were, draws back the coverings from a very sore spot in 
Popish history. 

In a book like Bede's, abounding in miracles and visions, 
a circumstantial vision of the abodes of the saved and the 
lost and of purgatory was to be expected ; and such is to 
be found at v. 12, which is written with considerable 
fervour of style and description.- 

Touching the five years' work of Bishop Wilfrid among 
the South Saxons, after his quarrel with King Ecgfrith 
and deposition from the bishopric of Northumbria, Bede 
relates one thing as having paved the way towards the 
conversion of the people of Sussex, a.d. 681, viz., that 
in a time of great scarcity he caused " both their souls 
and bodies to rejoice" by teaching them how to catch fish, 

1 See Tungulus or Duggal in Icelandic Part. 

'^ See " Monumenta Moguntina," an account of similar visions seen by a 
monk of Weulock. 



40 OLD ENGLISH LITERA TURE. 

wliicli abounded in the rivers and on the sea coast of the 
county. Their piscatorial skill extended hitherto only to 
catching eels, but he caused all their eel-nets to be 
collected and cast into the sea for a draught, which was 
most successful, three hundred and three fishes of divers 
kinds being captured, which were distributed in three 
equal portions among the poor, the net-owners, and the 
missionaries (iv. 13). Assuming this alleged ignorance of 
fishing to be a fact, which seems almost incredible, the 
anecdote becomes interesting in these days when the 
question is much disputed whether Christian missions to 
the heathen should be preceded by, accompanied, or 
succeeded by, teaching them the arts of civilisation. Dr, 
Livingstone, in a conversation with the present writer, 
certainly inclined to making trade go hand in hand with 
the teaching of Christianity in Africa, a theory which 
seems suited to our composite requirements, and in con- 
nection with which we may quote the words of a colonial 
bishop : " In the eyes of Pagan savages a display of the 
arts of civilisation almost takes the place of the miracles 
wrought in the days of founding Christianity." The 
anecdote related by Wilfrid's biographer, Eddius, the 
Eipon man, the choir-master of the Northumbrian 
churches, about the wreckers in this same county, who 
assailed the Bishop when his ship was stranded on their 
shore, it being their wont to make slaves of all ship- 
wrecked mariners, and slay them if they resisted, is a 
much more probable affair. Here, too, we see the first 
glimpses of a custom which has only recently been sup- 
pressed in these isles. 

The state of medical science in that age is aptly illus- 
trated by our historian (v. 3). A nun called Qucenburg, 
in a Yorkshire monastery, had been bled in the arm 
(phlebotomata est brachio) ; she had returned to her 
studies, when the arm swelled to such a size that it could 
scarcely be clasped by two hands, and she seemed at the 
point of death. At this juncture John of Beverly, one of 



BEDE AND HIS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY. 41 

the greatest miracle-workers that these isles ever had, 
chanced to arrive. He was told about the unfortunate 
damsel, with the entreaty that he would use his miraculous 
powers in her behalf. Being an adept in medicine, he 
inquired when she was bled, and on the Abbess informing 
him that it was on the fourth of the moon, he blamed her 
severely for her ignorance. " I remember," added he, 
" Archbishop Theodore of blessed memory said that bleed- 
ing at that time was highly dangerous, when both the 
lio-ht of the moon and the flood of the ocean are on 
the increase." ^ It is needless to say that he cured the 
patient at once. 

The following shows that in Yorkshire the passion for 
horse-racing is not of yesterday. Once on a time the said 
Bishop John was riding, attended by his chaplain, Here- 
bald, afterwards Abbot of Tynemouth, and other youths, 
chiefly of the laity, when they came upon a flat piece of 
turf. " Would your reverence allow us to have a gallop?" 
was their submissive request. " Yes, if you wish," was 
the reluctant reply ; " all of you except Herebald ; he must 
stay beside me." But as the steeds thundered by, it was 
too much for the chaplain, " lascivo superatus animo non 
me potui cohibere," as he expressed it in after years. Un- 
fortunately when in full career his horse put his foot on 
a loose stone covered with grass, and fell with his rider, 
who broke his thumb and the suture of his cranium, and 
vomited blood. But what of that ? John passed the 
night in prayer, applied his hand to the wound, and finally 
spat in the patient's face, a method of treatment which 
enabled him to mount his horse the next day (H. E., v. 6). 
But John's powers by no means ceased with his death, for 
is it not recorded by Folcard, his biographer, that a French 
fratricide, who wore for penance, like Pascal in later times, 
an iron girdle, once arrived at Beverly, and on entering 
the minster crack went the girdle ; nay, the author was 
present and heard the report (11 70-1 180). 

^ See Eede's curious tractate, " De PLlebotomia." 



42 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

Some readers may be interested in the following: — 
" Drylithelm^ the monk had a cell just over the river 
Tweed. Into this he used constantly to descend, and 
stand fixed like a statue, with the water sometimes up to 
his loins, sometimes his neck. After the bath he never 
changed his wet dress, but let it dry on his body. On 
one occasion, when the river was frozen, he broke the ice 
and plunged into the water. ' I wonder, brother,' said the 
bystanders, ' how you can possibly endure such cold/ 
Dryhthelm replied, for he was a man of a quiet and 
simple turn, ' I have known it colder.' And when they 
said, ' It is quite extraordinary that you lead so austere a 
life,' he rejoined, 'I have seen austerer'" (v. 12). The 
old " Cyclolytes " Club doubtless had a fancy portrait of 
this bather in all weathers suspended in their room of 
meeting. 

But we must turn to graver matters. As we have seen 
above, the true time of calculating Easter was in the 
early days of Roman Christianity a moot-point discussed 
with great heat between the Scottish (Irish) Church, 
which held one rule, and the Church of Rome, which held 
another. It is not a little interesting, then, to be informed 
by the author (v, 15) how the Irishman Adamnan, Abbot 
of lona, and author of the " Life of St. Columba," after 
a long residence in the kingdom of Northumbria, sailed 
to his native country, and converted the people to the 
Roman rule, A.D. 703. It was this same monk that wrote 
the work on the geography of the East from the descrip- 
tion, by word of mouth and on waxen tablets, of the 
Erankish bishop, Arculphus, who, on his return from 
Palestine at the end of the seventh century, had been 
wrecked on the western shores of Britain (ibid.). "What 
makes Arculph's narrative about the holy places especi- 
ally interesting is the picture of Bethlehem, Golgotha, &c., 
as they were less than seven centuries after the year of 
redemption. This work of Adamnan probably, together 

^ Corrupted in Anglo-Saxon Chron., 693, into Brihthelm. 



BEDE AND HIS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY. 43 

■with the Later Vikings' expeditions eastward, helped to 
pave the way for those Eastern pilgrimages which eventu- 
ated centuries after in the Crusades, one of the mightiest 
factors in the work of European civilisation. 

Enough has been said to show what Bede's famous His- 
tory is like. It was meet that, though written in a foreign 
tongue, this national book should be noticed thus at length; 
for, in fact, with the exception of that remarkable work, 
our " Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," and of Ethelweard's Latin 
" History of the Anglo-Saxons," ^ which closes with the 
last year of Eadgar's reign, 975, with a few Latin monastic 
chronicles — e.g., those of Ely, Eamsey, and the " Historia 
de Dunelmensi Ecclesia," 635-1096, attributed to Simeon 
of Durham, much of which comes from Bede — it is all that 
is left to us of regular history.^ 

1 Printed in Saville,"Scriptore.s post Church of York," vol. i.) to be "an 

Bedam." London, 1596. The original invaluable and almost unknown evi- 

MS. burnt with the Cotton Library. dence for the reigns of Edgar and 

- Add to these an anonymous Latin Ethelred." Eddi's " Life of Wilfrid ;"' 

"Life of Oswald, Archbishop of two Lives of Dunstan, edited by 

York," pronounced by Professor Stubbs ; and Abbo's " Life of St, Ed- 

Stubbs (see Raines' "History of the mund " (see next chapter). 



( 44 ) 



CHArTEE IV. 

BEDES LIFE OF ST. CUTHBERT AND OF THE ABBOTS 
OF WEARMOUTH AND J ARROW — ST. EDMUND, ST. 
S WITHIN, ST. NEOT, AND ST. GUTHLAC. 

But there is anotlier source of information upon Anglo- 
Saxon times which in no little degree fills up what regular 
history fails to supply — we mean biographies, chiefly of 
saints. Sometimes they are the only source whence in- 
formation upon points of much moment can be derived. 
Not only are these interesting in a historical point of view, 
but they also abound with much curious information of 
another sort. In them we find descriptions of character 
for which we search in vain in the more dignified pages of 
the professed historian. lieferences are made here to the 
manners and customs, the dress, amusements, and super- 
stitions, the agriculture and political economy, the arts 
and sciences, the society and the literature of our ances- 
tors; and it may be affirmed that there is scarcely a legend, 
how^ever absurd, from which some information may not be 
gleaned. 

But although these biographies form so important a link 
in the chain connecting the past w^ith the present, they 
abound in dross which must be separated from the true 
ore. For, be it remembered, these Middle -Age writers 
moved in fetters. Superstition held them in its iron grip. 
In the simplest concerns of life, where we look for natural 
causes to explain events, they dragged in the supernatural, 
and thought it impious to do otherwise. A murrain or a 
famine, with the Anglo-Saxon, was a direct judgment of 



BEDES LIFE OF ST. CUTHBERT. 45 

Heaven ; while with the modern it would be referred, like 
commercial distress, to spots in the sun or some other 
physical phenomena. The author of " Midsummer Night's 
Dream " did not, like Bede, profess to be writing history 
when he ascribed the plague of waters to a quarrel between 
the wayw^ard rulers of the fairy world. Still it is often 
hard to say whether the inditers of these Anglo-Saxon 
lives of saints meant what they wrote to be understood 
symbolically or as matters of fact, or as sober certainties 
veiled under poetic imaginings, after the fashion of the 
" Pilgrim's Progress." The whole matter, perhaps, was 
regulated by the law of supply and demand. Eooted in 
Paganism, the craving for miracles was fed by the Chris- 
tian priests, and grew by what it fed on. In their zeal for 
spreading the gospel, they poured the new wine into old 
vessels, and it savoured perilously of the cask. 

Bede's great work abounds, as we have seen, with notices 
of the lives of holy men. But he also wrote regular bio- 
graphies — e.g., that of St. Cuthbert — both in prose and 
verse. Both of these have been preserved. Before having 
it transcribed, he sent it to Lindisfarne to be overhauled 
by the brethren and the mistakes amended ; so that we 
have here a veritable narrative of the saint's life. Eesolved 
to bid adieu to the world, the soldier of the cross betook 
himself to Melrose, and became a monk there under the 
virtuous Abbot Boisil. Later he joined the community at 
Eipon, from which place he and his companions were 
eliminated to make way for Wilfrid and his friends, who 
adhered to Eome in the great question of the day as to 
how to compute Easter. On Boisil's death Cuthbert suc- 
ceeded him at Melrose, from whence, after an abode of 
many years, he was transferred to Lindisfarne as prior. 
When he had passed some years as the active head of this 
church, he resolved to seek the devil-haunted seclusion of 
the barren rock at Fame. Here he hoped to go on from 
strength to strength, and so to gain nearer glimpses of the 
Deity. But he was not permitted to rest in his retreat ; 
for in 684 a synod, presided over by Archbishop Theo- 



46 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

(lore, and at which King Ecgfrid was present, elected him 
unanimously Bishop of Lindisfarne. It was in vain he 
said " Nolo Episcopari," and meant it. The King would 
take no refusal ; and he and Bishop Trumwin, and a host 
of great folks, lay and clerical, rowed over to Earne and 
with tears in their eyes forced the mitre on the reluctant 
anchorite. A hazardous translation, considering his ante- 
cedents ; and, in fact, two years later we find him again 
in Earne. But we are anticipating. 

Cuthbert was not naturally an ascetic. As a boy he 
was fond of a joke or a good howl when playing with 
other boys. Agile he was in all his limbs, expert beyond 
his age in jumping, running, wrestling, and all muscular 
exercises ; indeed not a lad of the district could compete 
with him. But before he grew to man's estate he put 
away these childish things. And the occasion of it was 
this : Cuthbert was one day at his favourite resort, the 
wrestling-ring, with a crowd of boy hero-worshippers 
eagerly admiring him as he twisted his limbs like a very 
Python. At this moment a small boy, about three years 
of age, pushed into the crowd, and, with that preternatural 
gravity and unction supposed to be peculiar to a Scotch 
revival, rebuked him for his grotesque contortions of the 
body and his too great love of fun and frolic. " Eudge ! " 
laughed Cuthbert. On which the small boy threw himself 
to the earth and bedewed his face with tears. " How can 
you," at last he sobbed convulsively, "how can you, most 
revered priest Cuthbert, act in a manner so unbecoming 
your exalted destiny ? " &c., &c. Upon which Cuthbert 
from that moment ceased to indulge in childish sports, cut 
his wisdom-teeth on the spot, and forthwith went home 
with an old head grown, mushroom-wise, upon young 
shoulders, notwithstanding all adages to the contrary 
(Vit. Cuth., p. 50). Let us here take note that the love 
of wrestling, so characteristic of Cumberland and the ad- 
joining counties, is not a fashion of yesterday. 

We now see Cuthbert fairly embarked on his noble 
mission of preaching the gospel to the Nortli. Terrible 



BEDE'S LIFE OF ST. CUT H BERT. 47 

epidemics, we know, used to make the sparse population 
still sparser in those days. Thus in 661 a.d., when he 
was still at Melrose, Cuthbert catches the distemper then 
prevalent, apparently the plague, for he had a tumour 
on the groin, which ate inwards almost to the intestines. 
But he is cured by the prayers of the brethren, and is 
presently about again, with his boots on his feet and 
his stick in his hand. The lower orders were, of 
course, terribly alarmed at these visitations, and, although 
nominally Christians, had recourse to necromancy and 
amulets fastened to various parts of the body (incan- 
tationes vel alligaturas). ' Flectere si nequeo Superos 
Acheronta movebo ;' notwithstanding that Cuthbert, some- 
times on horseback, sometimes on foot, went all round 
the country rebuking their superstition. He would thus 
be absent from home a week or a month on a stretch, 
visiting out-of-the-way places in the mountains, where 
no teacher had ventured before, being deterred by the 
dangers of the path or the abject poverty of the rustics. 
In those days, whenever a missionary appeared, the 
country folks flocked in crowds to hear him, Cuthbert 
especially, whose face was so full of angelic love and 
penetrating insight, that the mere look at it made people 
confess the innermost thoughts of their heart (cap. g). 

One day, while preaching in a hamlet, he became 
aware of the approach of the old enemy, bent on seduc- 
ing the minds of the hearers; so he determined to be 
beforehand with him, and observed parenthetically, " Now, 
dearly beloved, as often as the mysteries of heaven are 
preached to you, give great heed to the discourse, lest the 
devil distract your attention," after which he resumed the 
thread of his sermon. On this the enemy set fire to the 
adjoining house, and presently flames were seen flitting 
through the whole hamlet. Instantly nearly the whole 
of the audience, excepting a few whom the preacher 
managed to hold back, rushed away to extinguish the 
flames; but all to no purpose, until Cuthbert's prayers 



48 OLD ENGLISH LITERA TURE. 

made the ' fantastic flames ' vanish into thin air. The 
solution of the miracle is not far to seek. The fire was 
clearly a will-o'-the-wisp or ignis fatuus, generated from 
the marshy surface of the ground (13). 

The miraculous sustentation of the prophet by the 
ravens in the Old Testament was, of course, repeated 
midaiis mutandis for the benefit of men so saint-like as 
Cuthbert. One day he was particularly sharp set for a 
meal, having forgotten to take food with him when he 
started on his journey, and no house was visible for miles. 
" That eagle flying yonder," said the saint to the boy with 
him, " can, if God wills, supply us with meat. But stay ! 
he has alighted on the river bank yonder. Go and see 
what he has got." Presently the lad returned with a big 
fish, which the bird had just caught in the river. " Not 
so," said the saint ; " we must share and share alike with 
this minister of the Lord." Whereupon he pulled out 
his knife, sliced the fish in twain, and sent one to the 
bird, and made a hearty meal of the other (ib. y^)- Then 
we have another anecdote related to Bede by Brother 
Ingwald of Wearmouth, a most veracious witness (cap. 5). 
One morning late in the autumn the saint stopped to 
refresh not so much himself as his weary steed. " Pray, 
alight, father, and take somewhat to eat," said the good 
woman of the house, "No," was his steadfast and re- 
peated answer; "this is a fast- day," although the matron 
told him that there was not a vestige of a house to be 
seen on the road all day. Towards evening, seeing that 
he would not be able to get to his journey's end that 
day, he made for a miserable shieling used in summer by 
the shepherds, but now altogether deserted. Fastening 
his horse outside, he collected for him a bundle of 
hay, blown off the roof by the wind. This done, the 
saint betook himself to his hour of prayer and praise, 
in the middle of which he perceived that his horse had 
got his nose aloft, and was pulling down the thatch, 
along with which he saw a linen cloth fall to the earth. 



BEDE'S LIFE OF ST. CUTHBERT. 49 

Having duly completed liis religious exercises, he went 
out and discovered wrapped up in the cloth half a loaf, 
quite warm, and some meat, enough for one meal. Giving 
thanks to Heaven for the miracle, the saint forthwith 
shared the bread with his horse, who devoured it with 
as much relish as his master (Vit. Cuth., p. 58). In the 
former anecdote we learn incidentally that once on a 
time the osprey might be seen shooting down like a 
falling star into the lone rivers of England, and emerging 
thence with captive fish in his talons ; while in the 
latter the interesting fact comes out that in those days 
the people of the North of England, like the natives of 
jSTorway now, had chalets {tuguria) in the hills, where 
they abode during the summer along with their flocks 
and herds, returning home with them on the approach of 
winter. Discarding the Avarmth of the bread, we should 
say it was part of the solitary shepherd's weekly provi- 
sions, which, on his return thither later from another 
chalet, he would sorely feel the want of. 

Like Dryhthelm, Cuthbert was at times smitten with 
a great love of cold water. When on a visit to Ebba, the 
Abbess of Coldingham ^ in Berwickshire, he used to steal 
out in the dead of the night, and absent himself for 
hours. The curiosity of one of the monks being excited, 
he stealthily followed him. Descending to the sea, which 
was close by, the saint waded into it up to his neck, and 
for hours kept singing psalms to the music of the waves. 
On the approach of dawn he issued from the water, and 
knelt down to pray on the shingle, when two quadrupeds, 
commonly called lutrse {i.e., otters^), came out of the 
deep, and began warming his feet with their breath and 

1 Eighteen years later, 679, the an otter that Hreidniar's son was slain 

place was destroyed by fire, a judg- by Loki (Prose Edda, i. 352), the iirst 

ment on the levity of the nuns (H. seed of that never-ceasing crop of 

E., iv. 25). greed and slaughter, the theme of the 

- What if this story be a waif of the Volsung story. jElfric must be mis- 
old mythology, and these otters of taken when he says in his sermon on 
human origin ? It was in the form of St. Cuthbert that they were seals. 



50 OLD EXGLISH LITERATURE. 

drying them with their fur ; after which, having whisked 
a blessing out of him, they retired to their native element, 
while he returned with the dawn to the monastery. All 
this was witnessed by ' Peeping Tom,' who, afraid to go 
home, lay among the rocks half dead with fear. At last 
he sneaked back to his cell, threw himself at Cuthbert's 
feet, and implored his forgiveness. This was granted on 
one condition, viz., that he should never reveal the secret 
to mortal man as long as Cuthbert lived — a vow which 
the other religiously kept {ib., lo), so he must have out- 
lived the saint. Some of the features of this tale seem 
borrowed from a like incident in the life of St. Columba, 
who predeceased Bede by 138 years, as he died a.d. 597 
(Eeeves' Adamnan, p. 219). There, too, the culprit is let 
off on undertaking not to reveal what he had seen in the 
saint's lifetime. Intrusive curiosity sometimes got off less 
easily. When Columba was at Drum Fionn, he borrowed 
a' book from St. Finian, the Abbot, which he copied by 
night in the church by the light of the fingers of his 
other hand. The Abbot, anxious about his vellum, sent a 
messenger to the church, who peeped through the keyhole 
and saw the saint writing by the light of his luminous 
hand. But while so engaged, a pet crane, which had 
followed Columba into the building, drew nigh to the door, 
and putting his bill to the hole, pecked out the observer's 
eye (ib., 226). Columba, be it said, used to recite the 
Psalter every night immersed in cold water. In due time 
Cuthbert was transferred to the monastery of Lindisfarne, 
founded 635 by Aidan, the Celtic monk of lona, and con- 
verter of Bernicia. It was, in sooth, no bed of roses, but 
that he did not covet. Exceedingly gentle in his manners 
and address, there lurked within — as is not unfrequent 
with such exteriors — a most indomitable will, that could 
successfully cope with the sternest opposition : the old 
energy this, but in another shape, which made him a 
victor in the wrestling-ring. Now Cuthbert was a follower 
of the new or straitest monastic rules, while the monks of 



BEDES LIFE OF ST. CUTHBERT. 51 

Lindisfarne inclined to the older and less austere. It can 
be easily imagined, therefore, that tliey would have rather 
Lad times of it. They liked to slumber through the night 
undisturbed, and have besides their midday siesta. But 
he seems to have had a \Yay of poking them up in their 
sleep, to their great discontent. At such times he reviled 
their pusillanimity, saying he for his part liked to have 
his sleep broken, as he at once got up and busied himself 
in useful occupations. Not unfrequently the matter was 
discussed in chapter, and so irate were the fraternity, that 
they would proceed to the fiercest abuse of their Head ; 
on which he would suddenly rise and dismiss the meeting 
with the blandest look imaginable. Next day, however, 
he would return to the charge, as if he had encountered no 
opposition whatever, and by these tactics, often persisted 
in, he eventually gained the day, and beat his opponents 
(ib., 16). Apropos of the above-mentioned old and new 
monastic rules, we need not be astonished that in those 
early days of Christianity in England, when everything 
ecclesiastical was invested with novelty, in the absence, 
moreover, of any intelligent public opinion on politics, 
social matters, or anything whatever, all the minutise of 
monkery and ritual filled so vast a space in the eyes of the 
dramatis personse, if not of the general population. What 
the monks and nuns were to eat, drink, and avoid, what 
dress they should wear, let alone vestments and their 
presumed symbolism of doctrine, was always a burning 
question. Cuthbert himself would have no colours, but 
a habit of the natural hue of the sheep. 

But the vis iiurticc which a body of monks could oppose 
to the reforming tendencies of their Head would vex his 
ardent spirit more than enough — more than even he, with 
all his readiness to court opposition for religion's sake, 
would in the long-run, and as years advanced, feel disposed 
to face. And so, having had enough of Lindisfarne and 
its monks, he retired with a good grace to that desolate 



52 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

iglet — tliey gave it out for no other reason but to acquire 
increased perfection — to end his days in seclusion (c. i6). 
The abode which, by the help of the brethren, he had con- 
structed for himself on the rock was surrounded by a lofty 
agger, so as to exclude the sight of everything but the sky 
overhead. The monks from Lindisf arne occasionally visited 
him. At first he used to wash their feet, then he would 
talk with them through an open window, and subsequently 
the window was closed, and only the sound of his voice 
heard, the speaker being invisible. Whereas formerly he 
loved cold water, he seems now to have had a fit of hydro- 
phobia, so that he would keep his boots or gamashes on 
for a year together, and never washed his feet except at 
Easter (c. 1 8). But in the Middle Ages dirt and sanctity 
were often closely allied, at least in this life ; witness the 
condition of Becket's underclothing when he came to be 
laid out. Compelled by a king and archbishop, he emerged 
from this living tomb to become Bishop of Lindisfarne. 
But apparently he was unable to bear the strain, for in two 
years, after working several miracles, e.g., curing a man of 
the plague, and turning water into wine, he returns to 
Fame. By constant kneeling a callus was formed on both 
tibias, and by increased austerities he reduced himself to 
semi-starvation. Under these circumstances the odour of 
his sanctity spread far and wide, and people flocked from 
all parts of England to the island to receive from him con- 
solation and advice. The mighty preacher, the winning 
missionary, were in their eyes nought compared with the 
wonder-working hermit. 

But no man is accounted a prophet by his neighbours, 
and so it proved here. The Lindisfarne monks turned up 
their noses, and no wonder, at his frugal fare. One day a 
party of them rowed across to the island, to whom, after 
imparting much ghostly counsel, together with his blessing, 
he said, as he returned to his cell in the rock, " You had 
better take some food in the guest-house before you return. 



BEDE'S LIFE OF ST. CUT H BERT. 53 

There is an auca ^ there hanging against the wall ; boil it, 
and eat it for your dinner." They, however, had taken 
care to bring eatables with them, and did not care to 
touch the bird. After their repast they betook themselves 
to their boat, but a sudden tempest arose and prevented 
their return. Seven mortal days did it continue, and 
very miserable they were ; but their act of disobedience, 
on account of which they were really suffering imprison- 
ment, did not once occur to them. On the seventh day 
the saint, whom they had frequently gone to see in his 
retreat, loudly complaining of their detention, came to see 
them, and professedly to console them. No sooner did 
he enter than he clapped eyes on the untouched wildfowl. 
" Why, you have never eaten the auk, as I bade you. 
What wonder, then, the sea would not let you go ! Boil 
it as quick as ever you can, and eat it, and then the sea 
will go down." At once they obeyed his orders, and no 
sooner did the pot begin to boil than the sea ceased to do 
so. The monks, however, did go through the ordeal of 
swallowing the auk. Their wry mouths may be easily 
imagined. Whereupon they embarked, and returned home 
with a mixture of joy and shame. This miracle was told 
Bede by that most venerable presbyter of the same 
monastery, Cynewulf (c. 36). The inhabitants of St. Kilda 
are perhaps the only subjects of Great Britain who would 
now eat auks. But such food was quite of a piece with 
the meagre fare, not to say with the filth and the discom- 
fort, of an Anglo-Saxon dwelling. Up to 676 A.D., when 
Bede tells us Benedict Biscop introduced French makers of 
glass into England, that " art was there hitherto unknown " 
(Vit. Benedict, c. 5). And even these artificers were im- 
ported for the purpose of making sacra vasa for the churches 
rather than to glaze the windows of men's dwellings. It 
must not be supposed, however, that the saint lived a life 

^ "A goose, or any bird" (Du- easily caught by the hand? — Isl. 
cange). May we not conjecture an ' alkr,' — a dish much more in keeping 
' auk,' the common food of Faro, and with Cuthbert's larder than a goose. 



54 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURK. 

of idleness. It was, in fact, by the labour of his own hands 
that he managed to exist. In those da5^s the monks were 
by no means the idle drones of later times. The stalwart 
and genial Eosterwini, once minister of King Ecgfrid, but 
who adopted the religious life and became an abbot, used, 
Bede tells ns in one of his best passages, " to winnow and 
grind corn just like the other monks, milk the sheep and 
the cows, and join in the work of the bakehouse, the 
garden, and the kitchen with the utmost readiness and 
Inlarity. Nay, when he visited other monasteries he at 
once turned a willing hand to any work going forward, 
whether it M-as driving the plough, forging iron, liandlinrr 
the fan, and so forth ; while he ate the same meals and 
used the same dormitory as the others till within two 
days of his death " (ib., c. 8). 

Eeturn we for a parting look at Cuthbert in his 
retirement. If the secrets of his prison-house could be 
revealed, sharp and sore must have been the searchings 
of that emotional heart ; hard to bear the passive nihilism, 
self-imposed, into which the man of high spirit, the ener- 
getic athlete, the man who had traversed the Northern 
hills as no missionary had cared to do before, who had 
swayed others by his eloquence and converted by his 
miracles, had now subsided. The old Adam would crop 
np in spite of him. Chassez le naturcl, il revient ait galop. 
The tale above shows that his love of authority, his claim 
to implicit obedience, had not yet deserted him. Further 
traces of his chagrin at the refractoriness of his quondam 
monks are visible when he was near his end. " I have 
met with much contradiction from the brethren, and I 
know," said he, " that to some my life has seemed con- 
temptible ; but when I am dead you will see what I was, 
and that my teaching was not to be despised." Abbot 
Herefrid of Lindisfarne, who went over to see the lonely 
anchorite in his last sickness, gave a circumstantial ac- 
count of it to Bede. He was not permitted to stay, but 
dismissed by Cuthbert with the simple request that he 



BEDE'S LIFE OF ST. CUT H BERT. 55 

might be buried close by his oratory, with his face towards 
the east. Uneasy about the sufferer, the good Abbot was 
no sooner back at Lindisfarne than he assayed to return, 
but was prevented by a storm, lasting five days and nights. 
He then crossed over, and found Cuthbert close upon his 
end, but his mind still harping, even in death, on his 
ruling idea. " Beware," said he, " of celebrating Easter 
at the wrong time or living not according to the regular 
Catholic rule." He then received the viaticum, and, with 
eyes and hands lifted to heaven, departed, March 20, a.d. 
687. It being night when he passed, the news was flashed 
across the water by two lighted candles. The watchman 
at once espied the signal, and reported it to the brethren, 
who were assembled singing a nocturnal mass. Uncon- 
sciously they had commended his soul to his Maker. 

The true verdict of a coroner's inquest in these days 
upon the transaction would undoubtedly, out of Ireland, 
run pretty much thus : " Died of an envenomed ulcer in 
the foot and other disorders, aggravated by wilful self- 
neglect, want of proper nursing, or all nursing, and of the 
common necessaries of life ; the deceased having, in fact, 
subsisted for five days on one or two bits of onion, being 
all alone at his own request, and unable to move from his 
seat." His adversaries (concertatores) mightily plagued 
him, as he told Herefrid, during these five days. How, 
tlie Abbot dared not ask. Alas ! poor Cuthbert ! Surely 
they were not those evil spirits which, before his arrival in 
Fame Isle, were reputed to invest it ; not such the spirits 
which tormented him, but rather the demons of man's own 
device — demons of cold, and hunger, and thirst, punishing 
]iim worse than ever they did poor hunger-bitten Tom in 
" Lear." So much for counsels of perfection, or rather 
so much for the mistaken ideas of the age in which he 
lived ! Far be it from us to carp at the self-denying energy, 
the burning devotion, of this early missionary, whose per- 
suasive tones had once thrilled the dead hearts, all stark 
and stiff, of those men of the Northern wilderness, awaken- 



56 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

ing in tliem a responsive echo as erst the first beams of the 
morning snn — so Egyj^tian legends told — drew unearthly 
music from the hard granite statue of the city in ruins. 
Alas for the greatness and littleness of man ! They do 
Avith tlie bright light from above what Sir Isaac Newton 
did with a ray of the sun. He got it into a dark room, 
distorted it, broke it up into a mass of many colours, and its 
pure whiteness was gone. Instead of one plain gateway into 
the kingdom, they construct all sorts of byways and doors. 
St. Cuthbert's way was voluntary sepulture in a penal 
settlement of his own choice. The vision itself of heaven 
becomes blurred and obscured, the foundation of topaz and 
amethyst changed into wood and stubble. Had he lived 
in the days when the tale of spiritual bricks was grown too 
big to bear, and Teutonic Europe groaned for a Moses, he 
might have figured grandly at some Council of Constance 
or Diet of Worms. Had he lived in our day, he might, 
like a Selwyn, have gone forth to the Isles of the Pacific 
to renew primitive experiences in perils of water, in perils 
in the wilderness, in weariness and painfulness, in cold 
and nakedness. Much of this he did undergo, but scarcely 
in a field of congenial labour. Few were the sheaves he 
brought with him in the work at Lindisfarne ; and in the 
end he wore his heart out in cutting blocks with a razor, 
in correcting obtuse monks, rebuking false brethren, and 
finally shutting himself out from the sight of his fellow- 
men. And yet who shall say that, though the man was 
thus unnaturally self-effaced, the spectacle was not one of 
those many forces which kept the great stone rolling in 
Northumbria and gradually wrought out the end in view ? 
The sight of the anchorite macerating the flesh even unto 
death in his lonely hermitage, and thus setting the seal 
to his work, would take the ignorant by storm. The scene 
of his sufferings w^as hallow^ed for all time, and no sooner 
was he gone than another tenant succeeded. Brother 
Odilwald of Eipon. Cuthbert's name must have been a 
word of power for centuries in Britain, That anecdote of 



BEDE'S LIFE OF ST. CUTHBERT. 57 

Malmesbiiry (ii. 4) proves it.^ "VVho was it that appeared 
to England's future greatest king when he Lay hidden in 
the impenetrable lagoons of Somerset, revolving in his 
mind the ways and means of liberating his people from the 
Danes ? It was in this supreme moment of Alfred's life 
that popular imagination made St. Cuthbert come to him in 
a vision, foretelling his coming victory and exaltation. 

A word more. Some may say that the above sketch 
does scant justice to Cuthbert. Let them turn to the 
Biography. It contains forty-six chapters in aU. Of these, 
about six or seven give the real features of his life. They 
must be our main authority in an estimate of the saint. 
All the remaining chapters go beyond the bounds of pro- 
bability and relate miracles. These are, of course, mere 
padding, of no solid value. And yet the miracles recorded 
must not shake our belief in the truth of the other parts 
of the recital ; nay, rather they serve to corroborate it ; 
for if no miracles had been thrown in by the monks when 
the belief in miracles was general, we should have been 
inclined to view the work with suspicion, and no genuine 
picture of the thoughts and feelings of the day, but as the 
result throughout of cooking.^ 

As it is, the miracles of Cuthbert are few compared with 
those of Columba, whose Life by Adamnan is quite a glut 
of wonders. 

1 Cf. Hist, i., Trausl. St. Cuthb., The King, warned by a soldier for- 

cap. i. It is this same historian, marly in Olaf's service, shifted his 

and not Asser, who relates the story tent. — Oaedhill and Galll, 282. 

of Alfred masquerading as a min- ^ To those who plead for the possi- 

strel, and so gaining free access to bility of these miracles on tlie occa- 

the Danish camp, meanwhile learn- sion of England's conversion, one 

ing their plans. It is not mentioned word. How about Africa, and New 

in the most ancient Saxon accounts. Zealand, and Australia in the present 

Indeed, it sounds more like a Scan- day ? The work before the niission- 

dinavian than a Saxon story, an echo aiies is stupendous, and yet they per- 

of which has reached us in the tale form no miracles. W'hy ? The ' hulls- 

of King Estmere, who adopted a eye' of sifted evidence and modern 

simihir disguise. A story was current enlightenment is flashed full upon 

of Olaf Cuaran entering Athelstan's them, and any so-called miracle would 

camp disguised as a harjicr two days be at once subjected to the test. 
before the battle of Erunanburh. 



58 OLD ENGLISH Lrrr.KATURE. 

The Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow were 
also written by Bede. On the business habits of Benedict 
Biscop, and his five journeys to Rome, from which he 
never returned empty-handed — such pilgrimages had a 
real meaning and excuse — bringing books, architects, and 
makers of glass-windows, we need not comment, beyond 
saying that while pilgrimages were often fraught with evil 
and disaster to his compatriots, male and female, his seem 
to have redounded to his own credit and the advantage of 
his country. He died 685. 

Eosterwini, and his laborious simplicity, have been 
already referred to. His bones, like those of Cuthbert ^ 
and Abbot Sigfrid, were in due time translated (Vit. 
Abbatum, c. 20). In fact, all through those ages a body- 
snatching epidemic seems from time to time to have 
invaded the monasteries. Whether it was to raise money, 
or to relieve the tedium of their existence by an exciting 
function, or to give a prestige to this or that monastery — as, 
e.g., Canterbury employed the possession of Wilfrid's bones 
as an argument for its superiority over York — or to add a 
feather to the cap of some notable abbot, no ecclesiastic 
of any eminence was safe in his grave. Talk of dis- 
jecti membra poetcs ! Why the members of a defunct 
saint, after being once removed from their first resting- 

1 Exhumed 1 104 in the presence of clothed him all with new clothing, 
Simeon of Durham. There is a strange and took from him his old clothes: 
narrative in an Anglo-Saxon charter some I left there, and some I have 
addressed by Eadwine the monk to here." The ivory comb and silver scis- 
jElfsige, the Bishop of Winchester, sors found in tlie saint's coffin, 1104^ 
1015-1032. "I lay within my cell are perhaps further evidence of the 
about noon-tide, when St. Cuthbert good monk's method of gratifying a 
appeared to me. At this I was very spiritual freak (Thorpe, Diss. A., p. 
blithe, and went to my Abbot ^If- 821). It does not exactly appear 
wine and prayed him that I might go where the saint's body then rested, 
north to the saint. But Jilfwine, Attended by a chosen few, it was re- 
my abbot, refused. On this I took my moved in the Danish troubles from 
own counsel, and went thither, and Lindisfarne, and performed any 
Bishop ^gelwiue received me with amount of peregrinations before it 
worship ; and God and the saint was finally enshrined at Durham, 
granted me that I washed him, and See the published account of its re- 
combed his head with a comb, and opening by Dr. Raine. 
sheared his head with shears, and 



ST. EDMUND. 59 

place, were, as we know, often scattered to the four winds 
of heaven, to be gaped at and applied to the lips as if they 
were live coals from the altar of the Eternal. But this 
relic-mongering was a two-edged tool : witness the droll 
irony of Eldebert the heretic from Gaul, who, to the mighty 
confusion of Boniface, gave parings of his nails and locks 
of his own hair to the Germans to adore along with the 
correlative relics of St. Peter. Shakespeare's anathema, 
" Cursed be he that moves my bones," ^ would have availed 
but little against these " resurrection-men." The author of 
that extraordinary Anglo-Saxon fragment, " The Grave," 
reckoned without his host when he sang that nobody would 
care to look into the dead man's grave.^ 

" Thine house is not loftily timbered, 
It is unhigh and low wherein thou dost lie ; 
The heel- walls are low, the side walls also, 
The roof it is built full nigh to the breast. 
Thus shalt thou dwell in mould full cold ; 
Dimly and darkly fouleth the hole, 
Doorless the house, and dark within, 
Where thou art caged, and Death has the key. 
Loathly is the earth-house, grim to dwell in. 
Where thou shalt lodge, shared by the worms. 
Thus art thou laid ; thy friends they do loathe thee ; 
Friends none hast thou that will fare to thee, 
That ever will look (and see) how the house likes thee, 
That ever will undo for thee the door 
And after thee descend ; for soon art thou loathly 
And hateful to see, for soon is thy head 

Of locks bereaved 

Of thy hair all the fairness is gone. 

None with the finger will clasp it or stroke it. 



Another English saint, the odour of whose sanctity 
brought much gain to the monastery of Bury St. Edmunds, 
named after liini, was Edmund, son of King Alcmund, 

1 There is nothing new under the the purpose of deterring possible dis- 

sun, this kind of bugbear among the turbers of the tombs, 
rest. In a graveyard at Athens, dat- " Thorpe, Analecta, second edition, 

ing from before the days of Sylla, p. 153, from the edge of a Saxon ho- 

similar strong anathemas are used for mily book in the Bodleian Library. 



6o OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

who ascended the tlirone of East Anglia, 855, being then 
fourteen years old. It is hard to say which stood fore- 
most in popuLar veneration, he, or St. Cuthbert, or 
St. Thomas of Canterbury. Thorpe (Analecta, p. 119) 
prints a homily in the dialect of East Anglia detailing 
his martyrdon). It is founded on the narrative of his 
sword-bearer, who witnessed the transaction. Dunstan 
repeated it to Abbo of Eleury, who wrote a Latin account 
of it still extant; of this the homily is a translation. 
There are versions of it extant in pure Anglo-Saxon 
(Hardy, 526-538).! The Danes, we read, tried to make 
the captive king renounce Christianity, but in vain. 
Upon this, after transfixing him with spears till they 
looked like the quills of the porcupine (yles burstse), they 
cut off his head and hid it in some thick . bramble bushes. 
Some time after, people sent in quest of it kept crying 
out, " as folks are wont to do who often traverse the 
woods, 'Where art thou now, my mate?' when the 
head answered, ' Here, here, here ! ' and kept doing so till 
the searchers came to the call ; when lo ! and behold, there 
was a grey wolf with the head in his two claws, protect- 
ing it from the wild beasts, and not daring for the fear of 
God, though he was hungry, to taste of it." This excellent 
wolf followed them with the head (we presume in his 
mouth), just as if he were a tame beast, till they came to 
the town, when he turned back and went to the wood 
again. The head was at once applied to the trunk, which 
lay in the church, when, marvellous to relate, the two 
joined together (just like the toy of our infancy with the 
loadstone inside), and the only mark of the decapitation 
was something like a silken thread passing round the 
neck ! 

St. Swithin, born 800, died 863, would doubtless have 

^ One MS. is in the Public Library the Bodleian. Another (Harl. 2278), 

at Cambridge. It is of the eleventh ornamented with over a hundred 

or twelfth century, and given by limnings, is said to have been pre- 

Parker. The "Life and Acts of St. sented to Henry VL by the poet 

Edmund," by J. Lydgate, is now in himself. 



ST. SWITHIN AND ST. NEOT: 6i 

dropped out of all popular recollection in these isles but 
for the legend connecting him with the weather. But he 
was among the not least conspicuous people of his day as 
Bishop of Winchester, Chancellor of King Alfred's father, 
Ethelwulf, and probably the chaperon of the youthful 
prince on his first visit to Pope Leo IV. at Eome, 853. 
A number of Latin Lives crammed with his miracles, but 
at the same time throwing light on the manners and 
customs of the age, show what an impression he made 
upon the folks in the monasteries (Hardy, i. pt. 2, p. 513). 
One life in hexameters, 3600 lines long, was commended 
by Leland as the best Latin poetry of the time in 
England. 

But what is more to our purpose, is an account of 
the saint in the vernacular in a folio of the eleventh 
century, Miracula S.S. Saxonice (MS. Cott. Jul. E. vii.),i 
which contains forty-four leaves (Hardy). 

St. Neot, another worthy of Alfred's days, is said, but 
on very suspicious authority, not only to have started 
the original idea of the foundation of the University of 
Oxford, but to have himself filled a professorial chair 
there. He survives to us in several Lives full of legendary 
matter, the most ancient of those now extant being a 
sketch in Anglo-Saxon in the British Museum (Duffus 
Hardy, p. 5 39). It is printed in Gorham's " History of 
Antiquities of Eynsbury and St. Neots," and was pro- 
bably first written a.d. 986. Born in the early part of the 
ninth century, St. Neot renounced the world for the life 
of a monk. His fame attracted many to Glastonbury to 
profit by his instruction. Averse to notoriety, he retired 
to a secluded valley in Cornwall, where he abode for 
seven years, after which he paid seven visits to Eome. 
By the advice of the Pope he returned to Cornwall to 
spread the gospel, and founded a monastery, of which he 
became abbot, at the desolate spot where the Cornish St. 

^ Three leaves of tliis Life (from another defective MS. copied from a 
commou source) have been jjriuted by Professor Earle. 



62 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

Neots now stands, about ten miles from the convent of 
St. Petroc (Bodmin). In tliis monastery the present Life, 
which omits all the miracles elsewhere recorded of him, 
was very likely read as a homily. Another Life dates 
from after the Conquest. It attributes many miracles to 
the saint, which are represented in the ancient stained- 
glass windows of the present church. His daily diet was 
a fish, one out of two swimming in a pool close at hand, 
yet there was always a miraculous quorum of two the 
next day. St. Neot being sick, his over-ofiicious attendant 
caught two, boiling one and broiling the other. The saint, 
witli much presence of mind, had one of them thrown 
back into the water, and prayed until two were seen 
swimming as before. The deer which, on his oxen being 
stolen, drew the plough, and whose descendants bear the 
mark of the yoke " to the present day ; " his remarkable 
feat of impounding in a ring of moor stones those obsti- 
nate crows whom he had to "tent" in the cornfield, — 
these and other events in the saint's life may here be 
seen depicted. 

In another Life it is recorded that some time after his 
burial the saint appeared to the sacristan, and ordered 
him to remove his remains elsewhere. He was translated 
accordingly, and found a resting-place at the other place, 
called after him St. ISTeots, in Huntingdonshire. The 
reader can believe as much or as little of these records 
as he pleases. What has given them an interest not 
their own are the anecdotes here preserved, true or not 
true, of King Alfred.^ 

But while glancing thus rapidly at Anglo-Saxon bio- 
graphical works, we must not omit the well-known 
biography of Alfred {Gesta Alfredi), written, with now 
and then an exception, in commonplace Latin, which goes 

1 In one Life of St. Neot the saint who appeared to the King and aided 

is seen leading the forces of Alfred to liim in his deliverance. The story of 

battle. According to Malniesbury it the cakes first appeared in the Life of 

was not St. Neot but St. Cuthbert St. Neot. 



ASSER: ST. GUTHLAC. 63 

under the name of Asser, the Welshman, Bishop of Sher- 
borne. The German school generally have been content 
to accept the work as contemporary and authentic ; and 
Alfred's latest biographer, Pauli, inclines in that direction. 
While the book is believed in by most historical critics, 
others affirm that what we know of the facts of Alfred's life 
is not of early authority, but on a par with those romances 
put together by later monkish compilers, such as even 
Bede, with all his wisdom, was content, as we have seen, 
to retail as absolute truth. The former part, they assert, 
is merely a translation from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 
and the latter part, containing legendary matter, could not 
have been written in Alfred's time, but is probably the 
work of a monk who collected some of the numerous 
traditions about Alfred current at the end of the tenth 
century, and published the work under the name of Asser. 
The much-cherished stories of his mother Osbursra, the 
Jute, having enticed him to read by the promise of the 
old illuminated book of Saxon ballads,^ or the burning 
of the cakes,^ &c., so dear to Englishmen, rest on the 
authority of Asser's narrative. 

Lettered East-Anglians are doubtless well acquainted 
with Bede's description of Ely (iv. 19) in the year 695, 
as a region containing about six hundred families, resem- 
bling an island surrounded either by marshes or water, 
which abound in eels, and whence its name. " ISTomen ab 
anguilla ducit insula nobilis ilia." But for an admirable 
description of the look of the Fens in those days we must 
refer to the Life of St. Guthlac, the hermit of Croyland, 
originally wTiten in Latin by Felix of Croyland about 
A.D. 730, and subsequently translated into Anglo-Saxon in 
the tenth century. " There is in Britain a fen of immense 
size, which begins from the river Granta, not far from the 
city which is named Grantchester. There are immense 
marshes, now a black pool of water, now foul running 
streams, and also many islands, and reeds, and hillocks, 

^ Asser, 474, 480. 2 g^. Neot's Life. 



64 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

aud thickets; and with manifold windings wide and long 
it continues up to the North Sea. When the aforesaid 
man, Guthlac of blessed memory, found out this unculti- 
vated spot of the w^ild wilderness, he was comforted with 
divine support, and journeyed forthwith by the straightest 
way thither. And when he came there, he inquired of 
the inhabitants of the land where he might find himself a 
dwelling in the waste. Whereupon they told him many 
things about the vastness of the wilderness. There was 
a man named Tatwine, who said that he knew an island 
especially obscure, which oft-times many men had at- 
tempted to inhabit, but no man could do on account of 
manifold horrors and fears, and the loneliness of the wide 
wilderness, so that no man could endure it, but every one 
on this account had fled from it. When the holy man 
Guthlac heard these words, he bade him straightway show 
him the place, and he soon did so : he embarked in a 
vessel, and they went both through the rough fens (pa 
rugan fennas) till they came to the spot which is called 
Crowland ; this land was situated in the midst of the 
waste of the aforesaid fen, very obscure, and very few 
men knew of it but the man who showed it to him, as 
no man ever could inhabit it before the holy man Guthlac 
came thither, on account of the dwelling of the accursed 
spirits there." ^ 

The author's skill in limning is attested thus by an old 
writer : " If a painter would pourtraite devils, let him paint 
them in his colours as Felix the olde monke of Crowland 
depainted the bugges in his verses, and they will seem 
rifrht hel-hounds." It would be curious to know whether 
Hellfire Breughel, v/ho lived not long after the above was 
written, ever saw the " Vita St. Guthlaci " printed in the 
" Acta Sanctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti." But besides the 
interest attaching to this picture of the physical features 
of that wild district in those days, this matter of the evil 
spirits has very probably a mythic solution of even greater 

1 St. Guthlac, by Goodwin, London, 1S48. 



THE LEGEND OF WE LAND. 65 

interest.^ The marshy river whicli ran past the hermit's 
retreat was called by its oldest English name, ' Welandes 
Ea' (in Latin, Aqua de Weland), Weland's river, now the 
river Welland ; the vowel having been corrupted into a 
short one. Here then we find localised the tale of the 
famous smith so well known in England, and which King 
Alfred, in his mistranslation of Boethius' " Consolations of 
Philosophy," alludes to."^ In the primitive tradition (the 
" Lay of Volundr," in the old Edda), he was hamstrung 
and " set on a holm." This island prison in the grand 
and gloomy old poem would be desolate enough with this 
Northern Prometheus brooding over liis wrongs, " with 
weariness, and pain, and winter-cold for his companions." ^ 
This is one of those mythic legends which had taken so 
fast a hold on the vulgar imagination that they became 
attached, not to one spot, but to several, as, indeed, in 
their origin they belonged not to Scandinavia merely, but 
to the whole Teutonic race,"* just as the place of Siegfrid's 
slaying w^as pointed out in Sweden, in Norway, and in 
Germany, No wonder the sapient rustics looked on such 
a spot as the abode of horrors and uninhabitable. But it 
was precisely the place for a person of Guthlac's blessed 
stamp. As a child he never gave the least trouble, always 
did what he was bid, took no pleasure in those vain things 
which lads generally like, such as idle talk, &c. Nay, 
even the song of birds had no charms for him. Judges of 
character might possibly, on hearing this, anticipate that 
such a boy would not have fathered so good a man as we 
are told he did. The feathered tribe, however, did not 
reciprocate Guthlac's aversion, for did it not befall one 
day that a worthy brother, Wilfrid by name, came to 
visit him, and while they were comparing their spiritual 
experiences, two swallows suddenly flew into the ancho- 



1 " Two Leaves of Bang "Waldere's ^ Deor the Scald, 1. 7 (Exeter Book). 
Lay," by Professor G. Stephens, p. * Keysir, " Efterladte Skrifter," 
41. Copenliiigen, i860. 152, considers Voluudr to be a per- 

- Chap. xix. Bonification of craft or skill. 

E 



66 



OLD EXCLISn LITERATURE. 



rite's abode, settled on Lis shoulders after the manner of 
Odin's ravens — very possibly this legend is an adultera- 
tion from the Northern mythology — commenced singing, 
perched familiarly on his breast, then on his arms and 
knees, when the holy man at once cited Scripture to prove 
that he who leads a life far from the men of this world, 
even the wild animals draw nearer to him.^ (Vide 
" Metrical llistoiy of Guthlac") 



1 The legendary Irish saints often 
mention their familiarity with birds. 
When a flock of cranes destroyed 
the ci-ops in his neighbourhood, St. 
Ailbhe sent his man to fetch them, 
who soon returned driving the birds 
before him like a flock of sheep. 
1'hat night they were penned up by 
the saint ; next day he released them 
with his blessing. " The Voyage of 
Brendanus " abounds with marvel- 
lous bird-stories. The Lincolnshire 



antiquarian will call to mind St. 
Hugh and his jiet birds, from the 
" Burneta " to his swan. But he 
was no Anglo-Saxon, and could com- 
bine with a deeply devotional spirit 
a love for the inferior animals. 

' ' He prayeth well who loveth well 
Both man and bird and beast ; " 

or something like it, must have been 
his rule. 



( 67 ) 



CHAPTER V. 

THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM, BON J FACE, AND ALCUIN. 

The private correspondence of distinguished men, wher- 
ever to be had, in any age or country, is sure to be a use- 
ful contribution to the history of manners, customs, and 
ways of thinking. Witness, for instance, the letters of 
Cicero and Pliny the younger. In this department the 
Anglo-Saxons are not to seek. But here, as elsewhere, 
the man is partly tongue-tied. Latin supersedes the ver- 
nacular. He writes, thinks, and speaks in a language not 
his own. 

Let us, as earliest in point of time, first mention Aid- 
helm, said, but incorrectly, to have been a nephew of 
Ina, king of the West Saxons. His Life was written by 
William of Malmesbury,^ as he considered Bede's account 
of him did not do him justice. He was born about 656 
and died 709. In his early years he was a disciple of the 
monk Maildulf, the Scot, who opened a schopl and founded 
a monastery at Bladunum, afterwards called Maildulfs- 
bury, the modern Malmsbury. He afterwards went to 
Canterbury, where he was taught Greek by Archbishop 
Theodore and Adrian, Abbot of St. Augustine's monas- 
tery. On the death of Maildulf, Aldhelm was made Abbot 
of Malmsbury (675-705). Numerous pupils flocked to 
him, not only from Ireland and Scotland, but also from 

1 Printed in " Anglia Sacra," ii. See " Gesta Pontificum," Rolls Series. 



68 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

Gaul. He was a man of lofty stature, and, though a monk, 
fond of ladies' society. Four years before his death he 
became Bishop of Sherborne. Whatever his antecedents 
may have been in early days, we find him in later life a 
firm adlierent of the Eomau as against the Scottish rule, 
especially as regards the time of keeping Easter and the 
fashion of the tonsure. Indeed, he was, while, abbot, de- 
puted by a formal synod to draw up an epistle on this 
subject — called by Bede "liber egregius" (v. i8) — and 
wherein he combats the pestilent doctrines of the Scots 
and forcibly advocates conformity. The document, whicli 
may be founl at length in Jaffa's "Monumenta Mogun- 
tina," p. 24, is addressed to King Geruntius of Cornwall 
and the clergy of Devon. 

Simon Magus and his connection with the Scotch 
tonsure of course figures here in the forefront. He next 
touches on the schismatical keeping of Easter, which he 
calls a yet " crudelior animaruin pernicies." The gulf 
that separates the two rival communions is next graphi- 
cally described. He has heard that beyond the estuary 
of the Severn there are priests of the Demetai (Cardigan- 
shire) pluming themselves on their own personal purity 
of conversation, and holding our Church in great abhor- 
rence. They join neither in the prayers of our Cliurch 
nor in our communion ; nay, rather tlian partake, they 
hurl the remnants of the feast of charity to voracious 
dogs and unclean pigs, and the vessels used thereat they 
purify by sand or ashes. Neither will they offer the kiss 
of fraternal charity; and if any of the Catholics go to reside 
among them, tliey refuse to associate with them till after 
they have undergone a forty days' penance. No doubt 
the old British Church had a deep-rooted antipathy to the 
Saxons and everything belonging to them. But Aldhelm's 
picture was perhaps overdone. Later researches seem to 
refute the charge brought against them of not trying to 
convert their Saxon invaders. It was only shortly before 



THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM, ETC. 69 

the arrival of the Italian mission that Theonas, Bishop of 
London, and Thadioc, Bishop of York, fled from their 
Sees, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth's fable, accepted 
bj Eaiue. By this energetic remonstrance, well reasoned 
out according to the Eoman view of the matter, Aldhelm 
won over, says Bede, many Britons subject to the West 
Saxons to the Catholic celebration of Easter. Thus a 
Scot (j\Ion. Mogunt., 34) writes to Aldhelm begging to be 
instructed by him in the faith; and more especially is 
he moved to do this because " Aldhelm was himself at 
Ilome^ (a.d. 687-701), and was brought up by a pious 
man of the Scottish race (Maildulf)," and was there- 
fore, of course, fully acquainted with both sides of the 
question. 

And thus by unyielding pertinacity the Pope had his 
will. But " quantum mutatus ab illo Hectore." How 
different he was from the great Gregory, whose special 
charire to Augustine was, " Do not stickle for Eome a la 
mode. The customs of different Churches are diverse. 
Select from each Church what is pious, religious, and right" 
(Bede, i. 27). Little by little the primitive British Church, 
of as lofty aims and high endeavours, as pure and pious as 
that of Eome, succumbed. The current of controversy sub- 
sided, or rather stagnated, and all became serene; but at the 
same time surely the old Church lost her elasticity and much 
of her vigorous life. In things ecclesiastical as well as poli- 
tical, divergences of opinion will often prevent rot. Look at 
Spain of to-day, with her boasted unity of faith and absence, 
ai^ong the masses, of all culture, moral and intellectual, to 
be convinced of this. Had things gone otherwise, and had 
Eome failed to reduce all England to her own dead level, 
thus engendering an atmosphere fruitful of many unwhole- 

^ While there, liis chasuble was popular odium, and post hoc, if not 

one day suspended on a sunbeam, propter hoc, obtained a Papal EuU 

]'.y assisting at a miracle he rescued conferring privileges on bis beloved 

I'ope Sergius I. from an outburst of Malniesbury. Ibid., p. 370. 



70 OLD ENGLISH IJTERA TURK. 

some abominations, the great cleansing out of a later age 
might perhaps never have been wanted. England would 
not liave enjoyed the homely wit of AVilliam Langlaud, 
the politer sarcasm of Chaucer, or the fearless invective of 
Wycliffe, expressions of the national consciousness, diverse 
indeed in method, but one in end and aim — the downfall 
of sacerdotalism. So that, after all, the alien pressure of 
Itonie was a blessing in disguise — a blessing which tarried 
long, but came at last. It lent the Anglo-Saxon genius 
a force which he needed. "Merses profundo pulchrior 
evenit." But we are losing sight of Aldhelm as an 
author. His biographer tells us that amid his graver 
studies he did not neglect verse ; and that, citing Alfred 
as his authority for it, nobody of his day in England was 
his match in writing English poetry, and a song of his 
was still sung in Malmesbury's time, four hundred years 
after his death, in the streets of England — Carvien 
triviale. 

The rational excuse for so great a man — the author, 
moreover, of a poem, " De Laudibus Virginitatis," in imita- 
tion of Sedulius,^ that poet of world-wide celebrity — in- 
dulging in such " trivialities," was that he endeavoured 
thereby to catch the ear, and so gradually to obtain a 
hearing for his doctrines among the semi-barbarous Saxons. 
Indeed Malmesbury (Gesta Pontificum, p. 281) relates the 
very interesting anecdote that Aldhelm used after service 
to fix himself on a bridge just in the way of the country- 
people, and begin singing ballads familiar to their ears, 
gradually gliding into hymns : " inter ludicra verbis scrip- 
ture insertis." It has been generally supposed that all he 
composed in the vernacular had vanished. Jacob Grimm, 
liowever, has started the conjecture, upholding it by cogent 
reasoning, that the noble Anglo-Saxon poem, " Andreas," 
which teems with real poetry — Christian in name and 
outward form, but savouring much of the old pagan ballad 
— is the genuine work of Aldhelm, and that he wrote it at 

^ Bede, V. 18. 



THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM, ETC. 71 

the instance of Ine and liis queen, ^delburg (Andreas, IL). 
Others, perhaps with more probability, contend for Cyne- 
wulf as its author. A metrical paraphrase of Psalms 
51-150 (ed. Thorpe, Oxon. 1835) has also been ascribed to 
Aldhelm. 

It only remains to mention that many miracles were 
wrought at his sumptuously-jewelled tomb at Malmes- 
bury. Numerous pilgrims resorted thither on his festival 
day, to the no small gain of the inhabitants. But by the 
end of the eleventh century the spell began to flag. The 
augurs smiled, or rather the proletariat mobbed the devo- 
tees, and grinned forth bits of low wit (ibid., 438). 

Another letter-writer was Boniface, otherwise Wynfrid, 
born A.D. 670. Commissioned by Gregory II.i to convert 
the Pagans, he became Archbishop of Mayence, an office 
which he held for thirty-six years, and was murdered at 
Dockum by Pagan Frisians, 755, an event which cut all 
Christian England to the heart. He was the greatest, if 
not the first in point of time, of that long line of English 
missionaries, ending in Grimkel,^ Bishop of Trondjem, the 
right-hand man of St. Olaf, who, starting with Friesland, 
carried the light of Christianity southwards through Ger- 
many to the confines of Italy, and northwards through 
Denmark to beyond the Malar Lake and the Bay of 
Trondjem. We have the excellent Daniel, Bishop of 
WintoUj^ bidding Boniface God-speed, and giving him 
curious hints how to go to work with the Pagan Saxons 
in the propagation of the gospel ; e.g., " If they say this 
world never had a beginning, but existed from ever- 
lasting, ask them who governed it before the gods were 
born, and how could they subject it to their dominion 

1 Monumenta Moguntina, p. 62 2 "writhout doubt he was consecrated 

(Jaffo: Berlin, 1866). Bishop Grandi- bishop in England. Adam of Bremen 

son, temp. Edward III., in his mentions the fact that he accom- 

"LegenJa," states that he was a native pauied Olaf to Norway (Keyser). 

of Crediton. But there is no earlier ^ Monumeuta Moguntina, p. 72. 
authority for this. 



12 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

when it subsisted before them from everlasting. How 
was the first god or goddess born ? do they still go on 
breeding? If they don't, when did they cease to do 
so, and why ? If they still generate, the number of 
gods must be infinite. Again, are these gods to be wor- 
shipped for the sake of temporal or eternal prosperity ? 
If they say temporal, then ask them in what respect the 
pagans are better off in temporals than the Christians ? 
Now, if the gods are omnipotent and just, they will not 
only reward those who worship them, but j:funish those 
w^ho contemn them. Why, then, don't they punish the 
Christians, who are throwing down idols and seducing 
people from their worship all the world over ? Instead of 
this, the Christians possess vineyards and oliveyards, and 
leave to the pagans and their gods nothing but regions of 
cold and barrenness. Along with these arguments, we 
must deliver little delicate side-thrusts at their supersti- 
tions as compared with the Christian dogmas ; but with 
the utmost blandness, so as to confound rather than irri- 
tate them." Then we have Boniface taking the oath of 
allegiance to Pope Leo (a.d. 722), and imprecating on him- 
self the doom of Ananias and Sapphira if he in any way 
breaks it.^ We have Gregory II. commending Boniface 
to Charles Alartel, the saviour of Europe from the Saracens, 
as a preacher of the gospel to the people of Germany and 
the nations east of the Ehine. Amidst these grave and 
anxious occupations the missionary keeps up a regular 
correspondence with female friends at home and abroad. 
One lady, an abbess, he tries to dissuade from her fancy 
of going on a pilgrimage to Eome. Leobgitha inflicts upon 
him some Latin hexameters of her own composition. His 
great skill in the laws of metre, attested by a pupil of his,^ 
doubtless led her to invite his criticism. To Eadburga, 
Abbess of Thanet, who has consoled him with many gifts, 
he prefers the request that she will copy out for him the 

^ Monumenta Moguntina, p. 76. 2 Y\i\A., p. 242. 



THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM, ETC. 73 

Epistles of St. Peter, written in letters of gold.^ Possibly 
she used for this purpose the gold pen which LuUus the 
deacon had sent her.^ The spiritual confidences, by the 
by, of exalted ladies must at times have been somewhat 
puzzling to him ; e.g., that effusive epistle of Egburg (M. 
M., 63). In the midst of her desolation, the love of him 
is as a flavour of honeyed sweetness in her bowels ; 
though defrauded of the bodily sight of him, she con- 
tinually clasps his neck with sisterly embraces. She pre- 
fers him to all of the male sex. Not so much does the 
shipwrecked mariner long for port or the parched fields for 
the showers as she does to enjoy the sight of her Wynfrid. 
The new missionary, like Augustine in England, finds 
himself confronted with various difficulties in his ministry 
among the Saxons and Thuringians, and propounds to 
the Pope a string of knotty questions. Some of them 
have already been baptized by Pagans, or they don't 
know whether they have already been baptized or no. 
In such cases what was to be done ? The answer is, 
" Baptize them." ^ Again, as to eating horse-flesh. This 
his Holiness pronounces to be impure and execrable. 
He had no easy work of it, for later on (a.d. 746) he is 
taken to task by the Pope for re-baptizing some persons 
whom a priest, ignorant of Latin, had baptized in nomine 
Patria instead of in nomine Fatris. Also, if any one has 
slain his mother, brother, or sister, he is not permitted to 
receive the body of our Lord, except as a viaticum on his 
decease.* A letter of Pope Gregory III., circa y^?>, to the 
bishops of Bavaria,^ shows him to be sorely exercised by 
the advent in those parts of Britons whom he classes with 
" false heretics." These were very likely the Irish mission- 
aries, with the wrong Easter and diabolic tonsure — the 
gnat magnified by Eome into a very camel — though some 
of these Scots, as Sampson, were really unsound in matters 

1 Monumcnta Moguntina, p. 99. - Ibid., p. 214. * Ibid., p. 93. 
Headers will think of the "Codex Ar- •* Ibid., p. 93. ^ Ibid., p. 103. 

gcnteus" and the "Codex Aureus." 



74 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

of graver import.^ We have (p. 107) Boniface, servant of 
the Apostolic See, asking all England to pray for the 
conversion of the Saxons. Much, indeed, did he require 
support, for he was withstood, not only by the Pagans, 
but by those of his own household ; for, as we find in 
a letter from Pope Zacharias, a.d. 744, one Aldebert, a 
priest of not very correct life, had ventured to put up 
crosses and oratories in the fields for the people to worship 
at instead of the public churches. " Small blame to him!" 
Whitfield would perhaps have said. But he did not stop 
here. He had his nails and hair reserved for worship 
along with St. Peter's relics. Luther would have cried 
" Bravo ! " Further, this schismatic consecrated churches 
and invoked eight angels, or rather demons, in his prayers 
— Uriel, Eaguel, Tubuel, Michael, Adinus, Tubuas, Sabaoc, 
Simiel (= Samiel, who is so prominent in Weber's opera 
of " Der Preischiitz ") — whereas the Church only knew of 
three, Michael, Gabriel, and Kaphael. 

Another priest, Clement, had a concubine and two 
daughters by her, and still claimed to be a priest ; hold- 
ing this to be according to the Old Testament, which 
said it was lawful for a man to marry the wife of his de- 
ceased brother." But the chief dead fly in the pot of oint- 
ment to Roman nostrils was his doctrine that Christ, when 
He descended into hell, liberated all, thus abolishing pur- 
gatory — Rome's special rotten borough. Boniface had 
put both of them in prison. His Holiness praises the step 
he has taken, and the two heretics are afterwards solemnly 
condemned, excommunicated, and anathematised by a synod 
of twenty-five bishops at Rome. 

Not the least interesting in the collection is a Latin 
letter by one of Bede's disciples, Abbot Gutberct, of Wear- 
mouth and Jarrow, to Archbishop Lullus of Mayence 
(Mon. Mogunt., p. 300). Herewith he sends the prose and 
verse books on Cuthbert by Bede. It had been so dread- 
fully cold this winter that the copyist could not write 

1 Monumenta Moguntina, p. 189. ^ ibid., p. 133. 



THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM^ ETC. 75 

more just now. At the same time he thanks the Arch- 
bishop for a piece of silk sent by him to enwrap the re- 
mains of Bede, apparently as a return for a present of 
twenty knives and another skin gown, sent by him to the 
Northumbrian six years before. " All the race of Angles," 
he continues, " ought to thank God for giving the nation a 
man so wonderful, so endowed with various gifts, so moral 
as Bede." The love of this worthy abbot for his monas- 
tery comes out in the letter. The Archbishop had sent the 
old man a piece of thick stuff to keep out the cold, but he 
won't have it, not he. He has given it to clothe the altar 
of St. Paul at Jarrow, under whose protection he has lived 
forty-six years. He also begs the Archbishop to look out 
for a man skilled iu making glass vessels; and to send him, 
at the same time, a citharista, to play on ' the rote.' ^ He 
has a rote, but not an artist. Had the workmen brought 
from France by Benedict Biscop, 6^6, left no successors in 
their craft ? 

Not the least interesting of the letters is one written 
about 747 to King Ethelbald of Mercia, warning him to 
reform the dissolute morals of England, if he w^ould not 
have such a judgment overtake him as had fallen on the 
Spaniards and Burgundians through the Saracenic inva- 
sion. In Old Saxony, he says, a girl who breaks the law 
of chastity is compelled to hang herself, and is then burnt. 
Sometimes an army of women assembles and flogs her 
through the villages, and, tearing off her garments to the 
waist, punctures her body with their knives, a fresh band 
of flagellants ever reinforcing each other till they leave 
her for dead. Even the Wends, the foulest and worst of 
races, set so much store by marriage, that a woman whose 
husband dies refuses to survive him, and is burnt on the 
same pile as her husband. 

Wlrile busy in Germany, Boniface ever kept a watchful 
eye on the state of the English Church. How matters 
fared there is clear from his letter to Archbishop Cuthbert 

1 For a description of the rote, see O'Currj's " Mauners and Customs of 
Ireland." 



76 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

of Canterbury, a.d. 748. With a passage from it, especially 
interesting to Englislimcn, we will close tliis notice : — " I 
hear that in England drunkenness is a vice of only too 
common occurrence ; and the bishops not only do not pro- 
hibit it, but get drunk themselves, and make others drunk 
by pressing big bowls upon them. ... A vice this is 
which is a specialty of Pagans and of Englishmen, neither 
Eranks, nor Gauls, nor Lombards, nor Romans, nor Greeks 
being addicted to it" (Monuni. Mogunt., p. 210). 

As the chief object of this work is to give extracts 
from Anglo-Saxon works, Alcuin, albeit pronounced by 
Malmesbury to be, after Bede and Aldhelm, the most 
learned of Englishmen, would, strictly speaking, have no 
place here, for nothing of his in the vernacular survives. 
But he tilled in his day far too great a place in the public 
eye, not only of England, but of the continent of Europe, 
to be passed over in silence. Born at York, of noble 
family, about 735, the year in which Bede died, he was 
brought up there by the monks (Monumenta Alcui- 
niana, ed. Jaffe, p. 249), and in due time, on the retire- 
ment of Archbishop Albert, was intrusted by him with 
the care of the school and library. His poem in Latin 
hexameters, some 1700 lines long, entitled "Versus de 
Sanctis Eboracensis Ecclesi?e," and first rightly ascribed 
to Alcuin by Gale, places before us those great luminaries 
of religion and learning in the North of England, together 
with glimpses of the localities adorned by their presence, 
while at the same time we learn some particulars about 
the writer. Alcuin also wrote a Latin history of St. 
Wilibrord, the first Apostle of Friesland (died 738). But 
it is in his correspondence, amounting to more than three 
hundred letters,^ that we get a picture of the man and his 
age. Very interesting are these letters on many accounts. 
The man of taste, the polite scholar, the schoolmaster, 
as contradistinguished from those pioneers of Christianity 

1 Edited by Canisius, 1601, Quercetanus, 1617, Mabillon, 1685, Frobenius, 
1777, and best by Jaffe, with his poem and Life of Willibrord, "Monumenta 
Alcuiniana," Berlin, 1873. 



THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM, ETC. -j-j 

in Germany, the missionaries, in whose wake lie followed, 
the preceptor of Charlemagne and counsellor in his 
efforts to civilise his subjects here appears before us. 
The fights of the Western warriors with the Saracens, 
Charlemagne's expeditions against the Frisians, Saxons, 
and warlike Huns (Avari), who in 788 had burst into 
Italy and Bavaria,^ appear upon the canvas. 

Alcuin had been dispatched by Archbishop Eanbald, 
the successor of Albert, to Eome (Vita, p. 17). On his 
return he met Charles, the greatest monarch of his age, 
at Parma, a.d. 781, who begged him to return to France 
on the completion of his mission. Well aware of his 
own educational deficiencies and the ignorance of his 
subjects, Charles's discerning mind saw that here was 
the very man of whom he stood in need, and invited 
him to leave England and become his minister of public 
education, giving him at the same time two abbeys as a 
retaining fee. Alcuin, having obtained the permission 
to do this from his superiors in England, ecclesiastical 
and civil, where he remained for a season, accepted the 
offer, and eventually became head of the monastery of 
Tours, A.D. 796, and factotum of the great emperor, 
leaving a gap in England not to be filled up, and this 
in spite of his friends' entreaties to him to return.^ See 
his letter to Offa, King of Mercia (Jaffu, p. 290). And 
one can hardly wonder at the step he took when one 
considers the insecure state of his country in those days, 
and the comparative quiet to be enjoyed at the court of the 
triumphant emperor. But though armed with great autho- 

1 His ultimate victory over these Bede, that most learned presbyter, 
people was by no means a barren one. who, after Gregory, was the most skil- 
Tlie treasure brouc;ht to Aquisgranuin ful commentator on the Scriptures. 
(Aix-la-Chapelle) on the occasion, cou- — Monumcnta Carolina, 632. Again, 
sisting of gold, silver, aud silk, filled Notker Teutonicus, the chief repre- 
fifteen waggons. sentative of theological and classical 

2 The monk of St. Gall says, "Alcuin learning in Germany in tlie tenth ceu- 
came to Charlemagne, who received tury, speaks of Alcuin as without a 
him willingly. He was accomplished rival in profane and sacred lore, while 
in all the Scriptures above men of as a grammarian he left Donatus and 
modern times, as being a disciple of Priscian far behiud.— i/cr^e, 132. 



yS OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

rity, he essentially continued to be what ho was by nature 
— a gentleman. His lofty altitude did not induce glaciation. 
The way in which he keeps up old friendships with those 
whom he outstripped in the race of life proclaims him 
clearly to have had nought of one main feature of your 
' creeping climber ' in his composition. There M^as an abid- 
ing vein of kindly humour in the man which ever and anon 
«rops up. Sallies of wit and shrewd common sense break 
through the stiff rampart of erudition, and a fountain of sen- 
sibility and affection wells up from under the dead weight of 
court etiquette and sacerdotal gravity. In his familiar 
correspondence he delights to assume the nom. de plume of 
'Flaccus,' or Tlaccus Albinus ' (p. 199), w^hile the great 
personages his correspondents must perforce unbend and 
submit to be styled by some fanciful sobriquet. He 
feels he can get at their hearts better when he does this. 
Thus Charlemagne appears as ' his most sweet David ; ' 
Bishop Higbald is Speratus ; Eiculf, Archbishop of May- 
ence,i becomes the ' pastoral swain,' Damoetas ; his pupil, 
Hrabanus, head of the seminary at Fulda, is Maurus; 
and his exceedingly dear friend Arno, Bishop of Salzburg, 
Aquila, ' most beloved bird of all birds on alpine heights,' 
while Alcuin subscribes himself with due humility as 
'the anser with strident voice' (ibid., 445) Gundrada, 
sister of the Abbot of Corvey, is Eulalia (Jaffe, 685), and 
the Abbess ^dilberga, daughter of Offa, King of Mercia, 
whom he bids soar to heaven on wings of charity and 
chastity, is transformed into Eugenia. 

1 An interchange of presents is conundrum : a beast had entered his 

continually going on between Alcuin doors having two heads and sixty 

and his male and female correspon- teeth, and yet he was not alarmed, 

dents — charming courtesies which but pleased at its appearance, for it is 

do credit to all concerned. Some- not of elephantine size but of Ebur- 

times the reception of such a proof nean beauty. Cf. his facetious verses 

of affection leads Alcuin to perpetrate to one Cuculus, p. 237. The Anglo- 

a joke. Thus DamcBtas sends him a Saxons were fond of riddles. See 

comb of ivory, a novelty in those those by Cynewulf in the Exeter 

days, though bone combs were not Book, whicli are full of grace and 

rare in prehistoric times. In his true poetry. 
letter of thanks he encloses a poetical 



THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM, ETC. 79 

But though his hands were doubtless pretty full of 
Charles's affairs, secular and spiritual, it is clear that the 
old haunts of his youth in Northumbria always held a 
warm place in his heart, and that he never ceased to be 
anxious for the spiritual wellbeing of the Church. His 
letters to Bishop Higbald and the monks of Lindisfarne, 
who had escaped massacre when the Danes had murdered 
many of the brethren and despoiled and profaned the 
monastery of St. Cuthbert, a place more venerable than 
any in Britain, are among the best known. He condoles 
with them in their distress, but bids them beware of 
drunkenness, and gormandising, and avarice. " Besides," 
adds he, " you are not the only sufferers. Almost all 
Europe has been devastated by the Huns and Goths with 
fire and sword,^ but the Holy Church shines like a star." 
He gives them, too, a piece of practical advice, viz., 
to make interest with Charlemagne about getting the 
captives ransomed from the heathen. The monks of 
Wearmouth and Jarrow, where the great Bede had lived 
and died, are also bid by him to take warning from the 
fate of St. Cuthbert's Church. "Mind and observe a 
regular life, such as Benedict (died 703) and Ceolfrid pre- 
scribed for you. Often read over the rule of Benedict, 
and explain it in Anglo-Saxon (JafFe, p. 198). You live 
on the coast which is exposed to the first assaults of the 
desolating plague. Amend your ways. The words of the 
prophet (Jer. i. 14) have been fulfilled, 'Out of the north 
all ills break forth.' Imitate Bede, who was so studious 
and renowned while on earth, and now also in heaven. 
Let the youths attend to the praises of the Heavenly King, 
not dig foxes out of their burrows or pursue the winding 
mazes of hares." So he writes to Hechstane the presbyter, 
" When the soul is hurried to judgment, what will drunken- 
ness, carnal luxury, pomp of vestments, rings on fingers, 
gold in purse, profit you?" But Alcuin flew at higher 
game than lowly monks. JEthelved, King of Northumber- 

^Mon. Alcuin., p. 190, Jaflfe. Cf. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 793. 



So OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

Luul, and liis great men are exhorted {i.e., well wig^ed) 
about the paramount duty of a virtuous life in face of 
recent calamities (ibid., i So), such as have never occurred to 
Britain for 350 years. From the king downward the land 
has been full of heinous sins since the days of ^If wald ; 
adultery, avarice, rapine, wrested justice. Think too of 
your luxurious habits and the way in which you imitate 
the pagans in tlie tonsure of the beard and hair ! Obey 
the priests of God. It was clearly a judgment of Heaven. 
That shower of blood which fell in the preceding Lent on 
the roof of St. Peter's Church at York was clearly a 
presage of what was to befall (ibid., 182). Specially does he 
warn Bishop Higbald, in a letter written after June 793, 
to indulge in sobriety, not inebriety ; his apparel suited to 
his grade and not conformed to the vanity of the age. 
Better to adorn his soul with good manners, than pamper 
his poor body. It is this same Bishop whom he urges 
four years later to let the words of God be heard at the 
table, not a citharista ; sermons of the fathers, and not 
carmina gentilium ; for what has Ingald (mythic hero, see 
Beowulf) to do with Christianity ? The Northern monks, 
we see, could not refrain from passing round the old 
national ballad after their dinner, and smaU blame to 
them. Alcuin's words must indeed have been a power in 
England when he could write to ^thelhard, Archbishop 
of Canterbury, ' Esto pater, non mercenarius, rector, non 
subversor.' And he goes on (Jaffe, p. 206), ' Gildas tells us 
how the Britons lost their country through the avarice and 
rapine of the chiefs, the injustice of the judges, the sloth 
of the bishops, and the luxury and immorality of the 
people. Again he warns Eanbald the Second on his becom- 
ing Archbishop of York (331) to avoid the pomp of the age, 
luxury of food, variety of vestments, not to keep company 
with drunkards : his companions must not pursue the fox 
over the plain, but ride along with him singing psalms in 
sweet modulation. And (338) he urges this prelate to 
have always by him Gregory's "Pastoral Care," for it is a 



THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM, ETC. 8i 

mirror of pontifical life, and an antidote to the wounds 
inflicted by the devil. Well might Alcnin speak thus 
plainly, for, as he says (373), the servants of God in the 
monasteries live like laymen and not like monks. The 
pill administered to the prelate must doubtless have been 
hard to swallow, but Alcuin gilded it by getting him the 
honour of the pallium from Pope Leo III., the consecrated 
lamb's- wool symbol of submission to Eome (ibid., 3 5 8). Of 
course the hat went round in England on these occasions. 
Sometimes the king or the people could not see it. Thus 
Coeuulf, King of the Mercians, sent this same Pope only 
125 mancusses,^ whereupon Leo wrote to "his very ex- 
cellent son Coenulf," a.d. 797 (ibid., 363), that he expected 
yearly not less than 365 mancusses, as per agreement 
between King Offa and the blessed Peter, holder of the keys 
of heaven. It was only a step we see from the mundane 
to the celestial. Well might there be a saying among us, 
" England was the Pope's ass : it bore all the burden he chose 
to lay on it." But England had no monopoly. Witness 
the grotesque print which appeared in Nuremberg in A. 
Durer's time, which went by the name of Pabstesel, ' Pope's 
ass.' Quaint Thomas Fuller, had he been versed in 
modern Stock Exchange phraseology, might have said 
here, " The Papal stool was always ' bulling ' the market, 
and operating for the rise in its commodities." 

In another way Alcuin did not forget to mix a due quan- 
tum of the duke with the acre. He sends his dear Symeon 
(this same Eanbald) a little wine to comfort his friends at 
York, also 100 pounds of tin alloy to cover the belfry. 

Besides being self-constituted director-general of reli- 
gious matters, and corrector morum in England, Alcuin 
seems to have performed the same function- through the 
leno-th and breadth of Charles's dominions. Here we have 
him exhorting King Pepin of Italy (ibid. 343) to chastity, 
there the monks of Salzburg to diligence and regularity 

1 Mancns-lth of a pound. No mancus has ever been found : it is thought 
theiefore not to be a coin, but an expression of value. 

F 



82 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

(ibid., 382), now combating the pernicious heresy of the 
Spaniard Felix, whom lie confronted before Charles and 
utterly annihilated (559). We find him acting as father- 
confessor to exalted abbesses, interceding effectually for 
captives with Charles, condoling with a mother who has 
lost her son, and with the Emperor himself on the death 
of his queen, Liutgard (533). Again we find him promising 
Charles (421) to be his Tyrtseus and send him a military 
hymn. Alas ! that it no more exists. A version of the 
' Wacht am Rheiu ' of those days would be interesting. In 
one letter he mentions his Commentary on St. John, which 
he dedicates to Gisla, Charles's sister, while in another he 
gives the Emperor lessons in astronomy. It is not a little 
interesting to find him borrowing books from York, begging 
Abbot Angilbert of St. Pdquier near Abbeville (627) to 
lend him Jordanes' or Jornandes' '' Historia Gothorum," 
and asking Eichbode, Archbishop of Treves, for Bede's tract 
on Tobit. But amidst his abstruse studies his mind was 
always greatly occupied with the removal of the stumbling- 
blocks to the advance of nascent Christianity in Germany. 
One of the leading questions of the day was how best to 
reconcile the claims of God and Csesar. The new converts, 
in fact, expected to be taught gratis, imagining that the 
missionaries, though unprovided with scrip or purse, would 
be able to exist somehow, or perhaps not caring to ask any 
questions about it. In this strait they had recourse to 
the source of revenue prescribed of old — tithe — which at 
once excited the bile and shook the faith of the barbarians. 
We see that the '• parson's nose tickled by a tithe pig's 
tail in his sleep " was a standing joke against the cloth, 
not to say rebuke, long before the days of Elizabeth. 
But how were the clergy to exist unless the laity con- 
tributed some sure and fixed quantum to their support ? 
If they did not ' live of the gospel,' the alternative was 
starvation. Alcuin recommends the by-hook-or-by-crook 
method of getting on for the present. The converts were 
to be gradually accustomed to the new order of things. 



THE LETTERS OF ALDHELM, ETC. 83 

Charlemague having triumphed over the Huns, a.d. 796 
and anxious about their conversion to Christianity, dis-, 
patches Arno, Bishop of Salzburg, on this errand. Here- 
upon the Bishop and the Emperor are warned by Alcuin 
against levying tithes (ibid., 301, 308), a measvire to 
which even faithful Christians were averse. Tithes had 
alienated the Saxons from the faith. So don't lay down 
a hard and fixed rule about collecting tithes from house 
to house in the first instance. Later on, the full tale may 
be enforced. " Be gentle with them," he says : " Infantilis 
astas lacte est nutrienda ue per austeriora proecepta fragilis 
mens evomat quod bibit." In a.d. 796 he writes enthusi- 
astically to the Emperor (ibid., 344) of the schools he has 
established at Tours. " To some he is ministering the 
honey of the Holy Scriptures, to others the old wine of 
ancient discipline, others he will commence feeding with 
the apples of grammatic subtlety. He has become all 
things to all men for the profit of Holy Church and 
the glory of the empire. In the heyday of his life he 
sowed the seed of learning in Britain, now in its evening 
he ceases not to sow in France." Still the polite scholar 
of York must have laboured invitd Minervd. It was but 
uphill work, for he writes to Charles, 799 (ibid., 457), 
" Although I make but little progress, still I figlit daily 
with the dullards of Tours." And at a later period, as old 
age with its increasing infirmities drew on, he asks per- 
mission to finish his days in retirement at Eulda,^ a pro- 
position to which Charles would not listen for a moment. 
Alcuin was far too useful and distinguished a personage 
to let slip. Occasionally he would pay the old man the 
honour of a personal visit. At one of these he even con- 
sulted him as to which of his sons he should make his 
successor. Doubtless friends from Britain, or promising 

1 A place for which he seems to has sent the monks wherein to en- 
have an especial affection as tlie last velop the remains of the martyr 
resting-])lace of Boniface. One of his (Jaffe, 656). 
letters mentions a pallium which he 



84 OLD ENG L IS II LITER A TURE. 

voutlis provided witli letters of recommendation, would 
often call at the monastery of Tours, the one just to see 
an old intimate, the other hoping perhaps through his 
influence to obtain preferment. This was by no means 
relished by his Gallic entourage. Thus one Aigulf, a 
presbyter, one day knocks at the gate and overhears the 
monks say (he understood their talk, though they were 
not aware of it), " Here is another Briton or Scot come 
to see that Briton within. The Lord deliver this monas- 
tery from those fellows ! Like bees to their queen, so they 
all come swarming about him" (Vita, 25). And so he 
passed his days. In 801 he writes he is quietly waiting 
at St. Martin's till the voice should come : " Aperi pulsanti, 
sequere jubentem et audi judicantem" (ibid., 624). At 
last the peaceful end of a varied and busy life arrives, 
"Migravit Albinus levita Christi, 14 Kal. June 804," i.e., 
ten years before his friend and patron Charlemagne. 



CHAPTEE VI. 



THE LAWS. 



But there are still works to be added to our list which, 
but for Parker and men of like conservative genius, might 
have disappeared. It has been said that the laws, the 
romances, and the newspaper press of a country, indicate 
the state of its civilisation in any given age. The last, of 
course, was non-existent in those days, and of romances, as 
we shall see, there is mighty little extant for us to judge 
by; but of laws there is no lack. The "Anglo-Saxon 
Laws," edited first by W. Lambard,^ then by A. Whelock, 
by Wilkins,^ then by Thorpe,^ and now in a more correct 
text, and accompanied with a capital antiquarian glossary, 
by Schmidt,* throw as interesting and important a light 
as can be imagined on the early institutions of this land. 
If in the statute-book all great movements, political, 
religious, and social, are reflected, if personal transactions 
between individuals from age to age are therein treated 
and adjusted according to the views prevalent at the time, 
then in the laws of the Saxons, as far as they remain to 
us, in the code of Ethelbert of Kent (circa 600), of 
Wihtred (699), in the laws of Ine of Wessex (before 694), 
in the 'Dooms' of Alfred (embodying a selection from 
the jurisprudence of his predecessors), in the laws of 

^ '^ Apxatovo/ila, sive de priscis ^ "Ancient Laws," kc, London, 

Anglorum Legibus," London, 1568. 1840 ; cf. " Monumenta Historica 

- " Leges Anglo-Saxonicae," by D. Britanuic-B." 

Wilkins, London, 1721. * Leipzig (second edition), 1858. 



86 OLD ENGLISH LJTERATURE. 

Edward the Elder, &c., and in the sensible la^ys of Canute, 
the latter approaching to the character of codes, we have 
the very bone and marrow of the whole matter, as far as 
the social history of the Anglo-Saxons is concerned. Still 
those laws make up the history only to a certain extent ; 
they may be the skeleton, but they are not the flesh and 
blood, any more than would be the presentments of grand 
juries, which, according to a recent ingenious writer, would 
afford a good basis for the history of our country. True, 
modern critics pronounce the Anglo-Saxons to have been 
very obtuse in legal matters, to have had no grasp of 
the subject, and unable to organise it scientifically. Yet, 
notwithstanding, no other branch of the Teutonic race has 
bequeathed to us such a rich treasure of legal documents 
illustrating its early period of development as the Anglo- 
Saxons. Besides the laws, extending over a space of 
five hundred years, with no break in the continuity from 
Ethelbert to the Conqueror, there are several very ancient 
private ecclesiastical documents full of supplementary 
information upon the legal usages and the social customs, 
&c. While dwelling on the fact that in the Anglo-Saxon 
laws lie to a great extent the foundations of the English 
constitution and of English law, the Germans further 
point with pride to the fact that, although on the 
Continent German law became supplanted to a certain 
extent by the Eoman law, in England the Anglo-Saxons 
stuck to the legal principles of the parent stock ; so that it 
has been said English law, even later than the Normans, 
is more German than German law itself.^ Being couched 
in the very earliest extant German dialect, of course these 
laws solve for the German legal antiquarians many a 
knotty point in the barbarous Middle- Age Latin. At the 
same time the Germans are so gracious as to allow that 
the old Scandinavian and Erisian legal documents do 
throw some light on these matters. 

Any attempt at a detailed description of these laws as 

1 Schmidt, preface. 



THE LAWS. 87 

bearing on the growth of the constitution is of course out 
of the scope of this work, and it has been already done 
by others. It will be more to our purpose to dip into 
them here and there, if perchance by so doing we may 
place before our readers something illustrative of Anglo- 
Saxon England, the state of the country, and the customs 
of the people. "We may here note that the rhythmical 
quantity and alliteration still visible in our judicial 
formulae, &c., will find their true origin and explanation 
in Anglo-Saxon, if not in Old Norse ; for, as Mr. Thorpe 
observes, this is a feature common to all branches of the 
Teutonic race. 

The laws of Ethelbert (according to Bede, fourth king 
of Kent after Hengist) only consist of ninety short heads. 
Of their genuineness there can be no question. Bede 
himself (ii. 5) mentions the fact of their promulgation in 
English by Ethelbert. They accurately fix the punish- 
ment to be inflicted in case of damage done to person or 
property according to his exact degree and rank. There 
was the b6t= the compensation to the injured party, as 
damages for the wrong sustained, and also the wite, or 
penalty claimed by the crown. Holy Church's rights 
were, of course, looked well after. If any man stole from 
a bishop, he had to pay an elevenfold recompense (cap. i) ; 
while in the case of a mere cleric the compensation was 
threefold only. Surely it was an Anglo-Saxon hierarch 
who said to the waiter at a diocesan dinner, " Waiter, the 
room is close ; open the window behind the minor canon." 
An assault upon the servant of an earl cost the offender 
twice as much as if it was a ceorl's domestic. Not only 
liad each man his exact price or value, according to his 
rank and degree, to be paid to his heirs and assigns if 
taken off, but, as was the case among all Teutonic races, 
every member of his body was exactly appraised, after the 
fashion of your modern Accidental Insurance Company. 
To seize a man by the hair was a luxury that cost the 
offender four sceattar= nearly four shillings of our money 



88 OLD ENGLISH IJTERA TURE. 

(sec. II). Violent dentistry cost, in case of its being the 
four front teeth, six shillings each ; the next to them, four 
shillings ; the next, tliree, and the rest one shilling each. 
To cut off a man's foot involved a penalty of fifty shillings ; 
his great toe, ten shillings. The shooting (fore) finger cost 
eight shillings ; the gold finger (ring-finger), six shillings ; 
the little finger, eleven shillings, this being doubtless con- 
sidered a greater injury to the personal appearance than 
the loss of another finger. In the same way a black 
bruise outside the clotlies cost thirty sliillings, but inside 
them ten shillings less. A blow on the nose with the 
fist (whether the blood was drawn or not is not specified) 
cost the offender three shillings, indicating those boxing 
proclivities said to be peculiarly characteristic of the 
Anglo-Saxon. Offences with the tongue met with due 
punishment. 

In the laws of Kings Hlothar and Eadric of Kent 
(circa 680) we have, " Whoever calls another mansworn ^ 
(perjured) in another man's flat (house), or addresses to 
him any other such scandalous language, let him pay one 
shilling to the owner of the flat, six shillings to the man 
he abused, and twelve shillings to the king" (11). The 
idea of an Englishman's house being his castle further 
comes out in the enactment (13), that if a man draws his 
sword at a drinking bout without using it, he must pay 
the master of the house a shilling, and to the kino- twelve 
shillings. That Church and Eoyalty had already become 
peers in the days of Wihtra^d, king of the Kenters, is 
clear from the enactment that the fine for the violation of 
the mundbyrd (protection) of the king and of the Church 
is the same, viz., fifty shillings. Holy Church, neverthe- 
less, had peccant ministers. " If a priest breaks the 
seventh commandment, or neglects to baptize a sick 
person, or is so drunken that he is unable to do it, let 
him be suspended during the bishop's pleasure " (6). " If 

1 This word has nothing to do with ' mau ' or ' to mean,' but is from A.S. 
' Mau,' Is. ' meiu ' — injury. 



THE LA WS. 89 

a tonsured man goes loafing about in search of hospi- 
tality, let it be granted to him once, but not of tener, unless 
he has permission " (7). In those days the word of the 
bishop and the king (note the sequence) was irrefragable, 
without oath. A priest might purge himself of accusa- 
tions by standing at the altar in his vestments and saying, 
" Veritatem dico in Christo, non mentior;" but a churl in 
order to do so had to get four of his class, and all of them 
must swear by the altar. 

The laws of Ine, king of the West Saxons, the friend 
of Boniface, the patron of Aldhelm, who, according to the 
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, abdicated and retired to liome, 726, 
contain, in seventy-six heads, enactments, civil and eccle- 
siastical, bearing manifest traces of the finger of a church- 
man — said in the preface to be Eorcenwald, made Bishop of 
London, 675 : e.g., " If a serf work on Sunday by his lord's 
behest, let him be free, and his lord pay a fine of thirty 
shillings. But if the serf work without his knowledge, let 
him suffer in his hide (be flogged), or in a pecuniary com- 
mutation " (3). The disturbed state of the country in his 
day, and the precautions necessary against possible spies 
from the bordering kingdoms, come out forcibly in a law 
like this, which also occurs in Wihtrsed (28) : " If a 
man from afar or stranger go off the highroad through 
the woods, and does not cry out or blow a horn, he is to 
be tried as a thief, either to slay or let go" (20). This 
reminds one of the state of things said to have existed 
in Yorkshire at the close of the last century. Scene — 
suburbs of some little town. Stranger approaches. A 
rough observes him and addresses another rough. " Dost 
thee knoa that chap?" " Noa. Dost thee?" " Noa." 
" Then wang a stoan at his head." Stranger falls to the 
earth. Roughs exeunt. A very effectual provision was 
made against trespass as follows : " If a beast break 
through hedges, and its owner won't or can't keep it in, 
and anybody meets it on his field, he may take and 
slaughter it, and the owner may have its fell and flesh, 



90 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

but nothing more " (42). The multitude of pigs that were 
fattened in the forests would not add to the charms of 
these sylvan solitudes. Special fines are imposed here on 
trespasses upon other people's mast. In 44 the size of a 
tree is described as one under which thirty swine can 
stand. When we read (58) that the worth of an ox-tail 
is one shilling, the thought at once occurs that the soup 
must have come very expensive ; but the enactment refers 
to the cutting off the tail of the animal maliciously or by 
accident. In these laws of Ine we discern the inequality 
before the law between the Saxon and the older inliabi- 
tants of the country — a striking testimony to which is the 
fact that ' Wealh ' or ' Wylisc ' (originally = ' Welsh '), be- 
came later synonymous with ' slave.' ^ 

Alfred prefaces his ' Dooms ' with the Jewish decalogue 
and the Mosaic law. Cap. 5 secures to every church 
consecrated by a bishop the right of asylum to a fugitive 
for seven nights, if he can manage to hold out without 
food for that time ; and anybody who violates this is 
pronounced to be a breaker of the king's peace — an offence 
of great magnitude. If the neighbours want the use of 
the church, they are to guard the fugitive in another 
building, with no more doors in it than the church. By 
cap. 8 tlie abduction of a nun involved a payment of 120 
shillings, half to the king, half to the bishop and the 
proprietor of the church to whom she belonged.^ One of 
Alfred's laws (12), on the penalties for setting fire to the 
forest, indicates the price of wood in his times. "The 
fine for each great tree is five shillings, and for all others, 
whatever their number, five pennies ; besides a mulct of 
thirty shillings to the crown." He who stole a foal or a 
calf got off with a shilling (ibid., 16). The owners of 
savage dogs had it not all their own way. If such a dog 

1 Athelstan, vi. 6, § 3. build churches. The bishop bestowed 

2 Mixed motives, pious zeal, or the patronage of the new church on 
vanity, or ambition, or a desire to tlie founder. Hence simoniacal prac- 
conciliate the favour of Heaven, led tices arose. Theod. Capit., Thorpe, 
people in those days (as in these) to ii. 73 ; Kemble, ii. 420. 



THE LA IV S. 91 

tore or bit a man, the penalty fixed Ly Alfred (23) \ras six 
shillings the first offence, for the second twelve shillings, 
and for the third thirty shillings, and afterwards the full 
value of the man each time. It was quite necessary to 
have stringent rules about these animals, for mad dogs 
were not wanting, at least there is an Anglo-Saxon re- 
ceipt for the bite of a mad dog. Indeed there is a letter 
extant from Pope Zacharias to Boniface, the Apostle of 
Germany, A.D. 751, ordering animals that have been bitten 
by rabid wolves and dogs to be kept separate least they 
should infect others, or if few, to be buried (Mon. Mogunt., 
p. 223). 

No less than thirty-five chapters (44-77) are devoted 
to appraising the damage to the several parts of a man's 
body — an index this of the constant state of assault and 
battery in which the Anglo-Saxons lived at home, exclu- 
sive of fights with the Danes. 

Last, not least, among the laws of Alfred, we have 
(Schmidt, 2d ed. p. 106) the provisions of that celebrated 
compact, ' Alfred and Guthrum's Peace,' ^ made between 
the Saxon king and the king of the Danes, after the 
latter had been thoroughly beaten in the battle of 
Ethandune (878) - by the men of Somerset, Wiltshire, and 

1 Kemble (Saxons, ii. 218) was of father doing what all godfathers are 

opinion that this agreement was supposed to do from that day to this, 

drawn up at AVedmore just after and long before that— making hand- 

the battle. But Schmidt (xxxviii. ), some presents to his stalwart godson. 

pointing to its provisions, seems to In 882 Aschloh, near Maestricht on 

prove satisfactorily that it must be of the Meuse, witnessed the equally 

later date. Like all great victories sudden conversion of Godfred, the 

over the heathen in those days, that leader of the Flanders Vikings, when 

of Wedmore witnessed so-called con- Charles the Fat stood godfather. 

versions to Christianity by wholesale. Steenstrup, Vikingetogene, 204. 

Guthrum with thirty of his chiefs 2 Poor France and Flanders were 

were baptized at Princes Island, and not long in feeling the effects of it. 

paradedabout in their whitebaptismal Their rivers were soon alive with 

garments for eight days — Guthrum fresh swarms of Vikings, whose oc- 

having King Alfred for his ' gossip,' cupation was for the time gone in 

and changing his name to Athel- England. JOthandune is supi)osed to 

Stan. "What feasting there was for have been on the high ground near 

twelve days long at that royal manor- Alfred's Tower, on the borders of 

Louse ! Aud then we have the god- Somerset and Wilts. 



92 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

Hants, with Alfred leading them in virtue of the previous 
agreement come to at Ecgbryte's Stone the seventh week 
after Easter. What a narrow escape England had of 
being un-Saxonised from the shores of the North Sea to 
the confines of Wales, becomes at once apparent from 
the terms of this document. Herein is given up to the 
Danes all the country east of a line running from the 
Thames up the river Lea to its source, thence west to 
Bedford, and along the Ouse to Watling Street, that great 
Roman road stretching right across England through 
Mercia to Chester. This was the so-called Denalagh. 
Further, the subjects of each dominion are forbidden 
under severe penalties to cross the frontier, even for 
purposes of trade, without a previous exchange of hos- 
tages (5). 

Contrast with the united front opposed by Alfred's 
subjects the conduct of the Irish chieftains under similar 
circumstances (830-855), when the [N'orthern Philistines 
were upon them. To fish in troubled waters was their 
motto. Their country's danger was the signal for gratify- 
ing clan jealousies and lust for plunder. The same year 
that the Vikings harried Armagh, the Irish King Concho- 
bar plundered the cattle of the monastery. Feidhlimidh, 
King of Cashel, instead of leading his men against the 
Vikings, fell upon the monastery of Clonmacnois. King 
NiaU invades Leinster, and compels the inhabitants to 
take Bran for their king. And the same year the men 
of] Ulster put Keneth, Mall's son, to death, whereupon 
NiaU plunders Meath.i No wonder that the Vikings 
(836) beset the country on all sides and pressed forward 
to its very centre. So much for Irish patriotism in this 
great crisis of her history. But what of her religion, 
the pure faith of the Island of Saints, inherited from St. 

^ Wars of Gaedhill, p. xliv. But of every individual member of the 

tliere was another inherent source of clan, and the voice he had in all 

weakness in the Irish warfare against matters of war. Ibid. , p. cxviii. 
the foreigner — the independence 



THE LA IVS. 93 

Patrick and Columba ? She would surely stick to that. 
All her people, from Cape Clear to Malin Head, would 
not be behind those Sassenach neighbours who enforced 
Christian baptism on Guthrum and his followers. Yet 
how dark the prospects of Christianity were in England 
in those days comes out in the will of Alfred^ the Ealdor- 
man, about the same date, bequeathing property to Christ 
Church, Canterbury, for Alfred's soul, and adding the 
proviso, " as long as baptism may be, and it may be 
obtained in the land," which seems to contemplate the 
possible recurrence to heathenism under the Danish 
scourge. Out of her own mouth let Ireland be judged. 
" It came to pass at this time that many people gave up 
their Christian baptism and joined themselves to the 
Norwegians (Lochlanns). They plundered Armagh and 
carried off its treasures, though some repented and made 
restitution."^ Nor is this the only case recorded in the 
Irish annals of her sons turning renegades at that period 
of sorest need, foretold of old in verses like these ^ — 

" Gentiles shall come over the soft sea ; 
They shall confound the men of Erinn ; 
Of them there shall be an abbot over every churcli, 
Of them there shall be a king over Erinn. 
There shall be of them an abbot over this my chnrch, 
Who will not attend to matins ; 



1 It was this same Alfred and his alive to the great money value of 

wife Werburg who gave to Canter- these beautiful MSS., and often 

bury the " Codex Aureus," a beauti- carried them off to await ransom, 

ful specimen of Keltic art, purchased Thus in 843 they took a great Bible 

by them of some Vikings, and which from the Basilica at Nantes, which, 

has recently been published in fac- however— the robbers having subse- 

simile by a Norse clergyman, Mr. quently come to blows about the 

lielsheim (Christiania, 1878). He is spoil— fell into the hands of a cap- 

tlie first to show that the Latin text tive. Martene, Thesaurus Aneedot., 

of it was the old Itala and not the iii. 852 ; Steenstrup, v. 245. 

vulgata. The MS. must have been 2 Three Fragments, ed. O'Dono- 

written in Ireland at the end of the van. 

sixth century, or at the beginning of ■* Todd, Introd. Gaedhill, xliv., ib. 

the seventh at Bobbio in Italy, where cxcv. '''' Country was at that time 

St. Columbanus had founded a monns- (1014) in Ireland an unknown seuti- 

tcry. The Vikings soon became fully ment." 



94 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

Williout pater and without credo ; 
Without Irish, but only foreign language." i 

But we must resume our legal jottings. The laws of 
Atbelstan (became king 924 or 925, died 940) are the 
great authority for that extraordinary institution of the 
Middle Ages,^ ' ordeal ' — the decision of God ; for this 
alone is the meaning of the word in Anglo-Saxon. Here 
we have the three several methods duly set forth— the hot 
iron, the cold and boiling water, and the corsnaed or 
' proof bite,' which last, if we remember, Spelman dis- 
cussed with Worm — a test most likely restricted to 
spiritual persons.^ How the suspected person ever 
escaped from the Scylla and Charybdis which threatened 
him seems a mystery, unless by the beneficent collusion 
of the priest. In fact, it seems to have been an ecclesi- 
astical hocus-pocus throughout. The three days' previous 
fasting on bread and water, salt and herbs, the church, 
the service, the adjuration, the manipulation of the 
ordeal, all appertained to the priest; and he doubtless 
would take care — and small blame to him, but rather 
praise — to hedge matters to the best of his ability, so 
that the guilty should not escape, and Holy Church should 
at any rate pass unscathed and unsullied through the 
function. The heating of the hot iron, to be carried by 
the accused nine feet, or the heating of the water in an 
iron, bronze, leaden, or earthenware pot, and the bobbing 
the hand into the boiling fluid in search of the stone 
therein, would be a comi-tragic spectacle of a highly 
sensational character. But for classic effect, perhaps the 
other ordeal by water, when the culprit was first stripped, 

1 Gaedhilljii. The pseudo-abbot was mentioned iu the " Antigone " of So- 

Turgesius (Thorgils), who evidently i^hocles, 264. 

aimed at what tlie Danes would have ^ There is a sensible ami humane 

liked to have effected in England — letter (a.d. 886-889) by Pope Stephen 

the suppression of Christianity and VI. to Liutbert, Archbishop of May- 

the restoration of Paganism. ence, counselling him not to use the 

- That it existed in various shapes test of hot iron and boiling water to 

at a very early period is certain ; cf. parents who had overlaid their infant 

Numbers v. 23. Ordeal by fire is children and suffocated them. 



THE LA WS. 95 

then kissed the Gospels and the crucifix, was then 
sprinkled with holy water, and then plunged into the 
cold water, while the priest droned out in Latin, " If this 
man is guilty, float him ; if innocent, sink him ! " would 
surpass all the other methods. The enduring impression 
made on the national mind by these rites is evidenced by 
such phrases as ' sink or swim,' doubtless a reminiscence 
of the last ordeal, while ' going through fire and water ' 
is of the others.^ 

A modern " smasher " may congratulate himself that 
he does not live in the days of King Athelstan, for lie 
would certainly (ii. 14) have lost his hand without the 
possibility of redemption, which hand was then placed 
over the shop-door. Stringent measures were adopted to 
put down a crime which it is clear was very prevalent, 
for we learn from another statute that the authorities 
were sometimes accomplices in these frauds. If detected, 
they suffered the like penalty.^ He who falsely accused 
another, to the detriment of his person or property, was 
equally well provided for : he forfeited his tongue or paid 
the wer (value) of the injured party (Canute, 16). The 
meaning of our genuine old Saxon word to ' wed ' == to 
covenant, comes out strongly in that law of King 
Edmund's (Schmidt, p. 391) on the betrothing a woman. 
A mass priest of course officiates at the wedding and joins 
the pair together with God's blessing. 

The sixth canon of King Edgar reads a wholesome 
lesson to certain clergy of the present day, serving to 
remind them that ' parish ' is a territorial and not a con- 
gregational term. It runs thus : " We ordain that no 
j)riest encroach on another priest in any of those things 
that belong to him ; neither in his church, nor in his 

1 Most likely the drowning man abounded. For instance, at Canter- 
was tied by a cord and dragged out bury under Athelstan there were 
if innocent. See Athelstan, ii., iii., seven moueyers ; but half a ceu- 
&c. See also note on ordeals by tury later it was ordered that no 
Spelinan. nian might have a mint save the 

- lu the tenth century mints king. 



96 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

parish (' scriftscir,' literally ' sliriftsLire '), nor in his 
guild." 

Unhiscopad (ib., 1 5) = unconfirmed, points to the rite of 
confirmation in England having from early times, and not 
as in Norway, been performed by bishops only. Canon 
26 enacts that the church is devoted to God's service 
and nothing else. There is to be no idle talking or idle 
deeds or drinking there, and no dog or swine is to enter 
the churchyard if it is possible to prevent it. Canon 24 
enacts that no one is to be buried inside the church 
unless during life he was a good Christian. What 
King Edgar and his bishops would have said to Non- 
conformists being buried in churchyards can only be 
surmised. 

A curious commentary on the state of the country in 
Canute's time is afforded in 21 : " Every man above twelve 
years of age is to swear that he will not be a thief or the 
accomplice of thieves;" which is further illustrated by 
29 : " If a man meet a thief and let him go of his own 
accord without crying out, he is to pay the wer of the 
thief, unless he can clear himself of all evil design." 
When, by the advice of his Witan, Canute ordained (74) 
"that a widow should not marry again within twelve 
months of her husband's decease, under the penalty of 
losing her dowry (morgen-gyfe) if she did," it might 
appear to us an intolerable interference on his part with 
the liberty of the subject; but at all events, the rule 
evinced a delicacy of feeling, not to say sound views on 
the due constitution of society, worthy of all commen- 
dation. 

Thank your stars, ye poachers, ye did not live in 
Canute's days,^ when to hunt a beast of the forest till it 
panted was punished, in case of a freeman, by a fine of ten 

1 Einhard, the secretary of Charle- Church of the Blessed Martyrs Mar- 

magne, intercedes on one occasion for cellinus and Peter (Men. Carol., p. 

two poachers in the imperial forest 470). Canute's forest laws, however, 

who were too poor to pay the fine, are not genuine, at least in their pre- 

and had taken sanctuary at the sent shape. 



THE LA WS. 97 

shillings ; in a man of lower rank, with a fine of twenty 
shillings ; in a serf, by a sound flogging. But if it was a 
' royal beast,' the serf was outlawed. An early instance of 
encouraging a taste for sailoring, which was somewhat 
behindhand in his Saxon subjects, is found in that law of 
Athelstan's time : " If a man has passed the sea three 
times at his own expense,^ he shall be worthy of that free- 
dom which is called thegenship," — a very sensible addition 
to the requisites for that office found elsewhere, viz., five 
hides of land, a church and kitchen, and a bell-house. No 
more Christian sentiment is to be found in any laws than 
in the second head of Canute's secular ordinances : " We 
ordain that Christian men shall not be put to death, nor 
God's handiwork and His own purchase, for which He paid 
so dearly, be destroyed for all too little a cause." No 
less creditable is the statute against selling a Christian 
(slave) out of the kingdom, or at least into a heathen land. 

Except in the laws, where have we any full or accurate 
information about the condition of the slaves, who formed 
a majority, or, as some say, three-fourths of the popula- 
tion, and who could only find a refuge from the cruelty of 
their masters, and oftener of their mistresses, in the laws 
of the country which protected them, since tliey them- 
selves had no constitutional or political right, and, like a 
chattel, were bought and sold at the will of their owner ? 
Nevertheless, they appear to have " had Sunday to them- 
selves ; " for in Wihtrajd (^^) we find (according to Schmidt's 
proposed reading), " If a hireling (esne), by his master's 
orders, does any menial work from sunset on Saturday 
till the eve of Monday, his master is to pay him eighty 
shillings." 

Such was their condition in serfdom. But better be 
serfs and under the protection of some lord than be out- 
laws and liable to be slain by anybody (Laws, Athel- 
stan), for such was the position of those who were help- 

^ "Be his iigeuum krafte,'' wliicli may also mean iu his own 'craft' or 
vessel. 

G 



98 OLD ENGLISH LITERA TURK. 

loss and poor, and liad nobody to be answerable for them. 
Trnly a miserable dilemma to be placed in. 

No doubt the death of the lord would often do great 
things for them. A well-known picture by Armitage 
exliibits a scene of this kind, where some of the serfs are 
being set free. In a letter by Wynfrid (Boniface) we 
find {Monumenta Moguntina, p. 59) a monk of Wenlock 
in a trance descends to the regions below. Here he sees 
a poor girl who, while in life, ground in a mill. One 
day she had set eyes on a brand-new distaff, beautifully 
carved, and had stolen it. Hence her present position, 
which was a matter of great glee to five malicious spirits. 
Further on the monk sees also the unhappy soul of a 
certain brother recently departed, to v^hom he had minis- 
tered the last offices, and who had charged him before he 
died to urge on his born brother to manumit this very girl 
for the good of his soul, she being the common property 
of the two. Erom motives of avarice the survivor had 
left his last request unfulfilled, and the deceased vehe- 
mently reproaches him for his neglect. Columba was 
more conscientious. He refused to become foster-father 
of the Scottish king except at the price of freedom to a 
poor Irish slave. 

Attestations of these manumissions have been found in 
the fly-leaves of copies of the Gospels and Missals, many 
also in the Exeter MS. mentioned elsewhere. Thus one 
Walter frees Atheluv over his father's corpse for the re- 
demption of his father's soul and his own (Thorpe, 632). 
The altar of St. Petroc, i.e., of the church at Bodmin, was 
the scene of many of these happy liberations. Several are 
recorded, some in Latin, others in Anglo-Saxon, which 
took place there in the tenth or beginning of the eleventh 
century. Such names of slaves as Morhad, Gurient, 
Hincomhal, Telent, and Gryfyith, indicate pretty clearly 
that Celts supplied the staple of these unfortunates. 
Such perorations to a will as " May God blind him who 
sets this writing aside ! " would secure their freedom effec- 



THE LAWS. 99 

tuallv. But the spontaneous humanity of individuals no 
doubt often befriended them. Of this there are numerous 
proofs. 

In William the Conqueror's Laws, § iii. 15 (Schmidt, 
356), he prohibits the sale of a man out of the country ; and 
in the case of full manumission, the owner must deliver 
liim by the right hand to the vice-comes in full comitatus, 
proclaim him publicly free, show him open doors and 
roads, and give him a lance and sword, and so he is free. 

Modern bishops, in the conflict of opinions now current 
about their true functions, will be curious perhaps to 
know, if they do not know it already, how men looked on 
these questions in Anglo-Saxon days. In the " Institutes 
of Polity " they will learn, among other things, that bishops 
are beadles (bydelas), which means, however, not our im- 
posing functionary, but ' messengers ' — preachers. Woe 
to them if they " mutter with their jaws (clumiath mid 
ceaflum) when they should speak aloud (clypian)." By 
the by, this word to 'clepe,' once so common — {e.g., 
"Theyclepe us drunkards" — Hamlet) — has entirely dis- 
appeared from the language, having been displaced by to 
'call,' either in the sense of to 'cry aloud,' as here, or 
'to summon.' An instance this of those many Norse 
words which have superseded the Saxon. Among other 
parts of a bishop's day's-work — daeg-weorc (viii.) — he had 
to attend to the daily services, seven in number — uhtsang 
(nocturnes or lauds), primsang (prime), undernsang, from 
nine till twelve, then middag-, non-, even-, and niht-sang ; 
likewise to wash the feet of the poor. " For this," said a 
very busy bishop to the present writer, " we really have no 
time." Besides, a bishop had to learn and practise some 
handicraft as well as a priest (Edgar's Canons, 11); and, 
2-)er contra, the duties of the laity are expressly stated, 
Thus it is enacted, '•' Every man, from the same craft where- 
with he provides his body's needs, shall provide for that 
of his soul also, which is better than his body" (ii. 432), 
i.e., he must see that the clergy are not starved. Upon the 



loo OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

^^'hole, the laity seem to have been pretty well taxed. 
First there was the plough-penny fifteen nights after 
Easter, and the tithing of the young at Pentecost, and of 
the fruits of the earth at Omnium Sanctorum, and Rome 
money on St. Peter's Day, and church-scot at Martinmas 
(ibid., 54), &c. 

What church-wakes might degenerate into is clear from 
Canon 28, which prohibits drink and enforces praying on 
those occasions. Lyke- wakes must also have been a won- 
drous jumble of heathendom and Christianity.^ ^Ifric's 
Canon 35 orders " that if a priest is bidden to such cere- 
monies, he is to forbid the heathen songs of the laity" 
(would that we had some of them !) " and their loud 
' cheahchetungs,' ^ nor to eat or drink in the room where 
the corpse lies." Pity that nobody from Iceland was by 
to present us with a picture of the scene ! The dead man 
stretched out without any breath in his body, and the 
friends and relatives piping and ' cheachchetunging ' till 
there was very little breath left in theirs ; the tonsured 
priest in his sober, well-appointed suit contrasting with 
the motley garments of the revellers, rebuking the ill- 
timed mirth, and refusing the proffered refreshments with 
ill-concealed hunger and thirst of countenance, having 
probably toiled thither on foot for many a weary mile. 
This bit of old national custom is, in fact, left to our 
imagination. 

The sacramental calic (chalice) is to be of cast metal, 
' gegoten,' not of wood, 'treowen' (41). But in ^Ifric's 
canons (22), calic and disc to be wrought of 'clsenum an- 
timber ' (of pure material). 

Canon 58 of Edgar (a.d. 957) runs thus : " A priest must 

1 The agreement come to at two the human body proscribed ; also 

British synods between Hadrian I. Pagan fashions in dress, slitting 

and Kings Offa and Cynewulf (a.d. horses' ears and docking their tails (!), 

786) throws a light on the dogged and, what was worse, eating their 

pertinacity with which the people flesh (Monunienta Alcuiniana, p. 155). 

clung to the heathenish customs. - Bosworth : "rebuking." 
Here we find painting and cicatrising 



THE LAWS. loi 

not be a singer of songs at the ale-bench (ealu-scop), nor 
in anywise play on an instrument (gliwige) by himself or 
before others ; but he must be, as becomes his calling, 
wise and worshipful." Again, Canon 64 forbids a priest to 
hunt, hawk, or play at tables, but to play on his books, as 
beseemeth his calling. But those in higher places wanted 
restraints quite as much as their subordinates, as is clear 
from the letters of Boniface and Alcuin. 

In the Ramsey Chronicle, a Saxon bishop, who wishes 
to get some land cheap out of a Dane, resolves, most un- 
episcopally, to effect his purpose by making the thirsty 
soul drunk. So the bout is continued till long after dinner, 
and, if we remember rightly, with complete success. 

The description of a princely secular monk in France in 
the ninth century indicates that our neighbours were no 
better. " He went about in a military cloak with a sword. 
He kept a multitude of hounds, went hunting daily, was 
a first-rate shot at birds with a bow, and was ignorant of 
letters" (Pertz, i. 284; Kemble, ii. 45). 

Going still farther back, we have evidence sufficient as 
to the state of things in this country. 

" It was the public talk," wrote Bede to Ecgbert (p. 4), 
" that some bishops serve Christ in such wise that they 
have not a single follower of any continence or religion at 
all ; but, on the contrary, men given up to laughing, jocu- 
larity, tables, revelries, drunkenness, and such like, and 
who daily feed their bellies with banquets rather than 
their minds with heavenly sacrifices." 

In the ecclesiastical laws, and more especially in the 
various penitentials ^ prescribing penalties for divers 
ofiences, much light is thrown on the early position of 
Christianity in this realm, when darkness was gradually 
dispersing, though there was long yet to wait for anything 

1 For the text of the chief English foreign, see Stubbs and Haddan, 

Penitentials, with a lucid account of "Councils," &c., i. ix. sqq., and 

their complicated literary history and iii. 175 and 413. 
their various editors, English and 



I03 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

like clear daylight. As for the morality of both clergy 
and laity, as revealed iu these documents, it is best to say 
nothing. But in another point of view, they throw some 
curious light on religious matters. Heavily weighted, in- 
deed, must the consciences of those poor puzzled heathen 
converts have been ; for the Christianity current was fre- 
quently a curious mixture of the false religion and the 
true. Nay, the very missionaries, as "we have printed else- 
where, like the Jesuits in the East many centuries after, 
would, for convenience' sake, often engraft slips of the new 
faith on remains of the ancient stock.^ They constructed, 
so to say, a sort of temporary jury-mast, to keep the ark 
of the Church, ' sola-cymba salutis,' afloat in those danger- 
ous, unknown seas, exposed to Pagan storms. It was with 
this object, no doubt, that they winked at the popular 
regard for the old times, places, and observances, whatever 
kings and bishops might enact to the contrary. The 
'■ Confessionales " of Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, 
668-690, and of Egbert, Bishop of York, 734-766, about 
a century later than St. Cuthbert, show the state of things 
subsisting in England. If any one sacrifices in a little 
degree (m iiarvis) to devils, let him fast one year; if he 
sacrifices a good deal {in viagnis), ten years.^ 

Again, whoever burns corn at a place where a man died 
for the good of the survivors, let him fast five years (Theo- 
dore and Egbert).^ 

(Ihid.) If a woman sets her daughter over the house 

1 Thus an old "catechism font" of tree; or witchcraft, sacrifices, or such 

Scandiuavia exhibits the god Thunor like jiractices. It may be said, how- 

and his exploits, which the catechist, ever, that much of the superstition 

with the rustics all round him, would then extant was due to the incorpo- 

improve for their edification. "Thu- ration of so many Northmen into the 

iior Carved on a Scandinavian Font jjopulation, who were Christians in 

of about the Year looo," Dr. G. Ste- little but in name. 

jdieus, London, 1878. * It is to be hojied that the f asters 

- King Canute long after enacts were allowed a sufficiency of fish-diet. 

a special statute (Schmidt, p. 273) The people of London were great con- 

against worshipping of heathen gods, sumers apparently of this esculent, 

or the sun or the moon, fire or flood, In Ethelred's " Instituta Lundoiiiae," 

water-wells or stones, or any kind of g 2, mention is made of the men of 



THE LA WS. 103 

or in the oven (a kind of ' passing through the fire to 
Moloch'), in order to cure her of a fever, let her fast 
five years — an ordinance repeated in the Penitential of 
Bartholomew, Bishop of Exeter, 1161 (Reliquise Antiquae, 
p. 280). 

Whoever uses auguries and false divinations, or makes 
vows to a tree or anything except the Church, let him be 
excommunicated, whether lay or cleric ; or let the cleric 
undergo penance for three years, the laic for two years. 

Those who wear diabolic phylacteries (charms), or who 
do honour to Jupiter, or calculate the kalends of January 
as the Pagans do, a cleric to do penance five years, a laic 
three years. 

Here we see cropping up in a somewhat amusing 
shape that principle of the Anglo-Saxon law, the valua- 
tion of a man and the imposition of a penalty according 
to his rank and station. " The wer (here taken out in 
fasting) was the penalty," says liosworth, " by which his 
safety was guarded and his crimes prevented and punished. 
If he violated certain laws, it was his legal mulct ; if he 
were himself attacked, it was the penalty inflicted on 
others. Hence it became the measure and mark of a man's 
personal rank and consequence, because its amount was 
exactly regulated by his condition in life." 

Prom the last we see that stray clergy were addicted to 
sorcery. But what is the following but chartered sorcery, 
l^ure and simple, with full benefit of clergy — the way to 
restore fertility to land rendered sterile by witchcraft or 
sorcery ? 

" Take by night, before it is dawn " ^ (for then the power 

Rouen, who came to Bylynsgate 'cum blood. A saving clause used to be 
vino et craspice.' This latter was a introduced whereby the offender, if of 
very fat kind of whale, which was weakly constitution, might commute 
caught in great quantities by tlie ex- his fasting for so many masses, ac- 
pert Northmen. The toll was six cording to a regular tariff, 
shillings for a large ship, and the ^ "Anglo-Saxon Leechdoms," Cock- 
twentieth part of the fish, ayne, vol. i. p. 399. Thorpe, "Ana- 
But there was another method of lecta," p. 117, printed from unique 
escape for poor human flesh and MS. in Cotton Library. 



104 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

of witchery ceased), " four pieces of turf from four sides of 
the land. Then take oil, honey, and barm, and the milk 
of all tlie cattle on the land, and a bit of every tree grow- 
ing there except hard beam, and a bit of every principal 
herb except burr ; pour on these holy water, then sprinkle 
thrice the place where the turf grew, repeating these words 
thrice, ' Crescite {i.e., increase), multiplicamini {i.e., multi- 
ply), et replete terram {i.e., and replenish the earth), in 
nomine Patris,' &c. Say paternoster an equal number of 
times ; then carry the turf to the church, and let the mass 
priest sing four masses over it, the green side turned to- 
w\ards the altar ; and then carry the turf before sunset to 
the place they came from ; and have ready made of juniper 
tree four crucifixes, and write on each end Mattheus, 
Marcus, Lucas, and Johanneo. Lay the crucifix down in the 
hole, and say, 'Crux, Mattheus; crux, Marcus ; crux, Lucas ; 
crux, Johannes.' Then take tlie turf and place it thereon, 
repeating nine times the word ' Crescite' and Pater noster. 
Then turn to the east, and make an obeisance nine times, 
and say these words — 

' Eastward I stand, 
Mercies I beg : 
I beg the great God, 
The mighty Lord, 
I beg the holy 
Guard of heaven ; 
I beg earth 
And high heaven, 
And the true 
Sancta Maria, 
And the lofty mansion, 
That I may this enchantment,^ 
By the favour of the Lord, 
Utter with my teeth, 
With firm mind. 
Awaken the fruits 



1 The very word used, ' gealdor ' (Is. Galdor), is a heathen term = enchant- 
ments, used of the Egyptian enchantments, Exod. vii., and of Circe to her 
pigs. 



THE LA \VS. 105 

Unto us for worldly use, 
May fill the earth 
With firm belief, ' " &c. 

After thrice turning to the east, a prostration on the 
earth, sundry litanies and sanctuses, a benedicite pro- 
nounced with arms outstretched, &c., the chief personage 
in this ceremonial takes some unknown seed from alms- 
men, gathers all the ploughing instruments together, places 
on the beam incense, fennel, consecrated soap and conse- 
crated salt ; then he is to take the seed, set it on the 
plough, and say — 

" Arch, arch, arch ! 
Mother of earth, 
Grant to thee, the omnipotent. 
Eternal Lord, 
Fields growing 
And flourishing, 
Fructifying 
And strengthening," &c. 

Furthermore, on turning the first sod, one is to say — 

" Hail to thee, earth. 
Mother of men ! 
Be thou growing 
In the bosom of God, 
Filled with food 
Fur the use of man," &c. 

Very probably the whole of this ceremony and the spell 
itself are survivals of heathendom with slight alterations. 
The ' archmother ' looks very like the goddess Freyja, the 
Northern Ceres. In the Scandinavian sagas we have con- 
stant references to solemn sacrifices to ensure a year of 
plenty. When the first sod of a railway is turned with 
religious ceremonies, we are really following in the wake 
of our heathen progenitors. So our Christmas holly is a 
reminiscence of the feasting booths, adorned with ever- 
greens, which the Pagan Anglo-Saxons set up at Yuletide 
in the neighboitrhood of their temples. 

We have siven above a Ions formula for making earth 



io6 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

fertile, but St. Cuthbert cut the affair much shorter. When 
those naughty birds alighted on his barley-field, and were 
getting it all up as fast as they could, he addressed them, 
" Why do you touch the corn which you did not sow ? 
I'erhaps you have more need of it than I. If you have 
God's permission to do it, go on ; but if not, away with 
you, and cease to injure what is not your own." It is 
needless to say that the whole flock flew away and never 
came again. Nay, more : those crows who pulled the 
thatch off the cell of the brethren to build their nests, on 
being expostulated with by Cuthbert, flew away, it is true, 
but came to the saint three days after, with drooping 
feathers and hanging heads, as he was digging in his 
garden — the very picture of that penitent ' Jackdaw of 
Piheims,' drawn to the life by Cruikshank — and signified 
their contrition, as well as birds could, asking his forgive- 
ness. He granted it ; whereupon two of the culprits 
brought him a large piece of swine's fat, which the holy 
man used often to show to the brethren who visited him, 
and gave them some of it to grease their boots, with many 
wise observations on the bright example of humility and 
obedience which these birds, naturally so proud, set to 
mankind (Cuthb., c. 20). 

Let us observe, lastly, that it is chiefly from the Anglo- 
Saxon laws we obtain trustworthy information on the 
status of the fair sex, which, upon the whole, seems to 
have been verv tolerable. 



( I07 ) 



CHAPTEE VII. 

AXGLO-SAXON CHARTER'S. 

But another source of information about the Saxons, 
and a most reliable one, is still to be mentioned — the 
charters, and wills, and other like documents. In some 
of these deeds we discern the foundation laid of a court 
and aristocracy by the gesiSas (comrades) of a warlike 
leader, from whom, in reward of their services, they re- 
ceived gifts of horses, of arms, and jewels, and lands ; a 
custom for which, besides these papers, the testimony of 
Tacitus is equally decisive. Here we have grants of land 
by royal personages,^ to the aggrandisement of the lords, 
the ruin of the free cultivators, the encouragement of 
brigandage, and the impairment of the national defences. 
For be it noted this land was often carved out of the 
national stock (folkland), and became private property 
(bocland), instead of being only a life tenure; the upshot 
being a state of things more ruinous to the country than 
all the Northern invasions, and paving the way for Canute's 
and the Conqueror's easy victories. In Kemble's volume, 
if we don't see how the folkmot, or muster of the freemen 
of the country, gradually became converted into a repre- 
sentative assembly of popular councillors, yet the powers, 
functions, and composition of the witenagemot are iu 
some degree ascertainable. Cod. Dip., 1019, shows us 
that the proceedings of the witan commenced with divine 

1 DiplomatoriumAnglo-Saxonicum, Thorpe, 1865, the earliest document 
•J. M. Kemble, 1839, sqq. Diplo- in whicli is by Ethelbert, kiug of 
matorium Anglicum ^Evi Saxouici, Kent, A.D. 605. 



loS OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

service and a profession of adherence to the Catliolic 
faith. Nay, " every charter in the book, which is not 
merely a private will or a private settlement, is the 
genuine act of some witenagemot, and we thus possess a 
long and interesting series of records, enabling us to fol- 
low the actions of Saxon parliaments from the very cradle 
of our monarchy." These documents are often prefaced 
by a Latin exordium, ridiculous for its pedantry and 
bombast, which savours of Byzantine influence — a taste 
for the Greek language having first been introduced into 
England with the school of Archbishop Theodore at Can- 
terbury. Such is the preface ^ to a will, dating 28th May 
934, which, perhaps, amounts to ' In the name of God, 
Amen.' The document ends, however, in sober Saxon. 
Another charter by King ^thelred, in the same high 
falutin tone by way of preamble, gives a concise history 
of the creation, temptation, and expulsion of Adam from 
Paradise. Here we find a reference made to the ' quadri- 
formis plasmatum materia,' the four different substances 
which went to the making of our first parents, and which 
forms one of the riddles in " Solomon and Saturn," here- 
after to be mentioned. 

Then, again, observe the names of the boundaries in 
grants of land, which, whatever the language of the docu- 
ment itself, are generally in the vernacular. Some hill, 
stream, remarkable tree, well, sepulchral tumulus, fox 
earth (foxhyl), otter's lair (oteres sceaga), beaver's burn, 
salmon pool, serve to bring before us the features of the 
country. 



1 As a fair specimen we will quote or a Lilly afterwards. But perhaps 

it: "Summopere, festinandum est ^Ethelstan's grant to the monks at 

ad amoena indicibilis Lretitise arva, Malmesbury Abbey (935) outdoes 

ubi angelicse ymnidicaj jubilationis everything else in the stilted pom- 

organa, mellifluaque vernantium ro- posity of its preamble. Well might 

sarum adoramina a bonis beatisque Malmesbury say of the Anglo Saxons, 

naribus inestimabiliter dulcia capiun- " pompatice dictare solent " (De 

tur, sinequecalce auribus clivipparum Pontiff., v.). Many of these charters 

suavia audiuntur." We are reminded are mere monkish fabrications, 
here of the coxcombry of a Stanihurst 



ANGLO-SAXON CHARTERS. 109 

The ' wolf's pit,' in a charter of Edward the Confessor, 
conveying lands near Braintree, illustrates the ancient 
fauna of Essex. 

Here is quite a picture in a description of boundaries. 
" Along the fence (hagan) to the head of Tyrwen's ' slade,' 
along the Thorngrove over Husseburne to Godsdene, . . . 
along the fence to the bottomless pit, right on to Eaven's 
Dene, to the old maple south of Tuta's mere, . . . round 
the gore to the withy tree, thence to the hoar apple- 
tree." 

One calls to mind the battle of Ashdown. " There stood 
on the spot," says Florence of Worcester, copying from 
some older source which he does not mention, " a solitaiy 
thorn-tree, of stunted growth (I have seen it with my 
eyes), round which the hostile armies engaged with loud 
cries." 

A still higher interest attaches to the boundaries with 
names derived from mythological personages, which supply 
us no trifling links, as Kemble says, in the chain of evi- 
dence, showing that the mythology current in Germany 
and Scandinavia unquestionably prevailed to a great extent 
in England also. 

Then again the sealtara hroc, the brook of the Salters, 
reminds us of what a passage in the Colloquy of ^Ifric 
still more directly brings before us, that the meat in 
those days was generally eaten salted during half the 
year, because of the difficulty of keeping the cattle fit 
for food in the winter. The names of artificial bound- 
aries enable us to glance at the private life, as it were, 
of the people, their mode of agriculture, their trades, 
as apparent in their quarries, mines, mills, weirs, and 
enclosures. In these documents, besides, w^e have the 
name ' tun,' denoting in England, as in Old Nosse, ' the 
enclosure,' the homestead, and ' ham,' as an adjunct to 
names of places, ' the home,' the thing which surrounds, 
protects : the most sacred of all the words by which the 
dwellings of men are called; a name from which also 



no OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

' haeraed,' the most intimate relation between the sexes, 
originates.^ 

A will, that of JEthelstan, the Atheling, son of King 
Etlielred (between 1012-1016), is particularly interesting 
from the variety of bequests to his friends. To one he 
leaves the sword with the silver hilt wrought by Wulfric, 
and the golden belt, and the 'drenc horn Se ic set Sam 
hirede gebohte on Ealdan mynstre,' — the drinking-horn 
which I bought of the family at Old Minster (Winchester), 
Then we have a trumpet cased witli silver, and a sword 
that Offii the king had,^ and also a malswurd, inlaid sword 
(Is. mala-sax),^ and a mouse-coloured steed, and one day's 
food yearly to the fraternity of Ely. They also by a will 
of Eadgar's got yearly ten thousand eels, which from olden 
days had accrued to the king within the isle for military 
service from the folk of Wells (Thorpe, 242). So again 
Wulfred of Sempringham provides them every year two 
tuns of bright ale and ten measures of Welsh ale. And 
"let him give every year to the lord of the church a 
horse and thirty shillings, and one niglit's entertainment, 
fifteen measures of bright ale, five measures of Welsh ale, 
and fifteen sesters of mild ale." To keep the ecclesiastics 
warm during their potations. Abbot Ceolred further enacts 
(a.d. 852) that Wulfred shall every year provide sixty 
fothers of wood, and twelve fothers of pit coal, and six 
f others of faggots (Thorpe, 104). 

^ Cf. Thorpe, 558. smith, Weland, is commemorated in 
-"Was this the weapon with which he "Horn Childe" — 
had poor Ethelbert of East Angliatrca- " It is the make (mate) of Miming, 
cherously decapitated at liis strong- Of all swords it is king ; 
hold, Sutton Walls, near Hereford ? And Weland it wrought, 
Offa died 794. So that this sword was Bittefer it hight." 
more than two centuries old ! But old ' Such a weapon as Sigurd (alias 
swords were quite the rage. Hrunting Gunnar) on his nuptial night laid he- 
Beowulf's sword was treasured from tween himself and his Valkyr bride, 
old, and when it failed, the hero Brynhild (Sigurda-kviSa, iii. 4. ; of. 
catches up a Jutish weapon, on which Judith xi. ) " Maeled swyrd," Is. mahi- 
was a Runic inscription, showing that sax, i.e., sword with inlaid blade, 
it was the work of antediluvian giants, such as are now found in the Danish 
The dexterity of the famous sword- tumuli. 



ANGLO-SAXON CHA R TERS. 1 1 1 

Xot that the clergy were mere recipients of victuals. 
Far from it. Jewels, cups, rings, caskets, coins, tapestry, 
vestments, were the trifles thrown into their coffers, along 
with markets, forests, fisheries, mines, flocks and herds. 
But they were a very useful class ^ in many ways. The 
State knew their value, and rewarded them well, on the 
understanding doubtless that they must eventually dis- 
gorge some of the plunder. Thus Bishop Theodred of the 
Londoners leaves a heriot to his lord, to wit, two hundred 
marks of red gold, two silver cups, four horses, the best he 
has, two swords, the best he has (Cod. Dip., 937). Did 
the king use these himself or submit them to the hammer, 
or how ? 

The sign of the cross in witnessing documents we 
find universal ; and from them we, or at least the un- 
lettered among us, retain it to this day. The inviolability 
of whatsoever had this mark upon it had been decreed by 
a council. But, as Kemble remarks,- it may be doubted 
whether an older heathen feeling did not lurk, at first, 
under this symbol : whether, in short, such a mark, coin- 
ciding as it did with the hammer of Thor or Thunor, the 
true heathen symbol in all contracts, may not have been 
held as binding among the Saxons, even before the intro- 
duction of Christianity. Again, in these days, when, as if 
in life Englishmen were not disputatious enough, dead 
people insist upon being interred in the parish churchyard, 
but not by the clergyman of the parish, it is interesting to 
lift up the pall from the coffin of those days, and hear 
what the Anglo-Saxons did and thought in these matters 
(Cod. Dip., 1289). 

The business habits of our forefathers come out in 
documents such as the declaration of Queen Eadgifu 
about her land at Couling (a.d. 960). Her father had 
borrowed money on some land of one Goda : subsequently 
being about to set out for the wars, " he was unwilling 

1 Kemble, ii. 495. - Cod. Dip., i. 94, introduction. 



112 OLD ENGLISH L ITER A TURE. 

to go without having paid off the thirty pounds, and 
bequeathed the land to his daughter by document." He 
fell in battle, when Goda pretended the mortgage was not 
paid. The suit instituted by the lady went on with vary- 
ing fortunes through two or three reigns (Edward, Athel- 
stan, Eadgar), much like a modern Chancery suit ; and on 
the land in question being adjudged to her, she seems to 
have thought it best to get rid of it altogether, and be- 
queathed it in solemn form to Christ Church, Canterbury, 
for the good of her soul, imprecating a curse on any one 
who should seek to alienate it from the ecclesiastical 
authorities.^ 

But there are also touches of sentiment apparent in 
these wills. Thus a lady leaves her female friend Ethel- 
flted all the things that are unbequeathed in her testa- 
ment, "such as books and such little things," and she 
believes she will be mindful of her soul. 

That the strong-minded, mettlesome woman of Scandi- 
navia (Skorunger) was not wanting in England appears 
from a charter dating 1036, in the days of our Scandina- 
vian King Canute.2 At a shiremoot at ^gelnoth's Stone, 
whereat was present on the king's errand Tofig Prud, who 
was clearly a Northman, one Eadwine complains that his 
mother kept back from him some land that belonged to 
him. Three Thanes are accordingly despatched forthwith 
to the lady at her residence, and they questioned her on 
the matter. Whereupon she was bitterly incensed against 
her son, and repudiated the claim. Further, she called 
the wife of Thorkil the White, her kinswoman, and said, 
" I give to her not only my land, but my gold and garments 
and robes, and all that I own, after my day." As who 
should say, ' I cut off Eadwine with a shilling,' or rather 
nothing. Likely enough his mother, whose name is not 
given, was, like Thorkil the White, to judge from his name, 
of Northern lineas^^e. 

1 Thorpe, 201. 2 ibij.^ 335, 



ANGLO-SAXON CHARTERS. X13 

The extent to which swine-feediug was carried is 
clear from the will of Alfred the alderman, mentioned 
above, who bequeaths two thousand pigs to his wife, 
along with certain lands, if she holds the saime in celi- 
bacy. He quaintly adds that she is to give a hundred 
swine to Christchurch, Canterbury, for him and his soul. 
That hundreds of unbitted " wild " and " forest " horses 
then roamed about is clear from Thorpe, 539, 548. In 
those days, when the land was all like Exmoor now, 
cattle-stealers of course abounded. One case is recorded 
near Fonthill, where the culprit is detected by a scratch 
on the face from a bramble which he encountered in his 
flight. King Canute (ibid., 317) deposits the kingly crown 
from his head on Christ's altar at Canterbury, and grants 
to the same monastery the haven of Sandwich, with all 
the landings and dues on both sides of the stream, who- 
ever the owner of the land may be, from Pepperness 
to Marfleet as far as a taper sex (halberd) can be thrown 
from a ship afloat when it is full flood upon the land. 
This was a case of ' foreshore ' with a vengeance. But 
the rights of the monks went farther. " If tliere is 
aught in the great sea without the haven, as far as the 
sea at the utmost recedes, and yet the length of a man 
holding a pole in his hand, and stretching himself as 
far as he can reach into the sea." The monks had 
also half the jetsam and flotsam brought to Sandwich, 
before it became choked up and turned into dry land. 
Harold Harefoot subsequently seized Sandwich from the 
monks, but he w^as not destined to keep it. They bided 
their time, which came in 1038 (ibid., p. 339). The 
King lay sick at Oxford, and Tancred the monk, and 
others of his cloth, are Hitting about the sick-room, 
holding a brief, no doubt, from their dispossessed friends 
at Canterbury, Tancred and Co, told the King that he 
had greatly sinned in taking anything from Christ- 
church, Canterbury, which his predecessors had given 
thereto. " At this speech the king as he lay all black- 

H 



1 14 OLD ENGLISH LITERA TURK. 

enod said that it was never by his rede or deed that 
Sandwich was taken away." It is needless to add that 
the Canterbury folk got all their privileges back again. 
Land so granted was secured by fearful imprecations 
on any one who violated the grant of it. Such a person 
" after his accursed departure, may he ever lie in the 
bottomless pit of hell, and burn in everlasting fire with 
the devil and his angels, ever without end, unless before 
his departure he makes atonement " (King Eadgar's grant 
to Winchester, 963 ; Thorpe, 317). 

Among the miscellaneous charters (Thorpe, 428) we 
have an interesting will of Leofric (io5o-io73\ Bishop 
of Exeter. After a recital of the property herewith 
bequeathed to the cathedral, of the burnished roods, 
the little silver neck-roods, the great Christ's books, the 
vestments, the coverlets, the hangings, candlesticks and 
censers, the hung-up bells and the hand -bells, the 
homilies and hymn books, &c., we come upon " a book of 
Boethius in English" (clearly Alfred's translation), and 
" a mickle English book about divers things, wrought 
song- wise," which can only allude to the famous " Codex 
Exoniensis," discussed elsewhere. 

And with this we will close our stray samples of these 
instructive documents. 



( 115 ) 



CHAPTER A'lII. 

ANGLO-SAXON POETRY. — BEOWULF, BRUNANBURH, ETC. 

TuRX we now to Anglo-Saxon poetry.i With the excep- 
tion of Scandinavia, no other people of Europe has left such 
a stock. First and foremost comes " Beowulf," a poem 
upwards of 6000 lines in length, which in epic breadth 
surpasses anything extant from those times, whether 
the offspring of Scandinavia or England. But, remark- 
ably enough, while Snorri constantly cites or alludes to 
the poems of his countrymen, Beowulf is nowhere men- 
tioned by any Anglo-Saxon author, which seems to cor- 
roborate the idea that originally it was not an indigenous 
production. At all events, it is unlike any extant 
specimen of Anglo-Saxon poetry, excepting, perhaps 
Andreas or Elene. The date of its composition has been 
much debated. By Conybeare it was thought, in its 
present shape, to be the work of the bards about 
Canute's court. The leading incidents of the plot 
are as follows : — Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow and 
prince in Scania (South Sweden), hearing how for twelve 
long years King Hrothgar and his people in North 
Jutland had been mightily oppressed by a monster, 
Grendel, resolves to deliver him, and arrives at Hart 
Hall, the Jutish palace, as an avenger. During the 
night the monster appears in the hall, where the warriors 
lay on bed and bolster upon the floor, and after devour- 
ing a man-at-arms, steps towards the couch on which 
lay Beowulf all on the alert, and makes a grip at him, 
but soon finds he has caught a tartar. A desperate tussle 

1 See Grein, " Bibliothek der Angelsiichsischen Poesie mit Glossar," now 
out of print, which embraces the whole subject. 



1 1 6 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

ensues, the upshot of which is that Grendel retreats to 
his fen-shelter minus an arm, which had been torn off 
by Beowulf. The following night the mother of Grendel, 
in revenge for her son's mortal wound, carries off an old 
friend of Hrothgar's, ^schere. He follows her to her 
liiding-place beneath the dread waters of the bottomless 
lake, and after a hand-to-hand encounter, where the 
result hung long in the balance, destroys both mother 
and son, the devil and his dam. Towards the close of 
the poem the epic continuity is broken by the introduc- 
tion of a new character, Wigiaf ; and when the interest of 
the story has culminated, there is the anti-climax of a 
fight between Beowulf and the fire-dragon. Nevertheless, 
in this great poem there are passages of much vivid 
simplicity and beauty : e.g.. Canto v., where Beowulf and 
his men, witli their stout shields, grey sarks, and visor 
helms, march along the stone-varied street to the hall of 
Hrothgar, and are received by old and hairless chiefs ; or 
line 2649, where Hrothgar speaks — 

" Ask not after happiness ; 
Sorrow is renewed 
To the Danes' people, 
^schere is dead, 
Yrmenlaf's 
Elder brother, 
The partaker of my secrets 
And my counsellor, 
Who stood at my elboAV 
When we in battle 
Our mail hoods defended, 
When troops rushed together, 
And boar-crests crashed. 

" Ever should an Earl be 
Valiant as ^schere. 
Of him in Heorot 
A cunning fatal guest 
Has become the slayer. 

Now the hand lies low 
Which was good to you all 
For all your desires." 



BEOWULF. \\^ 

Take again the hiding-place of Grendel's mother. Each 
night is seen fire beneath tliat flood, over which hangs a 
barky grove. Should some poor stag, close pressed by the 
hounds, chance to reach this spot, he will rather resign 
his life upon the shore than plunge into the horrid pool 
(1. 2731). This beautiful touch, perhaps the most beau- 
tiful in the poem, and worthy of the author of "As 
You Like It," if due to a monk, does him infinite credit. 
Throughout the poem it is easy to point out what parts 
belong to the old heathen legend and what are due to 
a Christian paraphrast. In Canto xxxviii., the descrip- 
tion of the dragon's cave with its treasure, " the old work 
of the giants," and the fainting Beowulf, with the 
mysterious light that shot within the scene, are after the 
manner of the author of " Vathek" (1. 5505) — 

" Saw then the bold thane 
Treasure jewels many, 
Glittering gold 
Heavy on the ground, 
Wonders in the mound 
And the worm's den, 
The old twilight-flyer's, 
Bowls standing ; 
Vessels of men of yore 
With the mountings f'aH'n off. 
There was many a helm 
Old and rusty, 
Armlets many 
Cunningly fastened. 
He also saw hang heavily 
An ensign all golden 
High o'er the hoard, 
Of hand- wonders greatest, 
Wrought by spells of song, 
From Avhich shot a light, 
So that he the ground-surface 
Might perceive, 
The wonders overscan." 

Such imaginative forms of thought as the above would 
thrive to perfection iu a weird laud like Iceland, so 



1 1 8 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

different in her suggestiveness from the less stimulating 
landscape of England. And accordingly, if we examine 
" Beowulf " along with the " G-rettisaga," said to have been 
written down from an ancient tradition by the nephew of 
Snorri, Sturla Thordarson (died 1284), we find a striking 
resemblance between the deeds of Beowulf the Goth — 
' moncynnes m£egenes strengest ' (the strongest of mankind 
in might), who had in his hand-gripe the power of thirty 
men (1. 764), who beat ignominiously the champion 
swimmer, Brecca — and of Grettir the Strong, the great 
Icelandic hero, who swam miles for his life, which we will 
proceed to trace. 

A real man was this Grettir, like Beowulf, but in whose 
history there is much mythical accretion. He lived early 
in the eleventh century, and was a notable Scald. 

Long had the farm of Thorald, in Shadow Dale, one of 
those dreary recesses of Vasdal in North Iceland (which 
we once visited), been haunted by the powers of darkness, 
till at last it got into such evil repute that poor Thorald 
was at his wits' end even to get a cowherd. In this strait 
he goes to the Althing, and meets with a big fellow with 
large staring blue eyes and hair of a wolf-grey, who came 
from Sweden. True, the very sight of him gives Thorald 
quite a start, but a talk ensues, and the stranger — his 
name is Glamr — agrees to come in the autumn to be 
cowherd in Shadow Dale. Glamr " likes ghosts, they 
would make the place less dull." In due time the new 
shepherd arrives. He was shrill and deep-voiced. When 
he called, the cattle huddled together in a trice; there 
were no stragglers. At Christmas Glamr would not go 
with the other folks to the church, which was near. He 
was no friend to psalm-singing, not he, neither would he 
fast on Christmas Eve, notwithstanding the good housewife 
begged him to do so. He cared nought for those supersti- 
tions, he could not see that things were any better now 
than when folks were called heathens. Eearing to put 
him out of humour, there was something so loathly in 



GRETTISAGA. 119 

liis looks, the dame give him his food ; and having eaten 
his full, he sallied forth. During the day the voice of the 
cowherd was heard from time to time. The weather was 
dark and gusty, and as the day advanced grew worse. 
At evening Glamr did not come home. Next morning a 
search was made for him. The cattle w^ere found strayed 
about in the bog in a sorry plight, while some had gone 
off to the fells. After a long search, they find marks of a 
struggle, the soil and stones torn up, drops of blood, and 
the trail of footsteps as big as the bottom of a cask. Not 
far off lay Glamr's corpse, as blue as Hel, and swelled as 
big as a bullock. In vain did they try to get it down to 
the church ; they brought it to the edge of a gill, but no 
farther would it go. Another day the priest went with 
them, but this time the body was not to be found. After- 
wards they went without the priest, and lit upon the 
body, and, to make short work of it, buried it on the sj)ot. 
Not long after people became aware that Glamr ^ did not 
lie quiet. Those who chanced to catcli a sight of him 
lost their reason. Many fled from the dale. Thorald's 
daughter died of sheer fright, the cattle got lamed, and 
another cowherd who took the place was found with his 
back broken on the stone in the cow's 'boose.' What 
gave a touch of the grotesque to this horrible glamoury 
was the way in which the monster used to bestride the 
roof-tree at night, and shake the whole house, setting all 
inside a-quaking. 

Ever ready for a deed of derring-do, Grettir, like 
Beowulf, visits the haunted house. The first night his 
horse is killed in the stall. The next night, like Beowulf, 
he watches in the hall, in spite of the expostulations of 
the master. He would so like to have a sight of the 
fellow who did his horse to death. The place he chooses 
for his watch is a chair just opposite the sleeping berth of 
Thorald, with a goat-skin rug tlirown over him. A light 
burned in the hall. 

1 Identical with Scotch (jJamour, which shows that the legend of Glamr 
was common to Iceland and our neighbours beyond the Tweed. 



ICO OLD ENGLISH LITERATUIZE. 

Half the night was sped, wlien a monstrous head is 
pushed through the doorway, and in comes Glanir, stoop- 
ing, and, when he gets inside, stands erect with his head 
touching the roof. Grettir hay still and moved not. 
I'resently the sprite catches at the rug, and tugs, and 
gives a second tug, and then a third with both hands, 
which brought Grettir to his legs, and between them the 
rug was torn asunder. Fierce was the struggle. The 
monster tried his utmost to drag Grettir out of the hall, 
and Grettir did his utmost to prevent him, all the furni- 
ture being smashed to bits in the fray. But do what he 
would the goblin had the best of it, and was pulling 
him out of the house, when Grettir suddenly ' ran in,' got 
him by the middle, and spurning against the earth-fast 
threshold stone, by a supreme effort threw Glanir neck 
and crop out of the door, himself uppermost. Clouds 
kept passing over the moon, with here and there an 
opening, and as Glamr fell, the light shone through one 
of these openings, when Grettir saw such a ghastly glare ^ 
fixed upon him as never faded from his sight ever after. 
For the moment he sank powerless, and his life lay be- 
tween this world and the next. But shortly recovering 
from his swoon, he drew his dagger, and gave the finishing 
stroke to his antagonist. 

Much later on in the story — and not as in the Saxon 
epic, where Beowulf dives into the lake directly after the 
murder of iEschere — Grettir descends by a rope into the 
depths of the Godafoss,^ and in a cavern under the fall 

1 "From his eyes (Grendel's) shot grees, and issues from a rugged defile 
most like flame a horrid light," Beo- of singular grotesqueness. The tor- 
wulf, 1460. rent has in some places scooped out 

"He seizes the warrior as he lay," caves in the trap-rock, faced with 

1499- skew-arches, which would'have done 

"He found in the stranger a stronger honour to any rail way con tractor. The 

gripe than his own," 1510. rocks seemed determined not to be 

"The mead-benches are smashed in outdone by the doings of the water, 

the struggle," 1555. ' If you can roar, I can scowl. If you 

2 For a description of this ghastly can cut capers, I can cut faces.' Un- 
spot, see "Oxonian in Iceland," by sightly shapes were there, glouring 
the present writer, p. 142 : — among those rifted chasms ; omnium 

" The broad river contracts by de- gatherum monsters, writhing over the 



GRETTISAGA. 121 

fights with the spirit of the water and slays him, as 
Beowulf did the monster. The resemblance between 
these two stories at once appears ; but there is one word 
in the account of the latter contest which completely 
identifies Grettir with Beowulf. The water-troll assails 
him with a weapon " which people called a heptisax," a 
strange sort of weird dagger, and which therefore required 
a particular explanation. This is the very name of the 
Mftecl sword (hseft-mece) with which Beowulf attacks 
Grendel's mother, and the A^ord never occurs again, I 
believe, in any Icelandic author. 

So much for the value of words as elucidating and 
connecting ancient legends. The saga itself in its present 
form, as is seen from internal evidence, was not written 
down till about the end of the thirteenth century. When, 
if we pursue it to its source, was this legend of Beowulf 
borne back to Scandinavia and Iceland? At the same 
time, do we not discern some of the germs of the 
Anglo-Saxon poem in the Icelandic poems themselves ? 
Beowulf, for instance, perishing, after he had slain the 
monster, by its venom, looks like a reference to the Edda 
myth of Thor dying by the poison of Midgardsorm, when 
the monster was already slain. 

surging abyss ; sheaves of basaltiform passage from the upper river-bed, 

trap, some butt-end to wards the water, aud through the dam, from a hole 

some inclined, some perpendicular, or in the face of which it bursts forth, 

gathering to a point like fan-tracery, instead of over it ; and two other 

The cause of all this chaos is, that the bodies of water, resolved by hook or 

water-sprite, or the river if you will, by crook not to be left behind in the 

has been bridled by a curb of stone, race, have mined a short cut deeper 

which provokes him into leaping still, and are seen leaping out in furi- 

bodily into a circular pool, over which ous frolic bj' posterns still lower down 

two Trolls keep watch and ward. the wall. ' Postica falle clieutem,' 

" In the centre of the semicircular a weird scene, rendered perTiaps more 

barrier is a grassy rock. On its right supernatural by the absence of all 

one vast stream makes a swoop clean trees to soften and veil its ghastly 

over a dimly-seen cavern, while on features ; add to which, the moun- 

its left the water is scattered in a tains in front, in reality of no great 

continuous chain of beautiful per- height, look dimly huge, quite sky- 

pendicular falls. One of these, as if high, through tlie fog, which has 

impatient of control, and averse to suddenly enwreathed them, rolling 

waiting for its turn, has actually up from the Northern Sea." 
tunnelled for itself a slantindicular 



132 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

Tlie " Fight at Finnesburg," recounting, perhaps, one of 
Hengist's exploits, is apparently a fragment of a lost epic ; 
as also " The Scop, or Gleeman's Tale." The gleeman ap- 
pears under the imaginary name of Widsith, the far- 
travelled man, who has seen much, and " can therefore sing 
and tales recite." He relates that he was in the service of 
Ahild in Anglia, and visited the court of the Gothic King 
Eormanric, who reigned over the Visigoths in Italy, 460 ; 
and he also mentions Attila, who died 453; so that, if he 
and his adventures are not a fiction, he must have been 
contemporary with .Guthere, the Burgundian king, of 
Nibelung renown. Indeed, he tells us he received from 
him a present in reward of his song. Like King Alfred's 
friend, Ohthere, the minstrel had visited the Fins of the 
North. He had been among the Picts and Scots, changing 
the scene to Italy, Egypt, Palestine, &c. Like men of his 
calling, he has roamed through many lands, and he has 
always found great people very glad to hear their praises 
sung, and to pay well for it. For instance, Eormanric pre- 
sented him with a bracelet, a very heavy one too, which 
on his return home he gave to his patron in return for a 
bit of land. We see that he was much better off than his 
brother, the minstrel of the Exeter Book, and, as such, the 
tone of his poetry is joyous and elated. In its present 
shape, the poem is supposed by Conybeare to be a rifa- 
cimento of fifth-century work. Then we have in the 
Chronicle, 937, the celebrated epinicion, the "Battle of 
Brunanburh," where King Ethelstan of Wessex, grandson 
of Alfred, met Anlaf (or Olaf) Cuaran ^ and his father-in- 
law, Coustantine of Dublin, who had entered the Humber 
with 615 ships, and, by the help of St. Cuthbert,^ beat 
them, and became king of England. This battle is de- 
scribed in one of the best Icelandic sagas, that of Egil, 

1 Cuaran is an Irish word = a sock, Olaf quitted Ireland and went on a 

a saudal, a shoe fastened with thongs, pilgrimage to lona, where he died 

Being worsted in the battle of Tara (War of the Gaedhill, p. cl.). 

(980), against Malachi, king of Ire- - Hist. Trauslat. S. Cuthberti, iv. 

laud, where he lost his sou Kagnall, 17. 



BATTLE OF BRUNANRURH. 123 

where the site is called Vinheidi. The battle is conjec- 
tured by Skene/ though high authorities dissent, to have 
been fought at Aldborough, on the Ouse, near which are 
three ' devil's arrows,' or monoliths of great size. 

" This year 2 King Atlielstan, lord of earls, 
Giver of rings among the warriors, and eke his brother, 
Edmund AtheHng, lifelong renown 
Gained in the tight, with the edges of their swords, 
At Brunanburh. They clave the wall of shields ; 
They hewed the war-shields, output of hammers, 
These sons of Edward ; as was to them congenial, 
From their ancestors, that they in combat oft, 
'Gainst all comers, defended their land, 

Their hoards, and their homes. The foemen cringed (crouched); 
The Scotch people, the shipmen, 
Fated, fell ; the field streamed 
With warriors' blood what time the sun rose 
At morning-tide, the mighty star 
Glided over earth, the candle bright of God, 
The eternal Lord, until the noble creature 
Sank to his setting. There many a warrior lay 
Of those Northern men, pierced by the spears. 
Shot over the shield ; many Scotsmen eke, 
Weary, war-sated. The AVest Saxons 
The livelong day with choice troops 
Pressed on the track of the loathed race ; 
They hewed at the runagates fierce from behind, 
With falchions just whetted. The IVIercians refused 
The hard hand-play to none of the foemen 
That with Olaf over the weltering waves 
On the ship's bosom had sought the land, 
Fey to the fight. There lay five 
Young kings on that battle-stead, 
Slain with the sword ; so seven eke 
Earls of Olaf — foes without number, 
Shipmen and Scots. There was the Norse chief 
Put to the rout ; needs must he fly 
To the stem of his ship. With a little band 
He shoved his ship afloat. The King departed, 
On the fallow flood he saved his hfe. 
Eke the aged one escaped by flight 

' Celtic Scotland, p. 358. 

- Munch, ' ' Chronicon Manniae, " p. 38, fixes 938 as the date; the Chronicle, 937. 



124 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

To his kin in the North. Constantiiie, 

The hoar war -hero, he need not vaunt 

Of the wecUock of swords. He was shorn of his mates, 

Eeft of his friends on the trysting-place, 

Shiin in strife ; and he left his son 

On the shuighter-phace, mashed to pieces, 

Though young in war. Needed not boast 

That grizzly-lock'd warrior of the dash of bills, 

That old deceiver ; not he nor Olaf neither. 

With their armies' relics they needed not to laugh, 

As though they had the best of it in the work of death. 

In the rush of banners on the battle-stead, 

The meeting of javelins, the tryst of men, 

The clash of weapons wherewithal they played 

On the slaughter-ground against the sons of Edward. 

Hied them, the Northmen, in their mailed barks — 

Remnant of spears — on the sounding sea, 

O'er the deep water, Dublin to seek. 

Back to their country, cowed in mood. 

ISo, too, the brothers, both together, 

The King and the Atheling, sought their country — 

The land of the West Saxons— flushed with victory. 

They left behind them, to share the carcases, 

The dusky-robed, swart raven, 

With horny web, and the dun-coated, 

White-tailed earn, to gorge on the carrion, 

Greedy war-hawk, and that grey beast 

The wolf of the wold. Never was more carnage 

Ever yet on this island 

Of men cut down, before this, 

With the sword-edge — as far as the books tell us, 

The ancient sages — since from the East hither 

Angles and Saxons came up on land, 

O'er the broad seas Britain sought, 

When proud war-smiths overcame the Welsh 

Earls, eager for glory, gat hold of the land.''^ 

1 In "lleliquiee Antiquae," ii. 179, He alone mentions the tale of Canute 
is a metrical fragment in Latin of this and the tide. With all his rhetoric, 
poem, very corrupt, and evidently he loved the old simple poetry and 
copied down by an ignorant scribe, legends. JIacaulay, who held Anglo- 
Appended to it is a tirade in Latin Saxon andOldNurthern poetry equally 
prose, apropos to this great exploit, cheap, remarks: — "The exploits of 
abounding in such names as David, Athelstan were commemorated by the 
Goliath, Pharaoh, &c. Henry of Anglo-Saxons, and those of Canute by 
Huntingdon is our only chronicler the Danes, in rude poems, of which a 
who attempts a version of this poem, few fragments have come down to us." 



BA TTLE OF BR UNA NB URH. 125 

This poem will certainly hold its own with another 
hymn of victory, where Ludwig III., king of the West 
Franks, routed the Vikings of the Seine at Saucourt, half- 
way between Abbeville and Eu, August 3, 881. It is said 
to have been composed by Brother Hucbald, a monk of 
Flanders, died 930, and runs on for some sixty lines : — 

" God caused heathen men 
To come over the sea. 
The Franks to remind 
Of their manifold sins. 
Some of them were slain 
And others were saved ; 
Those who 'd liv'd bad lives 
Much affliction endured," &c. 

In this strait the Almighty summons Ludwig : — 

" Ludwig, my king, 
Go help my folk ; 
The Northmen have them 
So hard bested." 

Obedient to the call, he raised the war-banner and rode 
in search of the Northmen, and before long encounters 

them. 

" The king he rode bold, 
Sang a holy song. 
And all sang together 
' Kyrie Eleison.' 
The song it was sung. 
The fight was begun ; 
Blood rose for joy 
To the cheeks of the Franks. 
Each battled full hard, 
Like Ludwig none 
So snell and so keen — 
'Twas his nature, I ween. 
Some he cut with the sword, 
Some pierced with the spear ; 
In the hands of his foes 
He poured forth 
So bitter a drink, 
They wearied of life. 



126 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

Then praised be God's might 
That Ludwig prevailed ; 
And praised be all saints 
That the fight lie won." 

But after all, tlie fight at BrunanLurli is not to be com- 
pared for grandeur to the Icelandic poem on the death 
of King Eric Bloody-axe (941)/ or the Spaedom of the 
Norns in Brian's Battle (10 14), parts of which last not 
long since were still remembered in the original in the 
Orkneys. Both of these poems we purpose giving in 
their proper place hereafter. Professor Earle ascribes 
the song of Brunanburh to Cyneweard, Bishop of Wells, 
whom he conjectures to have been poet-laureate of the 
day and son of Cynewulf, the author of "Elene." Saxon 
it is in speech, doubtless, but may we not question 
whether it is altogether Saxon in origin ? whether, though 
tlie hands may be the hands of Esau, the voice is not 
Jacob's voice? In the army of Athelstan were several 
hundred Norsemen and Icelanders, the very pink and 
flower of her nobility, men who had bearded Harold 
Fairhair and his son Eric, and to whose signal bravery 
it was due that when Alfgeir had fled from the field, 
the fortunes of Athelstan were retrieved, and the field 
of Brunanburh won. Such were Thorolfr and his brother 
Egil. Now Egil was a famous Scald. After the battle, 
says the Egil saga (cap. 55), he composed an epic (Drapa) 
in honour of Athelstan's victory, for which the king 
presented him with two gold armlets, each of which 
weighed a mark (= half a pound), besides a costly 
mantle which he himself had worn.'^ The presence of 
such a man at court must have had a strong poetic 
influence on the Saxon bards. What if he had some- 
tliing to do with this pcean of victory ! He was in- 

1 Fagrskinna (Christiania, 1847), part ii. of this work, 

p. 16, imitated by Eyvind Skal- - The author of the saga falls into 

(iasiiiller, ib. p. 22. Cf. Hornclofe's one error, — be kills Olaf, whereas he 

poem ou the battle of Hafursfiord in escaped. 



BATTLE OF MALDON. 127 

deed an improvisatore, which the Anglo-Saxons were not, 
as far as we know, unless it be Csedmon ; and he must 
have been far above all his contemporaries, for a legend 
was invented to account for his skill. Had they been 
such, we should surely have had better stuff handed 
down to us than that rhyming impromptu fathered upon 
King Canute by the street ballad-singers of the twelfth 
century, but which is no more his than were Chatterton's 
poems composed by the monk Thomas Eowley. 

" Merie sungen Se muneclies binnen. Ely 
Tha Knut cliing reu ©terby ; 
RoweS, knites, noer ge land, 
And here we Ses muneches sang." 
i.e., " Merry the monks sang at Ely 
As steer'd by Knut the king ; 
Row, row me, my men, near the land. 
Let us list to the monks' sweet song." 

— Hist. Ellens (1166-69). 

The " Battle of Maldon " is a spirited fragment with the 
ricrht ring about it, albeit the author most probably 
was one of the cowled fraternity. Byrhtnoth, a Northum- 
brian by birth, was a great benefactor to Ely. Hence 
the Ely Chronicle (494) naturally mentions his death, 
A.D. 991. He is there described as eloquent of speech, 
of robust strength, and commanding stature. Above all, 
he honoured Holy Church and its ministers, and applied 
to their use the whole of his piatrimony; and so he is 
not without a vates saccr. But for the industry of that 
busy antiquary Hearne, who had transcribed the only 
known MS. of it, which perished in the fire of 
the Cottonian Library, 1731, this poem would have 
been lost to us. It describes the way in which EarP 
Byrhtnoth, King Athelstan's man, goes down on the 

1 Ealdornian, anglice Alderman, or leader). He was judicial head of 

The proi^er signification of the title the county, and leader of the levy en 

in those days is a long story. In masse. He was equal in blood of the 

rank he stood next to the king. As king, and could intermarry with his 

leader of the army he was literally family. He was appointed by tlie 

' Hcretoga ' (Germ. ' Herzog ' = duke crown with the assent of the higher 



128 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

banks of the Blackwater before the redoutable Olaf Tiy- 
gvassoii (Chronicle, 993, where he is called Unlaf or Anlaf), 
who had invaded England with 390 ships. An envoy 
comes from the Vikings with the cool request for rings, as 
a method of buying off the invader and stopping the rush 
of arms.i Up starts Byrhtnoth, brandishing his slender 
spear, and tells the messenger the only tribute they shall 
have will be the javelin and the sword-point ; grim battle 
shall decide between them. Noteworthy are some signs 
of Scandinavian influence in this South Saxon poem. 

The freebooters are several times called ' vikings,' as 
well as ' mariners,' a peculiarly Norse word. The battle 
phalanx is interchangeably ' vihaga ' and also ' scyldburh ' 
=: ' a wall of shields,' the last being the well-known term 
in the sagas for an old battle array. ' Drengr ' = ' soldier,' 
' plucky fellow,' and ' grid ' = ' peace,' ' truce,' are likewise 
choice exotics from the same soil. ' Point ' and ' edge ' is 
a collocation common to Anglo-Saxon and Danish, while 
' Oder twega ' ~ ' one or the other,' i.e., ' death or ven- 
geance,' sounds very Icelandic. 

nobles, and generally held office for Charles the Bald paid them (a.D. 860) 

life (Keuible,iii. 145). "With the advent five thousand lbs. silver; in 866, four 

of the Danes the naine remained, but thousand lbs.; and .again, 877, they got 

denoted a much lower class than the five thousand lbs. more, and so on ; or 

princely officers who had previously rather, much more was subsequently 

borne the title. Gradually the old obtained (Hincmar). Thus in 883, 

title ceased altogether, except in twelve thousand lbs. of silver were 

cities, where it denotes an inferior paid to Sigfred on the condition that 

judicature, as at the present day ; a the Vikings left Neustria at peace 

set of officers certainly not elevated for twelve years. But upon the death 

iu character by the Reform Bill. of Carloman, 12th December 884, they 

1 Fabulous sums had been extracted at once returned and claimed another 

by the marauders from the silly kings twelve thousand from his successor, 

across the Straits of Dover. The re- on the plea that the compact only 

suit was natural. They returned and referred to the late king's lifetime 

permanently occupied the countr}^ (Steenstrup,"Normannertiden,"2o8). 



( 129 ) 



CHAPTEE IX. 

AiVGLO-SAXO.V POETRY {CONTINUED.) — JUDITH, 
ANDREAS, ELENE, ETC. 

One of the most considerable pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry 
remaining to us is " Judith," a poem of the highest merit 
and most finished style, composed in twelve cantos, of 
which the first eight, and all the ninth but a few lines, 
are lost. The author is unknown, but is conjectured by 
Stephens to have been Csedmon. The heroine is here a 
damsel (meowle), and not the widow of the Apocrypha, 
whose husband " died of a sun-stroke in the barley-har- 
vest." We first meet with her on the eve of the great 
banquet which Holofernes gave on the fourteenth day 
after her arrival with her abigail. Nothing can exceed the 
descriptive power in this poem — the great vessels brimful 
of wine borne along the benches, the courtiers enjoying 
themselves, the brutal Holofernes laughing and yelling in 
his lust, drenching himself with wine the livelong day 
imtil he became giddy, and his lords in the same plight. 
The maiden with braided hair (wunden lokke), loaded with 
jewels, adorned with rings, led by the attendants to the 
tent where their master was resting after his debauch, 
with a golden fly-net hung before it, so that he might see 
any one who approached. They rouse him and liand over 
the maiden. Strong in the faith of God, the victim shrinks 
not a moment from her self-imposed task, draws a finely- 
tempered sword, and, with a short prayer, approaches the 

I 



I30 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

' warlock,' the inebriate sleeping brute, seizes him fast by 
his hair, and with two strokes smites off the head of the 
heathen hound. It rolls upon the floor, and she slips it 
into a bag, w^hich her pale-cheeked maid had in readiness. 
His headless carcase still lay on the bed ; " his spirit goes 
to the abyss, the hall of serpents (wyrm-sele), to live for 
ever in the dark home devoid of hope." The deed being 
done, she draws breath again. " There is more room in her 
bosom." After a night-tramp she arrives at the gate of 
Bethulia, where dwell the children of her people. The 
news of her arrival soon spreads through the city. The 
excitement is prodigious. Jews throng to the gates, men 
and women, in heaps, in flocks, and thousands. The 
commotion is at its height when the damsel, all gold- 
adorned, unwraps the gory head, and bids the people stare 
at it. She then urges them to march forth to battle at 
daybreak. So said, so done. We hear the tramp of the 
warriors as they step forth, bearing their linden shields 
before their breasts, clad in mail and helmet, keen to the 
conflict bearing their banners, din their bucklers, loudly 
resounding. Then follows a description of the onslaught 
of the Hebrews and Pagans, all conceived in the tone of 
the ballad poetry. We have the ' ash-play.' The arrows 
are ' war-serpents ; ' the ' lindens ' (the bucklers made of 
the wood of the linden) are hewn in pieces, the ' shield- 
fence ' is broken. Most of the Assyrians are slain in the 
battle (fet specce). Literally, they get ' the sack.' Judith 
becomes possessed of all Holofernes' valuables, and the 
piece closes with an ascription of praise to Him " who 
shaped the wind and the lift, the heaven and vast 
earth." 

The poem is a good deal in the tone of that noble piean, 
" In Jewry is God known," &c. There is no pause in the 
story ; it advances with breathless haste till the victory is 
won. The onward march sounds actually in our ears. 
The rhythm keeps time with the incidents portrayed. 
Never was war painted more to the life ; and then enter, 



C.-EDMON. 131 

as in " Credmon " ^ and in the battle of " Brunanbiirh," those 
beasts indispensable to the poet, in monkish eyes savour- 
ing of the devil, but in the animal mythology of the Pagans 
looked on rather as the supernatural fellows of man : the 
lank wolf; the wan raven, eager for his prey, followed by the 
earn, tawny-coated, humid of feather, horny-nebbed, greedy 
of food, and screeching the note of war. jSTo mere para- 
phrase in the fashion of Caidmon's other production (if it 
be indeed Csedmon), it often travels out of the record, and 
in a manner truly original, while the setting is quite of 
home production. Greatly is it to be regretted that it is 
only a fragment, the torso only of the fine original. 

Of the Anglo-Saxon poets scarcely any are known by 
name, while the names and pieces of many Icelandic scalds 
have come down to us. A notable exception is Csedmon, 
the poet just mentioned — the Anglo-Saxon Milton, as he 
has been called, from the grandeur of his description of the 
fallen angels ; indeed Milton, who had possibly been made 
acquainted with Csedmon by his friend Junius, resembles 
him a good deal in " Paradise Lost." He was the neat- 
herd of "Whitby Abbey for more than twenty years in the 
second half of the seventh century. Like the herdman of 
Tekoa, who, though no prophet, nor yet a prophet's son, 
became inspired from heaven, on a sudden he caught his 
poetic afflatus on the instant."^ 

1 " Around them screamed quently to repair thither with his 

The fowls of war, fiock, spending the night on the cairn. 

Greedy of battle, It constantly came into his mind that 

Dewy feathered, he should like to compose a dirge on 

Over the Ijodies of the host, the deceased ; but, being no poet, he 

The dark chooser of the slain never could get further than "Here 

(raven) ; lies the scald." One night as he lay 

The wolves sung harping on the old string he fell 

Their horrid even-song asleep, when he saw the cairn open, 

Jn hopes of food ; and a tall stately man issue from it, 

The reckless beasts," &c. who came and stood over him, and 

told him that if he could manage to 

^ The legend of Csedmon reappears remember a poem of eight lines which 

mutatis mutandis in Iceland in the he was about to recite, he should, 

tenth century. Thorleif Jarlaskald, though no poet, be one at once. For- 

who had been murdered at the insti- tunately, on awaking, he remembered 

gation of Hacon .larl, lay buried in a them, and became a famous scald, 

cairn near the Hill of Laws. A shep- The cairn on which he slept had been 

herd, Hallbiorn by name, used fre- his Parnassus (Flateybok, i. 214). 



133 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

Bede, who tells liis story, cites us only a few lines of 
the introduction of his original religious poem, and these 
merely in a Latin translation. But Wanley (Cat., p. 287) 
gives, from the edge of a MS. of Bede's " Latin History " 
of the year 737, an old Northumbrian version of these 
lines, which are most likely Csedmon's ijosissima verha, as 
they closely agree with Bede's translation of them. The 
long poem now extant under the name of "Csedmon" is of 
much later date, and is probably a South English ren- 
dering of the original, written in the old ISTorthumbrian 
dialect. A confident discovery has been made recently 
in Germany, that the author of the "Heliand"^ and of 
" Cwdmon " are one ; in fact, that our " Caedmon " is a 
translation of a German original. Professor G. Stephens 
of Copenhagen has apparently demolished this assump- 
tion, and turned tlie tables on the German by asserting, 
with proofs to back it, that the "Heliand" itself is merely 
a transcript or translation of an old English original. It 
is entirely English, he argues, in form and spirit and colour- 
ing. It is only Saxon in virtue of a slight trans-dialecta- 
tion. The first evangelisers of Germany, the Culdee and 
Celtic missionaries, were influenced by the culture and 
traditions of lona and Lindisfarne, and therefore Kelto- 
Anglic. Then came the distinctly English Eomanizing 
missions under Wynfrid and his followers, who by their 
influence rapidly Christianized and Piomanized large sweeps 
of the Teutonic lands. These meii took with them stores 
of books, many of which, in Latin transcripts, were made 
in Germany by themselves or their disciples. Even now 

1 A far inferior German poem was Mayence, still exists, wherein he states 

Otfried's "Christ," composed about that the ears of holy men being dis- 

A.D. 865, some thirty years perhaps quieted by the obscene songs of the 

after the " Heliand," by the monk laity, he had been asked by certain 

of W^eissenburg. But in one respect brethren, notably by an excellent 

invaluable. Alliteration is here sue- matron, Judith, to write out part 

ceeded by the musical principle, of the Gospels in Theotisc, that the 

rhyme, which has prevailed to the singing of it may be an antidote 

present day. A letter by the aiithor, to the other (Epistl. Mogunt., p. 

A.D. 865, to Liutbert, Archbishop of 328). 



ELENE. 133 

great numbers of MSS. written iu England, or copied 
from such, exist in German libraries. Some of them, as, 
for instance, a MS. at St. Gall,^ contain the English Eunic 
alphabet. Among the books so taken would be " Cted- 
mon" in its original old Northern English, the oldest 
verse in our mother-tongue. It is not likely that a 
great and gifted Church (like that of England) would 
enrich itself by translating a piece by a barbarian convert 
in one of her mission stations abroad, i.e., producing from 
" Heliand " what we call " Ctedmon." ^ As a proof of 
the English origin of the " Wessobrunn Prayer," Stephens 
points to two Anglo-Saxon Eunic characters which 
occur in the MS., viz., the bind-rune ~| for ' and,' which 
mark Grimm (Deutsche Euner, p. 134) expressly says 
is an English mark, and also %, " gi," which occurs four 
times. 

But there is another poet who stands revealed as the 
author of several poems by means of Eunic acrostics 
on his name inserted therein — Cynewulf. Such is 
" Elene, or The Finding of the Cross." In this poem 
the mother of Constantine — whom legend, one of the 
busiest of pedigree-hunters, makes out to have been a 
British princess — journeys to Jerusalem, and by the help 
of one " well-wise in songs, crafty of word, whose name 
was Judas," finds three crosses buried in Mount Calvary, 
" twenty foot-measures deep." The real cross is discerned 
by its touch raising a dead man to life, which the two others 
fail to do. This marvellous event is generally assigned 

1 In this same monastery there these precious specimens of ancient 

were at tlie end of the ninth century Celtic caligra^jhy. King Athelstan 

twenty codices written Scotice, i.e., sent an embassy to the Swiss monas- 

in the Irish style, either brought teries, and concluded a friendly al- 

from Ireland or copied at St. Gall, liance with that of St. Gall. 

INISS. of this kind were so highly - Others reason thus : — Supposing 

prized from their beautiful workman- the so-called Csedmon to be of the 

shiij, that the Emperor Charlemagne age of Alfred, it might contain some 

was very thankful to get one as a German-Saxon forms introduced by 

present. In Appendix A. to tlie Alfred's Corvey scholars and akin to 

Keport on Khymer's "Foedera,'' the " Heliand." 
there are some beautiful facsimiles of 



134 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

to tlio year a.d. 326. Judas is afterwards baptii^ed, and, 
under the name of Cyriacus, made Bishop of Jerusalem. 
There are several fine passages in this poem. The Emperor 
Constantine, be it observed, poses as a Gothic king ; his 
head is covered with the national 'boar-shaped helm.' 
His rencontre with the Huns is thus described : — 

Tlie trumpets saiij,' 

Loud before the liosts; 

The raven rejoiced in the work ; 

Dewy feathered, 

The eagle watched their marcli, 

The war of the fierce men ; 

Tlie Avolf uplifted liis song, 

The denizens of the forest. 

Then was ch^sh of shields 

And crush of men ; 

Hard hand-swing 

And crash of armies ; 

After the arrows' course 

The first encountered. 

They broke the wall of shields, 

They plunged the bill, 

The bold in battle tlironged ; 

Then was the banner upreared, 

An ensign before the crowds, 

A golden helmet. 

The javelin flashed 

Hot in the battlefield. 

Fled at once 

The people of the Huns " (1. 109). 

Upon this tlie Emperor commands Helena to go in 
search of the true cross, a vision of which had given him 
the victory. She embarks with her mailed warriors on 
the Wendelste (the Mediterranean) : — 

" Bound for Holy Palestine, 
Nimbly we brushed the level brine ; 
All in azure steel arrayed, 
O'er the wave our M'eapons played." 



DREAM OF THE CROSS. 135 

The Anglo-Saxon poet puts it thus : — 

" Never heard I before or since 
That on the ocean stream 
A lady led 
Upon the sea-street 
A fairer power. 
There might he see, 
Who beheld the journey, 
Break over the bath-way, 
The sea-wood rejoice, 
Under the swelling waves 
The sea-horse play. 
The wave-tioater wade " (1. 240). 

Now, at the end of "Elene," line 2512, in the " Vercelli 
Codex," 1 the letters of the poet's name are thus given in 
succession, with references to one who was once "high 
placed in hall a welcome guest," got gifts of " dappled 
gold " for his minstrelsy, but was now in exile and dis- 
grace. In this same poem reference is made to the 
" Dream of the Cross," which must therefore be also his. 
It opens thus, though slightly abbreviated, in Kemble's 
version : — 

" Lo ! I the costliest of dreams will relate. 

That met me 

In the middle of the night. 

It seemed to me that I saw 

A wondrous tree 

Led through the sky 

Enveloped in light, 

Brightest of beams ; 

All that beacon was 

Surrounded with gold and gems. 

All the angels of tlie Lord beheld it, 

Fair through the firmament. 

That was no malefactor's gibbet ; 

Strange was the tree of victory. 

And I, stained with sins. 

Wounded with my guilt, 

lA MS. discovered in 1832 by Report on Rymer's " Foedera," by the 

Professor Blum in the library of the authority of the Comniiasiouers of 

Chapter at Vercelli, and printed under Public Records. Edited for the 

the care of Thorpe as Appendix to Jilfric Society by Kemble, 1843. 



136 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

Saw the tree of glory, 
Adorned Avitli hangings, 
Pleasantly shine, 
Ornamented -with gold. 

I was all oppressed with sorrow ; 
Terrified I was at the fair sight. 
I saw the hastening beacon 
Change both in hangings and hue ; 
At times it was damped with Avet, 
Soiled, with running of blood. 
At times adorned with treasure. 

Until I heard 

That it gave a sound, 

These words to speak began : 

' It was long ago. 

Yet I remember it ; 

That I was cut down 

At the end of a wood. 

Stirred from my sleep ; 

Then men bore me on their shoulders, 

Until they set me up upon a mountain. 

There saw 1 the Lord of mankind 

Hasten with mighty power 

That He might mount upon me. 

I then dared not there 

Against the Lord's command 

Bow down or break in sunder. 

I might all 

His foes have felled ; 

Nevertheless I stood fast. 

Then the young Hero made ready. 

That was Almighty God, 

Firm and steadfast of mind. 

He went up upon the lofty cross. 

Courageous in the sight of many, 

Since there He would redeem mankind. 

I trembled there when the champion 

Embraced me. 

But I dared not bow down to earth. 

Fall on the ground ; 

But I was compelled to stand fast. 

A cross was I reared ; 

1 uplifted the Mighty King, 



DREAM OF THE CROSS. 137 

The Lord of the Heavens ; 

They pierced me with dark nails ; 

The wounds are visible upon me ; 

They reviled us both together. 

I was all wet with blood 

Poured from the Man's side 

After He had sent forth his spirit. 

I saw the Lord of Hosts 

Hardly serv^e. 

Darkness had 

Covered Avilli clouds 

The corjjse of the Euler ; 

The bright splendour, 

Shadow invaded, 

Wan under the welkin. 

All creation wept ; 

They lamented the fall of their king. 

Christ was on the cross, 

But thither hastening, 

Men came from afar 

To the Noble One. 

I beheld it all ; 

I was cast down with sorrow. 

There they took Almighty God ; 

They lifted Him off the heavy torment ; 

Tlie heroes left me there, 

Standing covered with steam ; 

I was all wounded with arrows ; 

They laid Him down limb weary ; 

They stood at the head of His corpse ; 

Then began they to sing over Him a mournful song. 

The poor people at eventide. 

Then began they to fell us 
All to the ground ; 
They buried us in a deep pit, 
But me the servants of the Lord 
Discovered there. 

They adorned me with gold and silver ; 

Now niayest thou hear, 

My dear man, 

That I the work of criminals 

Have endured ; 

But now the time is come 



138 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

That men on earth, 

Far and wide, 

Honour me, 

And all this great creation 

Prays to this sign.' " 

But after all, Cynewulf was not the author of the origi- 
nal poem, but only of the modernised tenth-century ver- 
sion, just as Dryden modernised Chaucer. Several lines of 
the original poem are engraved in runes on the Ruthwell 
Cross which stands near Annan in Dumfriesshire. They 
were deciphered by J. M. Kemble, and on being compared 
with some lines in the Vercelli poems, discovered later, 
proved to be almost the same ; and to leave no doubt as 
to the original authorship, Coedmon is actually named on 
tlie cross as the author : " Cadmon me made." ^ 

Tlie name of Cynewulf again occurs in the legend of 
" Juliana," a martyr story, based on the Bollandist Acta 
S. Juliana?. The Phcenix in the " Exeter Codex," - which 
is most likely, as nearly all the rest of the book by the 
hand of Cynewulf, is merely an expansion of the Latin 
poem bearing that name attributed to Lactantius. Tlie 
description of the happy land in the East where the 
fabled bird dwells is quite delicious. Isaiah, and the 
Apocalypse, and the Saturnian age of Virgil, have contri- 
buted their choicest bits to fill out the imagery. The 
" Adventures of St. Andrew," a poem which is likewise to be 
found in the " Vercelli Codex," is attributed by J. Grimm,^ 
from the epic forms it contains, to Aldhelm, who died 
709. Its source is an apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, in 
Greek (ibid., xvii.), a language which was well understood 
by learned Anglo-Saxons. But the poem abounds with 
references to the old Pagan mythology. The mysterious 

1 Stephens, Runes, ii. 419. tell you even now, in regretful tones, 

- The precious gift to his cathe- that — 

(Iral of Leofric, first Bishop of Exeter, . -r^- 1 1 j. j. 

. , r, 1 , ■ , J- Kirdon was a market-town 

after the See was moved thither from n.^, x? t. 1 > 

,. ....,,.. \\ hen Exeter was a vuzzy down. 

Crediton, 1050. A facsimile of it is 

in the British Museum, edited by ^ Andreas und Elene, von J. Grimm 

Thorpe, 1842. The Creditouiaus will (Cassel, i8^o), p. li. 



ADVENTURES OF ST. ANDREW. 139 

skipper wlio gives Andrew a berth on board his boat to 
the land of the Mermedonians, reminds us of Odin, who 
in popular legend often acted the part of a disguised 
ferryman. So when the wounds inflicted on Andreas by- 
day are cured by night, we think of the Northern Hiad- 
ning battle, where the dead warriors each morn renew the 
combat. Many other glimpses of old Northern mytho- 
logy are visible here to those who can read between the 
lines. The descriptions of a storm and of winter, of the 
wolf howling as he presages the battle, and the eagle and 
raA'en with dewy wing following on the trail of the foe 
and screaming their death-song (so in "Judith" and "Bru- 
nanburh"), betoken the hand of one who knew how to infuse 
into a religious theme the freshness and truth of the old 
national ballad. Indeed, the whole character of the lan- 
guage and poetry in both " Elene " and "Andreas," in 
Grimm's opinion, seem to point to their having been com- 
posed about the same time as our present " Beowulf," i.d., 
soon after the beginning of the eighth century. If the writer 
of the two poems could rise so high when fettered by a 
foreign subject, what might he not have achieved had he 
given his genius free scope in some domestic theme ! 
Others conjecture Cynewulf the author, as we have seen, 
of " Elene " and of most of the poems in the Exeter Book. 
The cj[uestion then arises who Cynewulf was. Kemble ^ 
suggests Cynewulf, Abbot of Beterborough, died 1014. For 
it is to the eleventh century, and not to the eighth or old 
epic period, he refers the poem. The archaic words and 
mythic images he regards as the traditional peculiarity of 
Anglo-Saxon poetry. Nowhere is the stubborn nationality 
of our forefathers more thoroughly shown than in the 
way these epic forms continued to assert themselves in 
spite of the so much over-prized book-learning and the 
ultramontane feelings which mastered their prose. 

1 Kemble, Vercelli Codex, 1843 he seem to have been a minstrel by 

(jElfric Society). But this lianlly profession, who being disgraced and 

tallies with the autobiographical hints exiled, turned religious poet, 
which the poet supplies. Kather does 



140 OLD ENGLISH LITERTURE. 

Line 7 38, a storm : — 

'• Then was vexed, 
Excited the whale-lake ; 
The horn-fish phxycd, 
Gh)de through the ocean, 
And the grey mew 
Circled round, greedy of slaughter. 
The weather-candle darkened, 
The winds waxed. 
The waves ground together, 
The streams stirred, 
The roi^es creaked, 
AVet with waters. 
Water-terror stood 
With the might of troops." 

Line 2512 : — 

•' Snow bound the earth 
With winter casts. 
Cold grew the storms, 
With hard hail showers, 
And rime and frost. 
The hoary warriors, 
Locked up the dwellings of men, 
Tlie settlements of the people. 
Frozen were the lands, 
Witk cold icicles 
Shrunk the water's might ; 
Over the river streams 
The ice made a bridge, 
A pale water-road." 

Line 2981 reminds us of the cave of Grendel's mother 

in " Beowulf" : — 

" He saw by the wall 
AYondrous fast 
Upon the plain 
Mighty pillars, 
Columns standing, 
Weather-worn, 
The antique work of giants. 

Hear, thou marble stone, 
Now let from thy foundation 
Streams bubble out ! 
There was no delay 



THE WANDERER. 141 

More than 

That the stone split open, 

The stream bubbled forth, 

And flowed over the grovmd. 

The foaming billows 

At break of day 

Covered the earth. 

The sea-flood increased, 

"Waxed the water's power." 

But the most consideralDle extant lyric poem, not on a 
religious subject, and which is very likely a bit of the 
same poet's autobiography, is the " Wanderer." The fol- 
lowing is a sample of it from Thorpe's version : — 
" Him an exile's track awaits. 

He remembers the hall retainers 
And receipt of treasure ; 
But pleasure all has fixllen. 

"\^nien sorrow and sleep 

At once together 

A poor solitary 

Often bind, 

That seems to him in mind 

That he his lord 

Embraces and kisses, 

And on his knee lays 

Hands and head. 

As when he ere at times, 

In former days, 

His gifts enjoyed. 

Then wakes again ; 

The friendless mortal 

Sees before him 

Fallow ways, 

Ocean fowls bathing, 

Spreading their wings, 

Eime and snow descending 

With hail mingled." 

Looking at the transitoriness of this dark life, the wise 
man will say : — 

" Where is the horse, where is the man ] 
Where is the treasure-"! ver \ 



142 OLD ENGLISH LIT ERA TURE. 

Wliere are the festive sittings % ^ 
AVliere are the joys of the hall ? 
Alas ! bright cup ! 
Alas ! mailed warrior ! 
Alas ! chieftain's splendour ! 
How the time has passed, 
Has darkened under veil of night, 
As if it had not been ! " 

The " Exile," who dwells alone in the cavern under the 
oak tree, weary of the dim dells and the high downs, 
laments in the same doleful key, but the lay contains 
snatches of pathetic beauty. Another poem in the 
Exeter Book, p. 107, thought from the style to be by 
Cyiiewulf, is the Life of St. Guthlac, based on the Latin 
prose Life by Felix of Croyland, and of which we have 
given an account above. It is many hundred lines in 
leiigth. Two angels compete for the saint's soul — a good 
one, who spoke of heaven, a bad one, who urged him to 
join a meeting of robbers; but the fiend is put to flight. 
By the help of his good angel he overcomes all the 
malice of the imaginary foe.^ Though — 

" The torments were intense, 
Grim the ministers. 

They brought liim, 
In wrathful mood, 
The glorious Champion, 

1 All this might have been -written And some are taken from me. 
many generations later. Charles All are departed ! 

Lamb, the Londoner of the nine- All, all are gone, the old familiar 
teenth century, wrote much in the faces ! " 

same tone : — " Half the misery of life is said to 

" I have been laughing, I have been \^ ^'^''''^- ^^i*^^ ^'^^^^ high-strung 

carousin" devotees it was nearer the whole. 

Drinking late, sitting late, with '^^^^^ ^^""^ *^^ architects of their 

my bosom cronies. °^'" misery. To Oswald, the founder 

All, .all are gone, the old familiar °^ i'amsey Church, the devil was 

£,^gg(,i present in everything, in the baaing 

of sheep, the barking of dogs, the 

braying of asses, the roaring of lions, 

How some they have died, and the grunting of pigs, the noise of the 

some they have left me, people. 



ST. GUT H LAC. 143 

The holy housel Child, 

To hell door, 

Into that dire house 

Down under earth's foundations, 

Depths profound " (p. 135). 

But he answers them — 

" Ye are faith-breakers, 
Thus ye in exile 
Long have lived 
With flame for drink, 
Dark, deluded, 
Of heaven deprived. 
From joy cast down. 
To death consigned" (p. 139.) 

He dwells tlius fifteen years in the waste, consorting 
with wild beasts, the world despised ; still he had some 
slight satisfactions. " Sweet the birds' song, the earth 
liowery, cuckoos announced the year" (ibid., p. 146). 
He now falls sick, but his courage was steadfast. He is 
visited every day by a disciple, Beccel (p. 200), who dwelt 
near. On the seventh day the saint dies. Of course 
sweetest odours issue from his mouth, fragrant as the 
plants in summer-tide. His disciple takes boat and goes 
to Guthlac's sister with the news : — 

" Hastened the ocean wood 
Light, hurrying its course, 
The water-horse sped rapidly, 
Laden to the hithe, 
So that the floater of the surge 
After its ocean play 
Spurned the sandy land, 
Ground against the gravel." 

On his arrival he tells her how " the broken bone-house " 
is at rest, while " the part of glory " is " in the light of 
God." 

" Deor the Scald's Complaint," another of these curious 
lyric poems, is remarkable for being interspersed at inter- 
vals with a regular burden. It makes reference to the 
legend of Weland, whom King Mdad bound with a thong : 



14+ OLD EXGLISH LITERATURE. 

Avhile in tlie old Edda he faros harder, the King severing 
the tendons of his knees. Thorpe, on the principle that 
tales gain by transmission, thinks the Anglo-Saxon poem 
the older of the two. 

The " Piuin," which might have been the work of a Saxon 
poet as he looked on the ruins of Bamborough, or some 
stately castle scathed by the Danes, is highly picturesque 
but lamentably imperfect. It is pitched in the key of 
" The Moated Grange." In English the piece loses mucli 
from the exclusion of alliterations, which it is difficult to 
retain : — 

" "WondroiTS is this wall stone ; 

The Fates have broken it, 

Have burst the burgh place. 

Perishes the work of giants ; 

The roofs are fallen, 

The towers tottering, 

The hoar gate-towers despoiled ; 

Rime on the lime, 

Shattered the battlements, 

Riven, fallen, 

Under the Eotnish race. 

The earth-grave has 

Its powerful workmen ; 

Decayed, departed. 

Fallen are the hard of gripe. 

Bright were the burgh dwellings. 

Many its princely halls, 

High its steepled splendour ; 

There was martial sound great, 

]\Iany a mead-hall 

Full of human joys, 

Till obdurate fate 

Changed all that. 

They perished in wide slaughter ; 

Came pernicious days, 

Death destroyed all 

Their renowned warriors. 

Therefore these courts are dreary. 

Where manv a chief of old. 



THE SEA-FARER. I45 

Joyous and gold-bright, 

Splendidly adorned, 

Proud, and with wine elated, 

In warlike decorations shone, 

Looked on treasure, on silver, 

On curious gems, 

On luxury, on wealth, 

On this bright burgh 

Of a broad realm." 

But all has perished in the stream of flame. 

A capital instance of the chapfallen tone of some of the 
Ano-lo-Saxon poems, as contrasted with the buoyant, exult- 
ing strain of the Icelandic scalds, is to be found in " The 
Seafarer," albeit it is tinctured with much of lyric beauty. 
Had it been less fragmentary, this abject state of mind 
would very likely have stood out more conspicuously. 
None of that laying one's hand familiarly " on the ocean's 
mane," and careering through the storm — like an Ariel or 
a Lapland witch — that one encounters in the Northern 
Muse ! Tlie teller of " the true tale" recounts how the fell 
rolling of the waves has often drenched him at the anxious 
night-watch ; how his feet were pierced with cold, bound 
with frost ; how his heart was hot with care.^ Hunger, 
the sea-wolf's rage, tore him within. When winter came, 
and hail fell on the earth, coldest of grains, he was hung 
o'er with icicles. He who enjoys life in cities, elate and 
wine-flushed, with misfortunes few, hardly can believe 
what he felt. In fact, it was a case of — 

" Ye gentlemen of England, who live at home at ease, 
How little do ye think of the dangers of the seas !" 

Only that it is always " De profundis," the voice seems to 
come from the very trough of the sea. 

" No man living, be he ever so good, but he must feel 
fear on a sea- voyage. He has no mind for the sound of 

1 Care may bring a chilly feeling to friend (Guthlac, xii. 39), was simi- 
yonrmodem Englishman, but it made larly affected on the saint's death, 
the heart of the Seafarer "}iot" People seem to have altered psycho- 
within him. Sorrow comes to the logically, as well as in constitution, 
boil in "Beowulf." Beccel, Guthlac's since those days. 

K* 



146 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

tlie harp, not even for the receipt of rings, nor for the 
charms of woman. He thinks of nought else but the roll- 
ing of the waves and the ice-cold sea as he wanders over 
the whale's home." ^ Then why go to sea at all ? There 
is, fortunately, one little bit of ornithology, throwing a 
momentary light on the utter gloom of the whole piece. 
Be it noted here that there is generally but scant mention 
of birds of any kind in Anglo-Saxon works, or indeed of 
animals of any sort, except the stock figures, the eagle, 
hawk, raven, and wolf ("the grey one"). To one bird, 
however, the phcenix, which has by common consent be- 
come tabooed as a figure in English poetry, a whole poem, 
as we have seen above, is dedicated. But here this forlorn 
seafarer at times in his distress makes " a pastime of the 
gannet's ^ cry, and the song of the swan, and the 'huilpe's'^ 
note. For men's laughter he listens to the song of the 
sea-mew." Towards the close this piece — like many of 
the others — diverges into a train of moral and pious 
reflection. Another poem in the Exeter Book is "The 
Whale," which is most likely a paraphrase from the Latin. 
The ocean-floater, while resting, is taken by seafarers for 
an island. They fasten their high-prowed ships, their 
sea-horses, to it. 

" Him, haply slumbering on the Norway foam, 
The i^ilot of some small night-founder'd skiflf, 
Deeming some island, oft, as seamen tell, 
With fixed anchor in his scaly rind. 
Moors by his side under the lee, while night 
Invests the sea and wished morn delays." 

So far Milton. But the Anglo-Saxon, following his well- 
informed authority, carries us on to the fatal catastrophe. 
The seafarers mount on the supposed land, encamp, and 
kindle a fire. Annoyed at the liberty taken with him, 
"the guileful beast" suddenly goes down, ship and all, 

1 The Seafarer, p. 308. 3 xhe authorities are in the dark 

2 "When they (the gannet or solan about this bird, so called from its cry. 
goose) rise in the air, they stun the Was it the willock, as the guillemot 
are with their noise" (Bewick). is called on our eastern coasts? 



GNOMIC VERSES. 147 

into the abyss, " the hall of death." ISTo tub or tubs thrown 
overboard will satisfy him. " So is the way of the devils ; 
they deceive the virtuous, and sink them into groundless 
fire, misty gloom." Again, this fish has another property. 
When hungry, the water-rager opens his wide blubber lips, 
whence issue pleasant odours : much like at the entrance 
to a tavern, we should suppose. The little fishes, attracted 
by it, swim eager in, when around his victims he crushes 
together his grim gums. The portcullis being down, the fate 
of the prisoners may be readily imagined. " So the accursed 
one shall hereafter engulf in hell's latticed doors those 
who here sought the body's pleasure only."^ A similar 
bit of natural history is recounted in that remarkable 
twelfth-century book, written in Norway, the " Speculum 
Eegale."- The first recorded instance of whale-fishing 
we are acquainted with is that told in the old Edda, 
" HymiskviSa," 21, where Hymer succeeds in booking- 
two of these monsters ; while Thor had finer sport still, 
playing the earth serpent himself a considerable time, 
though eventually he lost him. 

In the Exeter MS. (333) we have what are called 
" Gnomic Verses," a string of proverbial sentences, often 
mere truisms, which are conjectured to have been anterior 
to the first migration of the Teutonic tribes to this island. 
Like the " Havamal," in the Edda, they were an oral 
embodiment of the current wisdom of the people on social 
and other topics. Singular to relate, woman's love is 
nowhere described in extant Anglo-Saxon poetry. But, 
natheless, in the metrical sayings we find evidence that 
these Anglo-Saxons, though so sedate and slow, must, like 
other folks, have been liable to lose their heads when 
overtaken by the tender passion; for one sentence runs, 
" Lovers require a leech." ^ Domesticity was clearly much 
prized in those days, for we read — 

^ Cf. "A Bestiary," in the Early English Text Society's Series, edited hy 
Morris. 
- Kongespeilet, p. 32, Christiania, 1848. •* Gnomic Verses, p. 336. 



I4S OLD EyCLISH LITERATURE. 

"A rambling woman scatters words ; 
A man thinks of her with contempt, 
Oft her cheek smites." ^ 

That tlie acquisition of a wife was, in the earliest states 
of society, very much an affair of sale and barter, at least 
in the upper classes, is clear from "A king shall with 
cattle buy a queen, with cups and bracelets." There is 
also here a pleasant glimpse of life in Friesland, imported, 
doubtless, by one of the Saxon settlers in these isles : — 

" Dear is the welcome guest 
To the Frisian wife, 
When the ship is come, 
And her hnsband to home, 
Her own provider ; 
And she calls him in, 
Washes his squalid garment, 
And gives him new raiment. 
'Tis pleasant on land to him 
Whonr his love awaits." ^ 

The origin of our common proverb, " Murder will out," is 
perhaps to be sought in " Who seeks to conceal murder 
must bury it underground ; " ^ and this device even some- 
times fails, as that treacherous thane, Thunor, had good 
reason to know, who murdered the two young orphan rela- 
tives of his master, Egbert, and hid them under his high 
seat, when a magic light revealed the crime, as it did in 
the case of St. John Nepomuk. After so flagrant an 
iniquity, we need not wonder that the earth opened be- 
neath Thunor and swallowed him.* Such sayings as " A 
friendless man takes wolves for his comrades ; full oft the 
comrade tears him," pictures the wild state of the country 
in the early days, long before the days of Leofric, first 
Bishop of Exeter, the whilome owner of this precious 
Codex. The passion for gambling with the dice, so ab- 
sorbing as " to make sorrow glide away and men forget 
this miserable world," is also noted in this ancient work. 

1 Gnomic Verses, p. 337. " Ibid., p. 339. 3 Ibid., p. 340. 

•* Anglo-Saxon Leechdoius, iii. 423. 



DEPARTED SOUL'S ADDRESS TO THE BODY. 149 

lu conclusion, we may observe, however, tliat this poem, 
nnlilce much of the " Havamal," must in its present shape 
date from Christian times ; for in it we read, " Woden 
wrought idols, but the Almighty the spacious heaven." 

The "Departed Soul's Address to the Body" (Cod. 
Exon., 367) ^ is by no means open to the charge of vague- 
ness, so true of much that is strictly Anglo-Saxon. The 
subject, however, was not exclusively Anglo-Saxon, but 
one very common in mediaeval times. The departed 
(condemned) soul visits the body every seventh night 
during a period of three hundred years, and bitterly does 
it upbraid its quondam yokefellow. 

" Gory dust ! 
Why didst thou torture me ? 
Foulness of earth, 
Thou art all rotting, 
Likeness of clay. 
Thou wert in food luxurious 
And with Avine sated ; 
In splendour thou didst need, 
And I was thirsty for 
God's body. 
Spirit's drink. 

Thou art not now dearer 
To any living, 
To any one as mate, 
Than the swart raven, 
After that I alone from tliee 
Passed out. 

May not now take thee hence 
The red ornaments. 
Nor gold, nor silver, 
Not any of thy goods ; 
But here shall abide 
The bones, stripped bare, 
Torn from the sinews. 



1 A prose Icelandic dialogue be- It dates from the middle of the four- 

tween the soul aud the body is teenth century, and is a free transla- 

printed in " Heilagra m jina sogur," tion of cap. 26, " Pliilippi Gaulteri 

i. 465, ed. linger, Chvistiania, 1877. Moralium Dogma." 



,5o OLD ENGLISH LirKRATURE. 

And tliee thy soul sluill, 

Against my will, 

Oft seek, 

Insult with words, 

As tliou hast wrought for me. 

Therefore for thee 'twere better 

That thou wert at the beginning 

A bird, 

Or a fish in the sea, 

Or a beast of earth ; 

Yea, though thou wert of wormkinds 
The worst." 

Tlie horror now culminates — 

" The head shall be laid open. 
The hands disjointed. 
The jaws distended, 
The gums rent, 

The sineM's shall be sucked dry, 
Tlie neck gnawed. 
Fierce worms 
The ribs shall tear, 
Sliall drain out the carcase in swarms 
Thirsty for corruption.^ 

Gifer hight the worm 

(Whose jaws are 

Than needle sharper), 

He sets to 

First of all 

In that earth cavern ; 

He the tongue tears asunder, 

And the teeth pierces, 

And the eyes eats through, 

Up in the head, 

And, as for a feast, 

Clears the way for other." 

The worm hight Gifer, i.e., Sir Greedy, reminds us of 
' my lady worm ' keeping court in those tongueless skulls 

1 " I have said to corruption, Thou art my father ; to the ■worm. Thou 
art my mother and my sister," Job xvii. 14. "The worm shall feed 
sweetly on him," ib. xxxiv. 20. 



ALLITERATION. 151 

turned up by the spade of the facetious clowns in the 
Danish cliurchyard. In the Anglo-Saxon the scene is too 
harrowing. It lapses into the foul and revolting without 
mitigation. Shakespeare, in the homely wit and quaint 
moralizings of the rustics, has thrown a grim humour over 
the charnel-house (the object of which might be to act as 
a foil to the impending fight in the grave-hole), but which 
has surely not made the sad lesson of frail mortality a whit 
less telling and incisive. He approaches nearer the tone 
of the older poet when, in order to describe all that is most 
loathsome on this earth, he makes Juliet say — 

" Or shut lue nightly in a charnel-house, 
O'er-covered quite -with dead men's rattling bones, 
With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls ; 
Or bid me go into a new-made grave, 
And hide me with a dead man in his shroud, — 
Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble." 

In the original Anglo-Saxon, the grimness of the worm 
banquet, how they crept in and crept out, their probing, 
and tunnelling, and sapping of the fallen citadel of life, 
is intensified by the alliterations. Those early Teutonic 
tongues, and the Celtic also to a much greater degree,^ 
revelled in this trick of speech, and with great effect ; 
not only in solemn legal formularies, in spells of horror, 
and in the flights of the poet, but also in ordinary de- 
scriptions ; and, as a matter of course, in those centos of 
folk- wisdom, common proverbs, the jingling repetition of 
letters at the beginning or elsewhere in a word heightened 
the effect. And the language readily lent itself to the 
device. But it is not so now^ Many words liave dis- 
appeared which we once had. The burial service, for 
instance, and that for a wedding,- striking as these are, 

1 See "Gaedhill andGaill,"p. 158. nesse and in bele ; to be bonere 

- In the York Manual we have, (gentle) and buxom (obedient) in 

" I, M., take thee, N., to my wedded bedde and at the borde, tyll dethe us 

housbonde, to have and to liolde fro departhe, if holy chyrclie it wol 

this day forwarde, for better, for ordeyne, and thereto I plight thee 

wors, for richer, for poorer, iu syke- my troathe."— iI/a«/Le?^ 341. 



152 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

wtuilJ luive been more striking then. Those were the 
days when ' rich and poor ' were ' welig and Wfedl ; ' to 
' bequeath and devise ' was ' becwiedan and becwailan ; ' 
' life and property,' ' feorh and feo ; ' ' might and renown ' 
were 'maht and mairS;' 'food for the worms' was 
'wyrmum wist.' to 'insult with words ; ' 'wemman wor- 
dum.' But since then much has happened. Alliteration 
has become an anachronism. And the poet who should 
attempt at this time of day to galvanise into life again 
this defunct limb of his art may behold his own probable 
fate in that of Eogers, the last word of whose polished line, 
'• So up the tide of time I turn my sail," was at once con- 
verted into ' tail ' by irreverent critics. 

Some twenty pages of the Exeter Book are occupied 
by riddles, many of them very curious. To one of these 
the name of Cynewulf is attached, whence most of the 
rest are ascribed to him.^ 

But the generality of the Anglo-Saxon poems, as before 
hinted, have the sober and sombre touch about them 
so characteristic of the people. ' All joy is darkened. 
Hence, vain deluding joys ! worldly vanities, avaunt !' A 
perpetual Lent seems to brood over their spirit. There ia 
hardly a spark about them of dithyrambic fire. They 
excite our curiosity as to what the lost specimens are like, 
but we cannot avoid the conclusion that the Anglo-Saxon 
poet, as he was inferior in position ^ to the old Northern 
scald, so was he in poetic fervour, in vigour of genius, in 
culture of imagination, no match for his Northern brother. 
If the Scandinavian poets indulged in far-fetched conceits, 
it was at all events in vigorous vernacular : they sinned not 
tamely and in a foreign tongue, as did Anglo-Saxon Latin 



^ "Leo, quae de ipso Cynewulfus ordain that no priest be a singer over 

tradiderit," Halis, 1857. ale (ealuscop), nor in any wise be a 

- That among the Saxons the pro- gleeman (glivige) by himself, or with 

fession of Scop or poet was below that other men ; but be, as beseemeth his 

of the Northern scald, seems to be calling, wise and worshii)ful." The 

jittested curiously in the old canon of signification given by Bos worth of 'ealii 

King Edgar, cited elsewhere. "We scop,' 'brewer, 'is sufiSciently amusing, 



HO RANT OF TENEMARK. 153 

poets, — e.g., AlJhelm, m'Iio, tliougli in his early days capable 
of so much better things, indulged later in clumsy com- 
pounds, strained metaphor, stilted rhodomontade, enigmati- 
cal methods of expression, and could think of nothing but 
trying his poetic wings in the newly-acquired learned 
tongue, to the neizlect of the noble vernacular and home 
scenes. Horace's eulogy on the Eoman poets will not 
apply to such : — 

" Nee minimum meruere decus, vestigia GrEeca 
Ausi deserere et celebrare domestica facta." 

It is not a Saxon, but a Dane, Horant of Tenemark, 
who in "Gudrun" (381) sings so sweetly. When he 
begins, all the birds in the wood cease their song, the 
beasts of the forest cease to feed, the insects among the 
trees and the fishes in the sea intermit their restless 
motion, the w^orkmen forget their tasks, the sick believe 
they are well ; and the singer wins the maiden he had been 
sent for, Hilda, the daughter of the Irish king. In the 
" Dialogue of Solomon and Morolf," of the twelfth century, 
Solomon's wisdom, Absalom's beauty, and Horant's music 
are mentioned on a par as the things to be desired above 
all others. In the battle of the singers on the Wartburg, 
"Wolfram von Eschenbach is compared to Horant.^ 

We have passed in review most of the principal sources 

1 Cf. Preface to " Gudrun " by K. in " Deor the Scald's Complaint" 
Bartsch. This tale of "Gudrun," with (Exeter Book, p. 379), where Horant 
a change of names, is to be found in is transmuted into Heorrenda. De- 
the Skaldskaparmal, 50, where occurs veloped out of a germ common to 
that striking legend of the renewal of the Northern and German races, this 
the battle day by day through the myth was carried by wandering min- 
Tiocturnal witchery of Hilda, the strels from the North Sea to the in- 
Helen of the war (HjaSninga vetr). terior of Germany, and so on to 
[So in the very early Irish poem the Austria, where it was shaped into a 
fight between Cuehulaiud and B'erdiad lyric epic by a gifted poet of the 
(O'Curry, iii. 415) the combatants twelfth century. He must have seen 
renew the strife day by day.] The the sea, so true is his description of it. 
story existed as a ballad in Shet- A model for his works was not far to 
land in the eighteenth century. It was seek. Little more than a generation 
commemorated by Bragi in the song before, a poet had put together the 
of Kagnar Lodbrok (Edda, ib.). Saxo Nibelungen Lied out of the story 
has an account similar to the Danish of Sigurd and the fall of the Bur- 
one, and there are traces of the saga guudians. 



J 54 OLD ENGLISH LIT ERA TURE. 

(if ouv infoniKition respecting the Saxons: their Chronicle, 
their version of the Scriptures and other sacred writings, 
tlieir hiws, their testamentary and other documents, and 
tlieir poems. We may also mention a work of romantic 
character, " Apollonius," from tlie Latin, on which Shake- 
speare based his "Pericles, Prince of Tyre," and which 
also appeared in an Icelandic dress. It is assigned in its 
present form to the early part of the eighth century. 

Of course our business can only be with the bird in the 
hand, leaving the bird in the bush to shift for itself. 
Things non-apparent must of necessity be treated for the 
most part as things non-existent. Great authorities, we 
are aware, have persistently affirmed that there is every 
reason to suppose that the best specimens of Anglo-Saxon 
literature, and those most worth preserving, have come 
down to us. Others, again, have asserted the contrary.^ 
Take ancient national poetry, for instance. They argue 
that those who have eyes to see and ears to hear may, 
apart from the old national epic, " Beowulf," and the Scop's 
Tale, and the Fight of Finnesburh, detect signs not to be 
mistaken of a great field of epic poetry. The Scald's 
Lament, in the Exeter Book, they say, points to the 
former existence of Anglo-Saxon Edda songs, the w^ork 
of our most gifted bards, sung in the halls of our 
mightiest chieftains. Further, this school of early song 
AA-as destroyed by various causes. The Italians and 
other foreigners, in alliance with the great ecclesiastical 
interest, jealous for their Latin, would naturally have the 
main hand in the extirpation of our mother-tongue in its 
most popular shapes. In this respect, at all events, they 
acted very differently from the people in Iceland, where 
the oldest heathen lays and fables were happily rescued 
by Christian priests, whereby alone we have some toler- 

1 Such people will quote an account raries, and the few fragments remain- 

of the martyrdom of St. Ulfade ing were carefully collected by Dun- 

(Hardy, Materials, xxxiv.), wherein stan. Cf. "Gaedhill and Gaill, " and 

we read that the Danes during many Malmesbury. 
years made havoc of monastic lib- 



MYTHIC WORDS USED BY THE CLERGY. 155 

aLle notion of the religion of our Pagan ancestors — infor- 
mation vouchsafed from no other quarter whatever. That 
canon of Edgar's (18), which in one breath proscribes the 
indulgence in Pagan songs and decries games on Sundays, 
speaks volumes for the possible fate of this poetry in 
England. Next this old poetic literature yielded to 
another influence. It was kidnapped, and its features 
so altered and disguised as not to be recognisable. It 
was supplanted by Christian poetical legends and Bible 
lays, produced in rivalry of the popular lays of their 
heathen predecessors. Finding that the people would 
listen to nothing but these old lays, the missionaries 
affected their spirit and language, and borrowed the words 
and phrases of heathenism. They remind one of the 
clergyman presented to the living of Broek in Holland, 
who finding that his parishioners thought of nothing but 
washing and scrubbing and cleaning, and would listen 
to nothing else, in his first sermon described the future 
bliss as a continuation and more thorough gratification of 
their sublunary tastes. " They would be scrubbing and 
washing, and washing and scrubbing for ever and ever. 
Amen." By this device he caught the ear of his parish- 
ioners when every one before him had failed. Anglo- 
Saxon missionaries, men like Aldhelm, skilled in music 
and song, adopted the same expedient. ^ They embarked 
in the same train with their future converts, but presently 
shunted into a siding. They stood at the cross-roads and 
bridge-ends on Sundays, and seemingly started singing a 
heathen ditty, a lay abounding with words and phrases 
of the oldest heathen poetic terminology, and insensibly 
passed into strains of a more serious nature. The great 
enemy of man, hitherto described as a ' roaring lion ' — 
an animal quite beyond the personal experience of the 
natives — became in the mouth of the Christian poet or 
preacher a ' werewolf,' and at once they were all attention; 
for a chord of interest had been struck, and they be- 

1 Malmesbury, "Gesta Pontificum," p. 281, KoUs Series. 



1 56 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

thoiiiiht them of that old wide-spread belief of their 
forefathers, viz., that there were people who could change 
into wolves for a time and forsake the abodes of men. 
At a later period, when the shrewd Canute at the Council 
of Winchester, Christmas, 1018, promulgated his weighty 
ecclesiastical code, he knew of no more striking appella- 
tion for the devil than ' se wod freca werewolf ' = ' the 
fierce devouring werewolf (i. 26). In one of the most 
impassioned parts of Lupus' ^ sermon, describing the 
abject state of England, what with foes without and 
within, Danish invaders, and Anglo-Saxon traitors and 
cowards, he exclaims, " Here in England are witches and 
valkyrs," a reference sure to be popular in the extreme. 
Or the feast of Belshazzar might be the theme, and the 
poet would sing of the ' runes ' upon the wall. All 
those supernatural and magical powers attributed to 
' spell-runes ' would at once come vividly into their 
minds. We have proofs of this method of attracting 
popularity in some of the metrical pieces that have sur- 
vived. In " Judith," for instance, which only exists in a 
tenth-century version, but which is conjectured to have 
been the work of Csedmon in the seventh century, war is 
called ' Hild,' a mythological name for the Northern 
Bellona ; while the slayer of Holofernes is ' elfin '-bright. 
So again in the " Dream of the Cross " there are half-veiled 
allusions to the beliefs of heathendom, curious contrasts 
between the Edda and the Bible. The dying Christ is 
wounded like Baldr with missiles (strselum), and all 
creation w'eeps at his death.^ He hangs on the ' gallows- 
tree,' the M^ord wdiich Ulfilas himself used of the cross. 
But still more remarkable is the way in which Odin has 
passed from the Edda, and lives on still, though they 
know it not, in the mouths of the North Shetlanders. In 

1 Arclibisbop of York, 1002-1023. Norway and Iceland. See Flatey- 

- Hence Stephens and others have Lok, i. 214, for the parallel myth 

been led to assert that these Northern about Csedmon's and Halbjorn's sud- 

myths belonged to Northumbria in den supernatural inspiration, 
the seventh century as well as to 



RE-APPEARANCE OF OLD-WORLD TERMS. 157 

the "Hiivamal" (138) Odin mentions a mysterious passage 
in his early life when he was suspended on the world 
tree, Vingameid or Yggdrasil : — 

" I wot that I hung 
On the wind-rocked tree, 
Wounded with spear, 
And to Odin offered 
Myself to myself, 
On that tree 
Of which none knows 
From what root it springs." 

The religious ditty of Shetland, recently discovered by 
Mr. Blind, runs thus — 

" Nine days he hung fra da riitless tree, 
For ill wis da folk, in giid wis he ; 
A bliidy maet wis in his side. 
Made wi a lance, 'at wid na hide. 
Nine lang nichts i' da nipping rime 
Haeng he dare wi' his naked limb ; 
Some de leuch, 
Bit iddens gret.'' ^ 

We have seen above (p. 138), how in "Andreas," as 
well as in "Elene," Pagan mythology reappears. When 
the poet invested his Bible story in such familiar old- 
world terms as this, he w^ould at once take the auditors 
by storm. These children would imbibe the wormwood 
commended to their lips by the honey on the goblet 
rim. 

We have mentioned above the only remains we had to 
show, until within a recent period, of the mass of legen- 
dary heathen epic presumed to have existed in Engl'and. 
But in 1 860 Professor Werlauf discovered in the Copen- 
hagen National Library two stray leaves of an Anglo- 
Saxon MS. which Stephens thinks, looking at the language 
and the writing, must have been a transcript made at the 
close of the eighth or beginning of the ninth century, of 
an original poem, composed not later than the beginning 

^ See " Niueteentb Century'" fur June 1S79. 



1 58 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

or middle of the eiglith century. On examination it 
appears to be a portion of a mythical poem on the exploits 
of Theodoric, afterwards called Amaling, i.e., of the race 
of Amal the Goth, who became gradually confounded 
Avith the historical Tiieodoric of Verona, one of those 
Mild, dim traditions of heroes connected with the infancy 
of all the Northern, Gothic, Germanic, and Scythian 
races — stories full of life, of horror, of beauty, which lived 
side by side with the Anglo-Norman and Kymric cycles 
of legends about Charlemagne and his peers, about King 
Arthur and his round table; romances which are preserved 
in that delightful story book of the thirteenth century, 
the " Theodoric's or Vilkina Saga." One of the episodes 
of this cyclus relates to King Walther of Aquitaine, and 
to it this interesting fragment is conjectured to belong. 
A fine version of the tale, notwithstanding certain clerical 
and classical affectations, is to be found in a Latin hexa- 
meter poem of the tenth century, the work of a German 
ecclesiastic, and probably translated from an old German 
epic. The plot is as follows : — Attila and his victorious 
Huns compel Alphere of Aquitaine to deliver up to him 
his son, Walter Stronghand, whose youthful love had long 
been fixed on Hiltgund, daughter of Henrich of Burgundy, 
who was likewise a hostage wdtli the Hun king. Eventually 
Walther rises into high favour with Attila, and becomes 
his chosen general. At a great banquet given by Walther 
he manages to intoxicate the Huns, and escapes with the 
beauteous Hiltgund and the choicest of Attila's treasures 
while they are sunk in drunken slumber. His swift 
steed carries the pair over hill and dale, and he is drawing 
near to his own country, when he is basely attacked by 
(Junthar, king of the Franks, and eleven other stalwart 
swordsmen, unable to resist the attraction of the knight's 
gold-hoard. A deadly combat ensues, described with 
great splendour in these Latin hexameters. The fidelity 
of Hiltgund, who acts as the page and guard and butler 
of her sore-pressed lover, is very toucliingly dwelt on. 



KING WALDERES LA Y. 



159 



Walther slays ten of the foes, only one at a time being 
able to assail him in his impregnable mountain cave. At 
last, when the king, the damsel, and the knight alone 
survive, and all of them wounded, peace is made. The 
hero enters his own land, is mated with the partner of his 
hazardous flight, and in due time succeeds to the throne 
of his father. Here the Latin version breaks off with the 
remark that it could tell much more of Walther's later 
exploits, but not a word on the subject occurs in other 
writers. In this fragment, however, of 119 lines more is 
told us, and with a breadth of treatment which makes Mr. 
Stephens conjecture that it is part of a great epic, say some 
8000 lines.^ Like in " Beowulf," expressions occur here 
which indicate that the poem had been retouched by a 
Christian. 

1 '• Two Leaves of King Waldere's localised in England at Attleburg in 

Lay," by G. Stephens (Copenhagen, Norfolk, as is evidenced by a romance 

i860), who draws attention to the of King Atla of East Anglia still 

fact that the name of Atli (Attila) existing, 
was from a very ancient period 



( i6o ) 



OHAPTEE X. 

THE MYTHOLOGY OF GERMANY, SCANDINAVIA, AND 
ENGLAND ALIKE, 

Some might adduce the epic of " Beowulf, "^ with its scat- 
tered bits of mythology, as a proof of Germany and Scan- 
dinavia having possessed the self-same mythus. This 
would, of course, involve the preliminary question whether 
"Beowulf" is at root German at all, and not rather a plant 
of Scandinavian soil later acclimatised in Anglo-Saxon 
England. Then, as Germany has no Edda, is there any 
evidence to show that German and Scandinavian hea- 
thenism worshipped the same gods ? That there was 
a stock of heroic mythus common to both peoples is clear 
from the corresponding traditions, that of the Mbelungs 
and that of the Volsungs, the hero of both beins the 
mythic Sigurd or Sigfried. 

Again, much of that which has been called the last 
echoes of a forgotten mythology — we mean the folklore 
and popular superstitions — is often very similar in Germany 
and Scandinavia, as has long ago been substantiated by the 

1 Professor Stephens interprets font before which the priest took his 

'Gastbona' (line 356, Thorpe) the stand, and point to the discrowned 

'bane of the spirits,' of the god Thor, deity as the Spartans woukl to the 

the bane of the Trolls (" Thunor the drunken Helot, by way of caution to 

Thunderer," Copenhagen, 1878). This his simple hearers. ' Don't believe in 

tract, by the way, describes a unique Thor and his hammer, but in Christ 

Scandinavian font of granite, date and His cross. Resist the evil spirits, 

about 1000 A.D., whereon is carved as did the fabled Thor ; battle an you 

the god Thor putting to flight the list, but with the sword of the Spirit, 

powers of darkness. In those early not for the one-eyed Odin, but for 

days, when Paganism was in the air, Allfather and for Christ.' Professor 

when the language teemed with Pagan Thorsen figures a stone whereon is 

words and phrases, the rude sculptor the Runic inscription, ' Thor bless this 

would carve the exploded gods on the stone.' 



ANGLO-SAXON POE TR V. i6i 

Grimms and others. And thougli no German Edda exists, 
still bits of mythological poetry at times will crop up, A 
lucky find in this direction, with which we may compare 
that in Shetland by Mr. Blind (see p. 156 a7ite), was the 
High German poem of the ninth or tenth century, discovered 
by Waitz at Merseburg some years ago, which runs thus 

in English : — 

" Phol and Woden 
Went to the wood ; 
Then was of Balder's colt 
His foot wrenched ; 
Then Sinthgunt charmed it, 
And Sunna her sister ; 
Then Frua charmed it, 
And VoUa her sister ; 
Then Woden charmed it, 
As he well could ; 
As w^ell the bone-wrench. 
As the blood-wrench. 
As the joint-wrench, 
Bone to bone, 
Blood to blood, 
Joint to joint, 
As if they were glued together." 

The verses refer to some incident in Balder's life, of 
which no record exists elsewhere. Here Balder appears 
under the name of Phol. Erua is Erigg, tlie wife of Odin, 
while Volla is the Northern Eulla. 

Now this very charm was recited, with many crossings 
and mutterings, by an old crone to Asbjornsen.^ And 
from Scandinavia it passed to Scotland. 

" The Lord rade 
And the foal slade ; 
He lighted 
And he righted : 
Set joint to joint, 
Bone to bone, 
And sinew to sinew. 
Heal in the Holy Ghost's name." ^ 

^ Folkesagen,p. 45. 
- 11. Ch.ambers, Popular Illiynies of Scotland, p. 37, edit. 1842. 

L 



1 62 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

lUit, alas ! how shrivelled and shrunken is the German 
])alder — Ciosar's dust stopping a l)ungholc ! A poor spell to 
mend a ricked leg — or at least this is all that remains of 
their 15alder. Turn for a moment to the Northern beauti- 
ful l)alder myth — Balder, perfect type of manly beauty and 
moral excellence, adored alike by gods and men, and kept 
from all harm like Dornroschen ; invulnerable, indeed, 
except to that mistletoe arrow pointed at him by the 
malicious spirit of evil. Balder is slain. The envoy sent 
by the gods to bring back the desire of their eyes from 
Hel, the chilly, cheerless abode, fails in his object from 
the obstinacy of that tearless hag who was Loki in dis- 
guise. Balder's wife too, Nanna, inconsolable for his loss, 
perishing on the same funeral pile ! Was this tale too 
loftily and tenderly imagined for the dull wits of the 
Saxons ? or was the myth early swallowed up in the 
popular mind by the realities of Calvary ? Of the worship 
of Tlior (Anglo-Saxon Thunor, the God of Thunder) among 
the Germans there is only one direct piece of evidence in 
an old abjuring formula. " I renounce all the works and 
words of the devil, of Thunair, Woden, and Saxnot, and of 
all the fiends that are their associates." Saxnot appears 
once in the genealogy of the kings of Essex as son of 
Woden (Lappenberg, England, i. 288). Another evi- 
dence of the worship of Tyr, Odin, Thor, and Freyja, the 
Di Majores of Scandinavia, in Germany also, is contained 
in the names of four days of the week common to both 
nations, though, as Thorpe points out, Woden's name does 
not occur in any High German dialect as that of the fourth 
day of the week.^ 

But after all, it is perhaps from the prohibitions against 

1 The Icelandic Bishop John al- day, instead of OSinsdagr), fimtadagr 

tered the names of the days of the (= fifth day, instead of forsdagi), 

week in order to abolish all recollec- fiistudagr ( = fast-day, instead of frya- 

tion of the heathen gods Odin, &c., so dagr), laugardagr (= washing-day). 

that they were Sunnadagr, nianadagr, But in Norway the heathen names 

})ri(5iadagr (= third day, instead of were retained, 
tysdagr), miSvikudagr (—mid-week- 



THE MYTHOLOGY OF GERMANY, ETC. 163 

German heathenism contained in the laws and decrees of 
councils that we get the best information on the subject. 
Such is a catalogue of the heathen practices forbidden at 
the Council of Lestines, in the diocese of Cambray (a.d. 
543), where not only the worship of Woden, Thor, Frey, but 
also all the usual machinery of sorcery and witchcraft are 
mentioned, &c. (see " Anglo-Saxon Laws," quoted above). 
Giants and elves were as much objects of superstition in 
Germany as in Scandinavia. 

Of Aser- worship in all its minutiae there must have been 
plenty in these isles. Many curious reminiscences of it 
are scattered about in the " Book of Leechdoms," edited by 
Mr. Cockayne. That genuine bit of rude poetic heathenism 
(ibid., iii. 53, and " lieliquiaj Antique," ii. 237), the spell 
against sudden stitch, is alive with valkyrs, and Aser, blast- 
ing the sufferer with witch-arrows as they sweep by hurt- 
ling in the air. ' Heme the Hunter ' in " The Merry Wives 
of Windsor" comes of the same ghostly stock. Vilipenders 
of folklore would do well to remember how Shakespeare 
at once perceived its value and penetrated into its inner 
meaning. 

SPELL AGAINST SUDDEN STITCH. 

" Loud were they, lo ! loud, 
"When over the hill they rode ; 
They were of stout mood 
When over the land they rode : 
Shield thee now, thou mayst save this nithling. 
Out, little spear, if herein it be ! 
He stood under the linden broad, 
Under a light shield. 
Where the mighty witch wives 
Their main strength proved, 
And yelling sent their darts. 
In return I'll send them another 
Flying feathered bolt from the front against them. 
Out, little spear, if herein it be ! 
Sat the smith, he sledged a sword. 
Little iron, wound sharp ! 
Out, little spear, if herein it be ! 
Six. smiths sat, 



1 64 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

Slaniijhter spears they ■wrought. 

Out, spear, not in, spear, 

If herein there be of iron a bit ; 

A witches' work 

It shall melt, 

If thou wert on fell shotten, 

Or wert on flesh shotten, 

Or wert on blood shotten, 

Or wert on limb shotten. 

Never let be thy life a-teased. 

If it were an ^sir shot, 

Or it were an Elfin shot, 

Or it were a witches' shot, 

Now will I help thee. 

Here's this to cure ^sir shot, 

Here's this to cure Elfin shot. 

Here's this to cure witches' shot ; 

I will help thee. 

Fled Thor to the mountain ; 

Hallows he had two. 

May the Lord help thee ! " 

Then take the knife and put it into liquid. 



( i65 ) 



CHAPTEE XI. 

yELFRlds COLLOQUY — ANGLO-SAXON WRITERS SOME- 
WHAT VAGUE AND TAME. 

But in all thess works we fail to get the insight we long 
for into the character of the Anglo-Saxons personally and 
in the aggregate. " Beowulf " is really no exception, for 
the poem is generally reputed to be of Swedish origin : the 
hero starts from Gottenburg, and the scene is laid in Jut- 
land, the most northerly point of which, the Scaw, across 
the Cafctegat, lies about sixty miles due west from the 
]nouth of the Gotha river; though the heathen poem 
would possibly suffer a considerable change, greatly to 
its detriment in a poetical sense, in the hands of its old 
English editor, apparently some Christian monk. More- 
over, ^he scene is laid in the halls of the great, and not 
among the walks of everyday life. 

There is, however, a little work which does incidentally 
five us some curious information about the material side 
of home-life among the Saxons, the well-known " Collo- 
quium " of ^Ifric, compiled not indeed to tell Englishmen 
in after days something that they wanted to know% but to 
teach Saxon boys the Latin tongue, — a tongue, as we have 
seen, of which the Saxons, owing probably to their great 
original error in permitting the Church services to be in 
Latin, were all too fond. 

The school to which we are introduced in this dialogue 
must have been a sort of Saxon 'night-school,' designed 
not only for boys, such as the acute little chorister, who 
won't tell any tales about his mates in the choir, and the 
amount of flogging they daily incurred for their misdeeds, 
but also for backward scholars of a more advanced age. 



1 66 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

^^'e have hero a ploughman, a shepherd, a cowherd (but 
curiously enough no swineherd), some huntsmen (huntan), 
fishermen, fowlers, chapmen, shoemakers, salters, and a 
haker, who are all seized with an equal thirst for classical 
attainments. The ploughman relates how he goes out at 
dawn (daegraed) with his oxen — he dare not stay at home 
whatever be the weather — and goes on ploughing all day, 
^vith no company but a boy to urge the oxen with a goad 
(gad-isene), who is now hoarse with cold and shouting. 
And that is not all ; when he gets home, he has to feed 
and water his oxen and clean out their stalls, — all which 
duties, as well as lying out at ' the Lord's fold,' a long way 
from the homestead in the dark winter months, were in 
those days among the burdens of the vassal and cottier, 
though his bit of land raised him above the serf. But the 
worst of all is, the speaker here is not free. Then there 
is the shepherd, who drives the sheep afield early in the 
morning, and stands by them with the dogs all day, in 
heat and cold, for fear the M^olves should devour them • 
and he takes them back to the stalls, and milks them 
twice a day, and he makes the cheese and the butter, and 
is faithful to his lord. Then there is the oxherd, who is 
watching the cattle all night in the leas, for fear of thieves. 
But here comes a hunter, in the king's service too, who 
braids his nets, and sets them in a suitable spot, and then 
urges his dogs to drive the wild animals into the net 
unawares. But he has anotlier way of taking them; he pur- 
sues them with swift dogs (swiftum hundum). He catches 
harts and boars, and deer and roe-deer, and sometimes 
hares, in this manner: he has not been hunting to-day for 
it is Sunday. Yesterday he stuck (of stikode) a boar, 
driven to him by the dogs. Hunters must not be timid, 
for there are many wild beasts in the woods. What he 
catches he takes to the king his master, who clothes him 
well, and feeds him, and sometimes gives him a horse or 
an armlet (beah), to make him more keen in his craft. 
Then there is a fisherman, who also tells his tale : how he 



JELFRICS COLLOQUY. 167 

gets into his boat, and lays bis nets, or bis line, or bis 
baskets (spyrtan) in tbe river, and wbatever they catch he 
takes ; tbe unclean fish be throws away. What fish does 
he catch ? Eels, and pike, and eel pouts (a?le putan), and 
trout, &c. Sometimes be fishes in tbe sea, and catches 
crabs, lobsters, plaice, flounders, salmon, and herring, &c.^ 
He should not like to catch whales ; it is a dangerous 
thing.2 jjq prefers going to the river with his boat to 
going in company with a number of ships whale-fishing,^ 
for the whale with one blow may sink the ship and kill 
him and his companions, although many do go whale- 
fishing with impunity. Then there is a fowler, who 
catches birds with nets, with bird-lime, with snares, with 
traps, with whistling, and sometimes with a hawk, which 
he can train himself. He has two sorts of them, a large 
and small kind. In winter they feed him and themselves 
both ; in the spring he lets tbe old ones fly to the forest, 
and in the autumn he takes their young and trains them. 
Many people do keep the old ones all through the summer, 
but he can't afford the expense and trouble of their keep. 
The next person interrogated is the merchant, who sails to 
foreign parts, sometimes gets wrecked, scarcely escaping 
alive (unea|}e cwic setberstende). He brings back pell 
(satin), and silk, and gems, and gold, and dyes, and w^ine, 
and oil, and ivory, and brass, and tin, and brass vessels 
(mffistlinge), and sulphur, and glass. Then there is the 
shoemaker (who is clearly a currier also) ; he makes, besides 
shoes and boots, leathern hose and leathern bottles, and 
bridle-reins and harness, and holsters and travelling bags. 
Then there is the Salter, a trade of vast consequence in 

1 Weirs were often a prime source Bishop of Worcester, leased forty 

of subsistence to the country people, acres of land and a fishery for three 

Then, for the rent to the landlord, lives to one Leofenoth, on condition 

in one case recorded it was every he delivered yearly on Ash Wednes- 

second fish, besides every uncommon day, during the bishop's residence, 

fish worth having : sturgeons, por- fifteen salmon, and those good ones 

poise, herring, or sea-fish ; and no fish (Cod. Dip.). 

was to be sold away when the lord is - See " The Whale," cited above, 
in residence. But some tenants had ^ " Capiuntur et balten*," H. E., 

a fishery on very easy terms. Eadulf, i. 5. 



i68 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

tliose days of salt flesh ^ and salt fish, and he is quite 
aware of it. The baker boldly asserts that without his 
loaves at table people would loathe their food. "By it 
I strengthen man's heart (heortan mannes gestrangie)." 
Tliis points to the clerical calling of the author of this 
Dialogue. The cook next steps to the front and magnifies 
his office : without him they would eat their worts green 
and their flesh raw, and have no good sauce ; indicating to 
us that the culinary art had not advanced among the 
Saxons beyond plain roast and boiled. " But who are those 
other intending scholars ? " asks the pedagogue. First 
comes the smith (smi]?), who makes ploughshares, goads 
for the farmer, hooks for the fisherman, his awl for the 
shoemaker, and for the tailor his needle (seamere, nsedl). 
Then comes the carpenter (treowyrta), who makes houses, 
and boats, and all sorts of vessels : nobody could do with- 
out his craft. " How so," puts in the smith, " you who 
cannot drive one hole (jjyrl) without my art?" &c. "A 
truce to your dissensions," exclaims a geheata, a sort of 
wise friend, a counsellor, w^ho appears to have joined the 
conference ; " let us have no quarrelling, but let us peace- 
fully meet as usual at the farmer's (possibly the school 
might be held on his premises), where we have food for 
ourselves and fodder for our cattle ; and I give this advice 
to all workmen, to ply their craft (crteft) diligently, for he 
who leaves his craft, his craft will leave him, whether he 
be priest, or monk, or churl, or soldier, or whatever he is ; 
for it is a loss and a shame for a man not to wish to be 
that which he is and that which he ought to be." In 
sooth, a piece of homely wisdom, with the record of 
which we will now take leave of these worthy craftsmen. 
]hit there is still one other comj)osition which affords 

1 In olilen times salt meat was tlie bably different trades occupied differ- 

rule, fresh the exception ; so that ent quarters, because we meet with 

salters were very important function- Fellnionger, Fleshmonger, Horse- 

aries. Next to nothing is, unfortu- monger, Tanner, Salter, and Billiter 

nately, known of the local distribution (i.e., Bellfounder) Streets. 
of the Anglo- Saxou town. Most pro- 



MANNERS OF OUR FOREFATHERS. 169 

glimpses into the manners and habits and notions of our 
forefathers during a period when our knowledge about 
them is extremely vague and scanty. It is a fragment in 
the Exeter Book on the ' Various lots of men ' and the 
parts they play ; many indeed of anything but a happy 
kind. One the wolf eats, the hoary heath-stepper, and his 
mother his death shall mourn. One dies of hunger, one 
by the spear. One falls from a tree,^ and hovers aloft 
wingless till he falls to the earth. One rides on the 
curved gallows till the raven takes his eyes, the sallow- 
coated, and tears him lifeless, and he can't defend himself 
againt the robber of the air. Anotlier perishes by fire. 
This man lets his tongue wag too much at the mead- 
bench and loses his life in a drunken brawl, and men 
deplore " the mead-mad " drinking. ^ But we have the 
per contra (by God's allotment), the man brave in war ; 
another who is a good shot with bow and spear ; to this 
man is given skill at tables,^ cunning at the parti-coloured 
board. One is wonderfully skilled in the goldsmith's 
art, and decorates a powerful noble, and gets broad lands 
for his p)ains. One makes men merry at the drinking 
bench (as a gleeman). One sits with a harp at his lord's 
feet; another tames the wild hawk and trains him, 
teaches him with his little gaffles till the Welsh bird 
becomes docile. But now the author sinks into moral- 
ising commonplace. The poem on the " Endowments and 
Pursuits of Men " is apparently by the same author. 

Other scraps afford us insight into nooks and corners 
of Anglo-Saxon life ; such, for instance, is the " Domestic 

1 As the shepherd did whose soul Saxonremainswe meetwiththechess- 

was seen going to heaven by St. Cuth- player in the abstract and irapalpa- 

bert. See Life of St. Cuthbert, c. 34. ble. Not so in Icelandic. Gunlaug 

- To those various ills to which and Helga play at tables and make 

liuman flesh is exposed we might add love at the same time. King Canute's 

'■ tlie evil eye" (" eagenabearhtm "), game with Ulf in Koeskilde, a.d. 

mentioned in a like enumeration in 1027, ended in the death of the 

" Beowulf," 3537. Cf. Grimm, D. latter. The spaces were alternately 

M., p. 1053. of gold and silver in Frithiof's game 

" Tiefl was a game like draughts ; with Bjorn. 
it also simified chess. In Anglo- 



I70 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

]\Ianners of the Nuns." ^ They are never to be idle, 
never to keep any animal but a cat, never to eat in com- 
}iany, for they are dead to the world. One has heard of 
the dead speaking with the quick, but never of their 
eating with them. Next the skin they shall not wear 
linen except it be of harde and greate heorden,^ i.e., of 
hemp or flax refuse. She is not to wear hair nor hedge- 
liog, nor beat herself therewith, nor with leaded scourge, 
nor bloody herself with holly or with the briars, without 
the leave of the confessor. Their shoes to be large and 
warm ; but in summer they have leave to walk and sit 
barefoot. After this we need not wonder that rings and 
brooches and gloves are tabooed. Their occupation is to 
shape and sew, and mend church clothes and poor men's 
garments. They are not to send letters nor receive letters, 
nor write without leave. They are to have their hair 
cut (i-dodded) every year fifteen times, and let blood 
four times, and oftener if necessary. After this last 
operation, for three days they are not to do anything 
that is grievous to them, but they are to talk to their 
servants, and cheer themselves with moral tales. After 
all this insanity, " Wash ye if needful as often as ye will," 
is as refreshing as a tub after a mud-bath. Eeceipts for 
the cure of maladies also indicate the class of diseases 
prevalent. Ophthalmia, adder bites, wounds by violence, 
are conspicuous. But the remedies are of the most futile 
character, with quantum suff. of superstition,^ as we have 
seen above in the remedies for bewitched land. 

The impartial student of Anglo-Saxon lore — a ver- 
nacular historical school like the Scandinavians they 
never seem to have had * — if he be not carried away by 



1 Reliquise Antiquse, vol. ii. p. 5. sage,' .as the Icelanders called him— 

No doubt of ancient date, but here iu who died 735, had written in his own 

a later shape of the thirteenth century, tongue ! Then we might have known 

- 'Hards '=tow in Lincolnshire. what the English of that day reaUy 

3 Anglo-Saxon Leechdoms, Coo- was. A little echo of it lingers in the 

kayne. inscription on the Ruthwell Cross, 

■* Would thatBede—'hinnfrodi,'' the and in those five lines improvised by 



THE SAXON CHRONICLE DISAPPOINTING. 171 



the patriotic entliusiasm which led a revered Saxon 
scholar to affirm that the Chronicle ^ is the most valuable 
original composition extant in any language, must confess 
tliat it is disappointing. True, it may compare with any 
similar work of its age, if such exist, but that is not saying 
much. In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is 
king. Critics liave apologized for the lack of attractive 
details by explaining that it is merely a book of annals, 
not a history ; but when once or twice the spell is broken 
and a real historic interest is given to the narrative — as, 
for instance, when Egbert's grandson, Alfred, after many 
ups and downs, makes head against the Danes, and his 
exploits are recorded with abundant life and vigour — they 
point with rapture to the fact. This seems rather like 
running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. 
But generally, if we discard an unduly optimist tone in 
our judgment, must we not admit that there is a some- 



Betle just before his death, somewhat 
in the spirit of those verses of the 
dying Roman emperor. 

1 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, by Benja- 
min Thorpe, Rolls Series. Two Anglo- 
Saxon Chronicles, by J. Earle, M.A., 
Oxford, 1865. Down to 981 this work 
is supposed to have been compiled and 
•written by Archbishop Plegmund of 
Canterbury, one of Alfred's learned 
men, in whose reign copies of it were 
distributed among certain religious 
houses. It was continued from time 
to time by different writers until the 
break up of the language in the middle 
of the twelfth century. But surely 
there is no proportion observed in it. 
The demise of a worm or death of a 
giant are recorded in the same breath 
and with like emphasis. The entire 
entry in 671 is, " Here," i.e., this year, 
"was the great mortality of birds." 
678, " The great comet appeared, and 
Bishop Wilfrid was driven from his 
bishoprick by King Ecgferth.' The 
entry at 690 is a fact worth narrating : 
" O si sic omnia ! Archbishop Theo- 
dorus died, and Beorhtwald succeeded 



to the bishoprick. Before were Ro- 
man bishops, since English bishops. " 
Again, the description of the death of 
Cynewulf, 755, is so real and natural 
that it seems to have been slipped in 
by accident. 773, " A red cross ap- 
peared in the heavens after sunset, 
and the Mercians fought with the 
men of Kent at Otford, and wonder- 
ful snakes were seen in the land of 
the South Saxons." 889, "This year 
no pilgrimage to Rome, except Alfred 
the king sent two lepers with letters." 
But independently of this vestry -book 
style, rigorous critics say the dates are 
not always to be relied on, especially 
from 878 to 896. Thegreatdefeatof tlie 
Vikings in Friesland was 884, not 885 ; 
and Pope Maximus dies 884, not 885 
(Steenstrup, " Vikingetogene," 74). 
Again, strangely enough, it sometimes 
makes the English conquer but the 
Northmen to retain possession of the 
field. Not unlike this the way in 
which, in the Frankish chronicles, 
the Christians triumph, but appar- 
ently with not the slightest result 
(ibid., 354). 



172 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

tiling wanting generally in the extant works of the Saxon 
pen, an absence of tilling up the outlines, which makes 
those days somewhat vague in their import, bald and 
unsatisfying in their presentment ? We should like to 
l)e more intimate with our Saxon forefathers ; we do not 
quite know what manner of men they were. But few of 
the personages on the stage step forward to the foot- 
lights that we may have a good look at them. "They 
come like shadows, so depart." We want more sharply- 
drawn marks of identity, more firmness and definiteness 
of conception, a more vivid exhibition of their human 
characteristics. A few homely and natural touches will 
picture primitive manners to the life, but this quality 
^Ye generally seek for in vain in extant Anglo-Saxon 
writers. In Latin Lives of the Saints this is less the case. 
There is much more colour in Bede's "Lives of the Abbots" 
than in all the five books of his History. To speak broadly, 
they had little of Bunyan or Boswell in them. And yet 
those monks who were selected in each monastery to draw 
up the annals of each reign were doubtless the pick of 
the fraternity, men, too, who had the best Latin writers 
before them for their models. What did that man look 
like ? Was he tall or short? Of what fashion were his wife 
and daughters — 'his people,' in the slang phrase of the 
day ? These points it seldom occurred to the Anglo-Saxon 
writer to mention. Was it because Anglo-Saxon history 
was lost and forgotten in Shakespeare's days, or because 
what was extant was so colourless and vague, that he 
whose genius found materials in all lands, who could 
press into his service early Scotch history and British 
legend, totally ignores Anglo-Saxondom ? ^ Such a remark 

1 Others will have it that " Ina, thinke one day it would come to passe 
king of the West Saxons, had three that she should affect another man 
daughters, of whom he demanded on more fervently, meaning her husband, 
a time whether they did love him, who, being made one flesh with her, 
an<l so would do all their lives above she was to cleave fast to. One re- 
all others. The two elder swore ferreth this to the daughters of Leir." 
deeply they would. The youngest — Remaines Concernitifj Britain, by 
but the wisest told her father she did M. N. {i.e., Camden), London, 1614. 



ANGLO-SAXON WRITERS VAGUE. 173 

as that recorded by Snorri as made by the gigantic Harokl 
Hardrada, just before the battle of Stamford Bridge, about 
the personal appearance of Harold Godwinson, " He was a 
little man, but he sat firmly in his stirrups," does not find 
its parallel in the Saxon Chronicle from end to end.^ 

The breezy downs of Berkshire, with their precipitous 
slopes, which Alfred must have scrambled up when a 
lad; or the Yorkshire wolds and woodlands, with their 
wild undulating glades — as yet sacred to tlie Saxon 
dryads, and unpolluted by the deposit of chimney-stalks 
or the breath of the steam monster — what a treat it 
would have been to have had them mapped out before us ! 
True, Alcuin, in his Latin poem, mentions the plain of 
York, with the Ouse rich in fish, winding among the 
fertile meadows, and the hills and woods and habita- 
tions which adorned the landscape, and the multitude of 
foreigners who resorted to Eboracum. But we should 
have liked to have seen a little more of the granges, and 
the strongholds, and the cottages dotted here and there, 
and the people inside them — an Anglo-Saxon Baucis and 
Philemon, with " their homely joys and destiny obscure," 
and the way they were quite put out by a visit to their 
cottage of the " quality ; " some Yorkshire Pyramus and 
Thisbe, with their course of true love all unsmooth; a 
Penelope waiting her husband's return from the long 
voyage. Bede describes Ely as containing about six 
hundred families and abounding in eels, but that is all. 
The monk Eelix was more explicit. Bede dilates also on 
Drythelm, standing heron-like in the Tweed at Melrose, 
and the otters drying Cuthbert's legs on the seashore at 
Coldingham. AYe would fain have beheld fair Tweed in 

1 No le-Js graphic an account is in is that big man in a blue kirtle and 

the Fagrskinna, by another unknown beautiful lielmet? " asked Harald the 

hand. Harald Sigurdson, the Nor- English king. "That is the king of 

■wegian king, rode a black horse with the Northmen," answered his men. 

a white blaze (blesottr) on his fore- "A fine fellow," was the reply, '"and 

head. The horse fell and threw his with the look of a leader ; but it 

rider, who cried out, " A fall is lucky seems as if his good luck had deserted 

at starting "(Icelandic proverb). "Who him." 



174 OLD ENGLISH LI TERA TURE. 

spate, with salmon nisliing up iu their hundreds, and the 
peasants trapping the otters, whose skins made such warm 
garments for the monks. In sooth, the people when they 
got Latinized seem to lose their dramatic faculty. But 
was not this partly due to their antecedents and sur- 
rounding's ? Did not education and the circumstances 
into which they were thrown contribute not a little to 
the want of directness and vivid force which marks 
Anglo-Saxon literature ? Did not its character reflect the 
progress of their history ? 



We fear that patriotic devotees at the shrine of Anglo- 
Saxon literature will think of the writer of the above as 
of one sitting in the seat of the scorner, guilty of scanda- 
lum magnatum, lese majesty to the national Clio. It may 
he that we have overshot the mark ; but extremes beget 
extremes. When the pendulum swings immoderately in 
one direction it is liable to do so in the other. Unduly to 
extol anything is to provoke comparisons. The sterling, 
solid qualities of Anglo-Saxon literature, the steady per- 
tinacity shown in registering, year by year for a thousand 
years, things great and small referring to or not referring 
to these isles, none will gainsay ; but to magnify this 
unique exploit, as some have done, tempts one to exclaim 
with Benvolio — 

" Compare her face with some that I shall show, 
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow. 
Tut ! you saw her fair, none else being by, 
Herself poised with herself in either eye ; 
But in those crystal scales let there be weighed 
Your lady-love against some other maid, 
And she shall scant show well that now seems best." 
The other " fair " is Scandinavian literature, a sketch of 
which we shall essay to give. But how compare works so 
removed in point of time as Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian 
literature ? True there is no Scandinavian MS. before 1 200. 
But it must be remembered that some three hundred years 
after England had been in a great measure converted to 



LOOK ON THIS PICTURE, THEN ON THAT. 175 

Clnistianity, and become acquainted with Itoman letters 
and with Eoman culture, ancient and modern, Scandi- 
navia was still Pagan, with no Southern culture ; and 
Eunic listings were all her artificial appliances for pre- 
serving historic facts. But though not written down on 
material tablets, there was an unwritten literature existing 
among the Northern barbarians, begotten of their genius, 
full of life and warmth, stamped indelibly on their minds, 
which, as soon as ever they had the means of bringing 
it before the world, issued forth — like Minerva from the 
head of Jupiter — in a great measure in its present bodily 
shape. Ari Frodi, born 1067, i.e., contemporary with the 
consolidation of Christianity in Iceland, was the first we 
know of who put his Scheda3 on paper, and showed them to 
Bishop Thorlak and Priest Siemund, and these are no 
contemptible annals ; and later on, in another work, the 
" Landnama Bok," he recorded the sailing to Iceland 
of Ingolf, A.D. 870, and its settlement, while Snorri's His- 
tory (born 1 178) begins with Halfdan's reign, 841, i.e., 
events contemporary with Alfred. But does any one sup- 
pose that Snorri's interesting narrative was, as the Ger- 
mans would say, " Aus der luft gegriffen," or evolved from 
his inner consciousness ? No ; he only shaped the verses 
sung by Bragi, Hornklofi, and Thiodolf in the ninth century, 
by Egil, Eyvind, and Kormak in the tenth century, and 
the still more ancient oral traditions of his ancestors, told 
by the seniors, repeated daily by the members of the 
family, lisped by the juniors, and the result is, such as we 
have it, his wonderful " Heimskringla." And he was only 
one of the many wdio handled the pen of the ready writer. 
Compare the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, say from 755 to 
1 100, with the " Heimskringla " and the oldest family sagas, 
or, in fact, Anglo-Saxon literature with old Norse generally, 
and, in spite of our being Anglo-Saxons, we must fain ex- 
claim : If this is Pygmalion's statue in all its pale inanimate 
l>eauty, tliat is the statue warmed into flesh and blood, 
with the breath of life and motion breathed into its nostrils. 



( 176 ) 



CHAPTER XII. 

THE NATIONAL SITUATION IN BRITAIN DURING THE 
ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD. 

We have now gone through the chief literary productions 
of the Anglo-Saxons ; but before leaving the subject and 
entering on a consideration of old Northern literature, it 
will be as well to turn our attention to the locus, in quo, to 
look at the people and their position, the when, and the 
how, and the where of their earliest literary efforts. Let 
us go back somewhat in point of time, and take a brief 
survey, by the scanty light afforded us in the books, of 
the national situation in Britain during the Anglo-Saxon 
period. Long before the date 449, when those epic heroes 
Hengist and Horsa are made by Bede to appear on the 
historic scene,^ the shores of England had doubtless been 
a considerable object of attraction to that confederation of 
tribes — Frisians, Angles, and others — who, under the gene- 
ral name of Saxons, inhabited the northern coasts of Ger- 
many, from the Cimbric Chersonese to the Ems, if not the 
Rhine. " The silver streak " in those days was no security 
against invasion. By degrees their successive visits to the 

1 The country about Grannona in Skene, " Celtic Scotland," p. 151. So 
Gaul, where the Saxons had estab- Neunius calls the Firth of Forth, 
lished regular settlements, was called Frisian Sea, ibid., 191. So also Pal- 
Saxon Shore ; so by analogy we may grave and Kemble. But weighty 
infer that the territory extending authorities, as Guest, Stubbs, and 
from near Portsmouth to the Wash Freeman, differ. See " Norman Con- 
and northwards bore the same name, quest," i. 10. Their view is, that 
not because it was exposed to the the Saxon shore was not so called as 
ravages of the Saxons, but because being occupied by the Saxons, but as 
they had made settlements there. — being exposed to their ravages. 



BRITAIN IN THE ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD. 177 

east coasts of this island would result in fixed settlements, 
and at length in the establishment of that ' littus Saxoni- 
cum/ ill-omened sound in. the ears of the Eomans, which 
served as a foint cCapinii for the incursions of the barba- 
rians into the interior of the island. The Emperor Valen- 
tinian's general, Theodosius,^ did succeed in driving the 
Saxons to the Orkneys, a.d. 369, but before long they 
had returned to their usual haunts. The Teutonic tribes 
knew perfectly well how the ground lay. They had only 
to peg at it, and they must win. Their kinsmen on the 
Continent would doubtless report to them the state of 
things southward at the heart of the Koman Empire. The 
Vandals, their blood relations, were pressing it hard. 
Alaric and his Goths were ready to dash at its vitals. At 
last came that ugly sack of imperial Eome by the Goths 
in 410, which warned the Eomans in Britain to contract 
their feelers, and would doubtless only make the Teutons, 
who had been hovering so long on their outskirts, redouble 
their efforts to expel them from the country. The end 
came at last. Nine years later, 418, the Eomans retired 
from this pleasant isle never to return, falling back, in 
the first instance, on their possessions in Gaul. They 
went clear away, ' bag and baggage,' with their legions 
and their legates, pretty much as the lively fancy of a 
distinguished statesman pictured the disappearance from 
Europe with its bimbaslies and Bashi-bazouks of the Otto- 
man power. Nay, so precipitate, according to the Saxon 
Chronicle, was the retreat of the Eomans, that finding it 
impossible to carry off with them all the hoards of gold 
which they had collected together, " they buried some of 
it, that no man might ever find it again." - 

The Eomans, then, were off the scene. All that remained 
between these Teutons and the coveted riches of Britain 
were the Celts and British provincials of various bloods 

1 Ammianus Marccllinus, xxviii. 3; Claudian, Cons. Hon., iv. 32; 
Skene, 100. 

- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 418. 

M 



178 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

left by the Ilomans as tenants in possession. If tliey 
wanted help to turn these people out, help was soon forth- 
coming. The news of the Eoman departure had been 
borne to the Frisian coast, and their vessels were presently 
seen in tlie ofTing. Adventurers kept constantly arriving 
from the mainland, some of them with the ostensible 
object — so the legends say — of helping the islanders 
against those ever-recurring marauders, the Picts, who 
dwelt beyond the northern wall, but in reality to share in 
the spoil of Britain. Some of these descents on the coast 
are recorded, and their dates profess to be fixed by the 
Chronicle ; but, of course, the genuine details of the Ger- 
man conquest are lost in obscurity.^ 

But whatever the real names of those personages to 
whom the Chronicle fits the equine names Hengist and 
Horsa, tradition related that when the British — many of 
them doubtless only half-castes between a Eoman and a 
Celt — measured their strength with the invaders, they were 
always beaten. They fled from Kent to London, but the 
foe kept treading close on their heels. In 473 the Saxons 
again beat them and took enormous booty ; and so fright- 
ened were the Celts, denationalized, down-trodden, and 
cowed by long Roman oppression, that " they fled from 
the Angles as one flieth from fire." - The sack of Ande- 
rida (Pevensey) and slaughter of all that dwelt therein by 
Ella and Cissa, 491, seems to have put the coping-stone to 
the business in that district. So it went on for years, the 
British now and then, as at Mons Badonicus, a.d. 492, 
gaining a victory over the invaders,^ till by 584 we find 
the Teutons had pressed the Celts onwards to the banks 
of the Severn. East Anglia had become Anglicized by a.d. 
520. The barbaric tribes had now regularly settled in the 
most fertile parts of the country, the more civilized Chris- 
tian Romano-Britons having been crowded out, and, with 

1 Kemble, Anglo-Saxons, i. 22. simile ; but it is not found in the 

- Worshippers of the Saxon Chro- Laud. M^i. 
nicle will poiut to this as a grand ^ Bede, i. i6. 



BRITAIN IN THE ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD. 179 

one or two exceptions, they became confined to the moun- 
tains of Wales and Cumberland and remote parts of Corn- 
wall. What happened to the Britons in Deira, the country 
between the Humber and the Tees, is not clear. York 
received its Saxon name of Eoforwic later, about the be- 
ginning of the sixth century. It was not till a.d. 616 
that Elmet, a district in the West Eiding, with Leeds for 
its centre, submitted to the Teutons. A strange state of 
things now supervened in these islands. Eoman civiliza- 
tion, such as it was, soon faded away. In spite of their 
long tenure, the Eoman language never struck deep root. 
Britain, cut off from the common life of the Western 
nations, and allied to them by no community of interests, 
seems to become quite isolated and to relapse into its pris- 
tine barbarism. It was, at all events, quite ignored by the 
rest of Europe, retiring somehow into the recesses of the 
Western Ocean. This rendered it possible for Procopius^ in 
the sixth century to give to the folks in Constantinople that 
wonderful account of Britain as a sort of insular Valhalla, 
which ]\Iacaulay has so picturesquely introduced in his 
"History of England." Nay, even Gildas, himself of Bri- 
tish descent, divides Great Britain, like Procopius, into 
islands ; while Jornandes (De Eebus Geticis, c. ii.), like 
Pytheas of Marseilles, gravely asserts that Britain is in 
so sluggish a sea that it does not easily yield to the 
oars or swell with the wind. The Saxons, in fact, with 
a natural tendency to the heavy and inert, savouring of 
their original seat among the mud-flats of the Lower Elbe 
and Ehine, seem to have lost their old dash and daring. 

1 Lib. iv. c. 20. AVlien the Gallic barkation, as it was of the heathen 

ferryman, after an hour's row, arrived Saxons and the Christian Augustine, 

svith his ghostly jwssengers on the It was called, says Soliuus (A.D. 

shore of Britain, these forthwith 600), Tlianatos (= death), because if 

stepped ashore, and a ceitain voice was a snake was brought there it died, 

heard pronouncing the names of the Had tliis name 'Tlianatos' anything 

passengers and describing their dig- to do witli the origin of the legend ? 

nities. Just so in the " Eriksmal"the Claudian had referred to it two cen- 

iiame and style of the new-comers turies before Procopius, so that its 

are duly proclaimed. Thanet was roots lay far back in the ages, 
doubtless the place of their disem- 



i8o OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

Unlike those irrepressible Northerners, who, later on, 
continually come to the fore, making themselves a name 
all over Europe, the Saxons, after winning the day and 
turning out the Ikitons, must have lapsed into inglorious 
ease ; they became sluggish and sensual, the requisite 
fillip to their moral energies being gone, and whatever 
of power still remained being frittered away in home 
dissensions. They had dropped into a berth not the best 
suited for the conservation of national energy. Such 
marrow and fatness, such snug pleasant quarters, as 
Britain provided for them, would prove a very Capua 
to those once hardy bands.^ 

The Eoman bath and the Roman portico, the remains 
of wdiich in after days Alcuin mentioned with pride, had 
infected the Britons with a love of luxury (Agricola, 
xxi.). These were still to be seen in the land ; ^ what if 
they exercised a similar enervating influence on the new- 
comers ? Not that the settlers stuck to the Romano-colonial 
and British cities left ready for their residence, but with 
no lack of people still in them to be slaves to the con- 
querors. Quite the reverse. True to the national instinct 

^ Saxon Chronicle, 449, " Jjaes transhipped into river boats and 

landes cysta." " So productive is it carried up the Ehine." And that 

in fruit, and so fertile in pastures, its productiveness had not fallen off 

so rich in metals, and valuable for its in the days of Charlemagne is 

contributions to the treasury, sur- evinced by his saying that Britain 

rounded on all sides with abundance was the storehouse and granary of 

of harbours and an immense line of the whole Western world, 

coast." Thus speaks Eumenius of " That sumptuous cofBn of white 

Britain in the third century (Pan. marble, beautifully carved, which 

Const. C. C. 9-19). So much had it the brethren of Ely discovered at 

improved during a century and a half the ruined city of Grantchester, and 

of quiet and prosperity under the in which they deposited the relics 

Provincial Britains, that the corn of jEtheldritha, Abbess of Ely, many 

grown on the island was more than years later, was one of the striking 

was wanted for home consumption, survivals of ancient Roman magnifi- 

According to Ammianus (xviii. 2), a cence (Bede, H. E., iv. cap. xix.). 

good deal of corn was exported from The poor lady had died of a big red 

Great Britain at a very early period, tumour under the jaw, which she 

("Annona Britannis suetatransferri." looked upon a-; a fit punishment for 

Cf. Zosimus, iii. 5). " The Emperor her youthful vanity in wearing huge 

Julian (a.d. 358) sent eight hundred necklaces of pearl and gold, 
vessels to Britain for corn, which he 



INFLUENCE OF THE CHURCH. i8i 

for ruralizing mentioned by Tacitus, they would soon 
surge out of the towns, after giving them a little house- 
warming, and retire to congenial country quarters. They 
preferred airing themselves within their mark, where they 
could drink their beer, the makings of which they had 
raised in their own cornfield (" humor ex hordeo aut 
frumento," Tacit. Germ. 23), and eat their fill of ox, sheep, 
and sw^ine ; taking care to meet out their two loaves a 
day to each of their slaves.^ From this thick cloud under 
which they seem to have vegetated, " the world forgetting 
by the world forgot," as learned authors will have it, they 
once more emerged, when, by the arrival of the Eoman 
missionaries in the island, Anglo-Saxon Britain was swept 
into that great system from which streamed most of the 
intellectual light of the then civilised world. The Eoman 
Church now gradually succeeded to the dominion of the 
Eoman Empire. Early Celtic Christianity, which had 
been well-nigh sw^amped by the inrush of the desolating 
Saxon, but by degrees recovered itself, nay, later on, 
gained much of England back to the faith on the relapse 
of Eoman converts, by degrees succumbed. The arts 
which polish life throve under the influence of the Eoman 
mission. Its functionaries, with that impressive pomp 
and circumstance of worship ever cherished by Eome, 
w^ould quite take the shine out of the old ruder British 
worship. The grand Eoman episcopal system would accus- 
tom people to a more sustained central exercise of secular 
authority, and besides paving the way for the foundation 
of the English constitution, would lead to a new point of 
approach between English and foreign courts. Eor a 
time Eome's influence would be one of unmitigated good. 
But it was overdone. The swaddling-clothes wrapped 
round the infant uncommonly tight were kept on all too 
long. The limbs of the convert became stiffened. Then 
came the leading-strings, which the natives found it 
difficult to shake off, conducive perhaps to an improved 

1 Solomon and Saturn. 



1 82 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

morality — though some people would greatly doubt this — 
hut not to vivid, independent thought or original concep- 
tion. The Church may for ages have supplied the cohesive 
power to the divided nation, might repress the violence 
of the strong, might befriend the poor, sow the seeds of 
freedom, inculcate a respect for authority, improve agri- 
culture, introduce a knowledge of the arts, educate the 
people, but they laid a heavy hand on society. It was a 
goodly tree to look at, with far-extending branches, but 
there was a cold shadow about it, chilling in the extreme. 
Theodore and Adrian might found schools of learning 
among their converts in the seventh century, but the 
learning was almost entirely of an exotic character and 
couched in a classic tongue. Take as an illustration of 
the Latinizing propensities the poetical catalogue given 
by Alcuin, the librarian of the library of the Church of 
York, which is a fit commentary on the extent to which 
the country from Kent to JSTorthumbria had yielded to 
this foreign deluge. The works of Jerome, Hilarius, Am- 
brose, Augustine, Basil, Cassiodorus, Orosius, Boethius, 
Pliny, Aristotle, Cicero, Prudentius, Fortunatus, Lactan- 
tius, and the more ancient poets, Virgil, Statins, Lucan, 
&c., are mentioned, as well as the grammarians Probus, 
Donatus, Priscian, &c. There are here, it is true, some 
of the foremost names of ancient classic learning, 
the study of which, rightly pursued, would have given 
to our countrymen a correct and pure standard. But 
unfortunately that happened in Britain which had hap- 
pened in Ptome; the best authors, such as Virgil, were 
decried, even by scholars like Alcuin, as the authors 
of lies, and the fables of the Gentiles were tabooed. 
Instead of them, the early Christian poets were pre- 
ferred (Wright, Biog. Lit., p. 42). IMust we not pro- 
nounce empliaticaUy that all this was not the pabulum 
for a healthy adult ? We see in the catalogue nothing 
about indigenous production in the vernacular. Not one 
pennyworth of bread to all that sack. No intimation of 



INFLUENCE OF THE CHURCH. 183 

home genius is anywhere apparent. The mental habits 
of the people became saturated with the prevailing colour 
of their teachers' solemnity and dulness. The domestic 
infant was overlaid and crushed by an alien intruder. 
When Anglo-Saxons did write in their own tongue, it 
smacked of Italy and book-learning.^ They reminded one 
of the old Eoman stage-players, wlio wore masks, whereby 
their voices were rendered more sonorous, but at the 
same time more monotonous and unsympathetic. Again, 
Exeter Cathedral Library consisted mostly of hymns, 
theology, and translations of Scripture, but later it pos- 
sessed one token of happier augury, viz., the collection of 
Anglo-Saxon poetry now called " Codex Exoniensis." 

We should have liked to have had something more 
about the everyday routine of national life, with its 
varied scenes and homely sympathies, the commonplace 
and familiar side of human affairs, as appealing to their 
" business and their bosoms," instead of this mass of 
learning — grand legacy no doubt of ancient Greece and 
Eome, destined in after days to be the very fountain- 
head of the highest national culture, but " caviare to the 
general," to whom the genuine produce of extinct peoples 
in dead languages or debased imitations thereof were all 
one. Edifying reading beyond doubt those many devo- 
tional and religious treatises, and satisfying the highest 
wants of our nature ; but not all its wants, as the monks 
opined. The true complement to this mental nourishment 
was what the Anglo-Saxons, like all people in the early 
stages of their existence, delighted in — the national ballad, 
the foundation of all history ; and these the clergy in Eng- 
land as in Germany, like so many Iconoclasts, did all in 
their power to discourage, and so " repressed their noble 
rage, and froze the genial current of the soul." - ^^y, the 

1 All Europe in tliose days was culi.' He snubbed the chief poet of 

tarred with the same brush. Ulster in his first liue of a laudatory 

- "The advent of Christianity hymn. . . . St. Patrick and his pupils 

ruined the bards of Erin. ... St. Col- were very illiterate ; while in the same 

umba speaks of them as ' Homun- age Durac Mac Ua Luhair, chief poet 



i84 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

very i>iiests themselves, how fared the study of Latin 
witii tlieiu ? We mean the rank and file, not the few great 
lumiiiarios wlio graced England. Bede himself tells us 
that in his time many a priest could not say the mere 
Church formulae, and he turned them into English for 
them. Nay, from an anecdote (H. E., v. 6) we learn that 
some of them could not baptize a child without a blunder. 
Poor fellows ! they did not understand Latin, and they 
were forbidden under penalties to sing the old native 
ballads for their amusement. Their wits became addled. 
Things did not improve later on. The Latin rage at last 
stood convicted as a delusion and a snare, and fell into 
discredit and decay. So much so, that Alfred, in his 
preface to the " Pastoral," expresses his astonishment that 
his countrymen had written Latin books and had not left 
translations of them ; for even priests could scarcely trans- 
late the Church service, and learning was in his days so 
much at a discount in England, that whereas foreigners 
resorted to England for learning in times past. English- 
men now had to go abroad for learning. So much for the 
state of mental culture in Britain among our teachers, for 
the fitness of whom Pome was responsible.^ Neither was 
this barbarism due, as some fondly imagine, to the Danish 
invasion ; for Alfred says, " I called to mind how I saw, 
before it was all spoiled and burnt, that the churches 
throughout the whole English nation stood filled with 
treasures and with books, and also with a great multitude 
of God's servants, yet they reaped very little of the fruit 
of those books, because they could understand nothing of 
them, because they were not written in their own native 
tongue." 

of the King of Leinster, composed two Archbishop of York, first printed by 

niiignificent Irish poems, bold, glow- Stubbs and Haddan, " Charters," iii. 

ing, energetic." — 0' 6 rady, History of 615, indicates into what a cloud of 

Ireland, p. xv. ignorance and superstition some clergy 

' The letter of Bishop Egred of had sunk in the North of England. 
Lindisfarue (a.d. 830) to Wulfsige, 



( i85 



CHAPTEE XIII. 

PILGRIMAGES — FALSE MONASTERIES THE NORTHMEN 

THEY SETTLE DOWN WITH THE ANGLO-SAXONS 
— ANGLO-SAXON IS DEBASED, BUT REVIVES AS 
MODERN ENGLISH. 

Let us pursue the subject for a space. The Saxons pro- 
per had been well shepherded by Eome. The Angles of 
Xorthumbria, the spiritual progeny of Columba, had to 
follow suit and submit to Eoman rule, no latitude being 
allowed to them in matters of faith and practice — no give- 
and-take, so as to establish a mochis vivendi amono; the rival 
.communions. " Aut disce, aut discede." Theodore's ordi- 
nance had settled the matter. " A person ordained by a 
bishop of Scots or Britons, who are not sound about 
Easter and the tonsure, must be confirmed again by a 
Catholic bishop." Their King Oswin, under the threat that 
he would be infallibly excluded by St. Peter from heaven 
if he continued unsound about Easter and the tonsure, 
gave up the contest at Whitby Synod ; and Colman, their 
bishop, seeing that he and his sect were despised, retired 
to Ireland. This was a.d. 664. And yet these men were 
of pure and blameless life, thought ever of their souls and 
not of the world, and what money they got from the rich 
they gave it to the poor ; and so greatly were they beloved, 
that if a priest showed himself in a hamlet, tlie people 
thronged to him to hear the word of life (Bede, iii. 26). The 
Scot Aidan left a sweet savour in the country, which the 
Italian Paulinus failed to do. With the triumph of the 
Eoman system a superior ecclesiastical organisation may 
have been introduced, the basis of our English constitution, 



iS6 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

l»ut with the elhnination of the Scotch element religion was 
maimed in its spirituality. The lloman paralysis spread 
to the Northern border. Not long after, the whole nation 
of the Picts stood corrected by their own confession, 
hugged their chain, and rejoiced at being subjected to 
the Eoman discipline (ib., v. 21). The Scots soon ceased 
to vex the English, and in 731 many Northumbrians of 
all classes, whole families, in short, preferred monastic vows 
to military pursuits. 

A few words here on the pilgrimages from Britain to 
Home. Men like Benedict Biscop and Wilfrid had repaired 
thither half a century before ; the latter, as Bede says, be- 
cause he was dissatisfied with the Scottish rule, and wanted 
to study the ultramontane ritual. But there was reason in 
this case ; and whenever they went thither, they never came 
l)ack empty, always bringing with them something in the 
shape of art or learning to elevate and improve their coun- 
trymen^ (Vitse Abb.). But the matter assumed a different 
complexion when aged men like the ex-abbot Ceolfrid must, 
forsooth, go trudging to Eome with eighty followers (a.d. 
716), himself dying on the road at Langres, after tottering 
about a hundred and fourteen days, while his deluded atten- 
dants were left in piteous case, unable to speak a strange 
language and utterly perplexed. No wonder some of them 
resolved to go home at once and give up the business. So 
young Offa, son of an East Saxon king, in his wisdom 
found nothing better to do than leave wife, relations, and 
lands, and embrace the life of a monk at Eome, a.d. 709. 
The lady doubtless thought otherwise : — 

" Wisdom ! to leave liis wife, to leave liis babes, 
His mansion and bis titles, in a place 
Fioiu wlience himself does fly \ He loves us not, 
He wants the natural touch." 

The companion of his journey, and also of his monastic life, 

' Let us, however, never forget that under an interdict. Wilfrid was the 

"Wilfrid brought us one fatal legacy first Englishman who api^ealed to 

of his journey to Rome — Pope Aga- Rome, 
tho's threat to place Northumbria 



riL GRIM A GES. 1 87 

was another king, Coinred of the Mercians, a. p. 709. But 
Ctedwalla, king of Wessex, had preceded them, abdicating 
and going to Eome to finish his days, A.D. 689, and Ina 
followed in 726. In short, the rage (Beda, v. 7) became 
universal throughont England, and to be compared, in 
fact, to the crusading craze of a later age. High-born 
ladies joined in the stampede, being, like the rest, seized 
with this dance of St. Vitus. Boniface was not a little 
exercised by this phenomenon. He was not the man 
to be taken in by such myths as that on Guthlac's 
sister, Pega's, arrival at Eome, all the bells of the city 
started ringing of their own accord ; and if they did, aii 
bono? Knowing what he did of the too frequent result, 
he cannot recommend his correspondent, " superior to all 
others of her sex," the Abbess Bucge, to carry out her 
intended journey.^ The chief reason for these peregrina- 
tions, alleged by the Abbess Eangyth (a.d. 732) to Wynfrid 
(Boniface), is " to get pardon of her sins, like many others 
have done." ^ Alcuin in one of his letters delicately hints 
to an abbess, afflicted with a similar whim, that she had 
better let it alone. Bede himself did not believe in it, as 
may be gathered from his facetious interpretation of the old 
monogram on the Eoman monuments, S.P.Q.E., " Stultus 
populus quserit Eomam." Straws will show which way the 
wind blows. 

Boniface was behind the scenes, and his letter to Cuth- 
bert. Archbishop of Canterbury, a.d. 748, is conclusive. 
He urges him to forbid English nuns going to Eome in a 
formal synod. Not a city in Lombardy. France, and Gaul 
but what had witnessed the deplorable results of these 
pilgrimages. It was a scandal and a stain on the whole 
English Church.^ 

Kemble, 363, attributes this passion for the Eoman tour 
to the deep earnest conviction and spirit of self-sacrifice 
and love of truth of this nation. As we have seen, other 

1 Moiiumenta Moguntina, p. 236. - Ibid., p. 70. 

" Ibid., p. 208. 



iSS OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

forces nmst liave Leon at work. Self-seeking, too, at times 
came into play. Thus Charlemagne, iu a letter to Offa, 
king of Mercia, a.d. 796, is willing to give every facility 
to foreign pilgrims to lionie. They are free to come and 
go ; but he hears that among them are people who go 
thither not for religion's sake, but in order to smuggle 
{fraudulenter negotiari)} It is the old tale. Cucullus 
non facit monachum. Neither does the tonsure, what- 
ever its mode, the true man of God. "He (the youth 
Wilfrid) had not yet received the tonsure, but he had the 
ornaments of meekness and obedience, which are greater 
than the tonsure," shows what Bede in his heart thought 
of the matter (H. E., v. 19). What the multiplication of 
the priests, all shaven and shorn according to one type, did 
for the country, is pretty clear from the very plain speak- 
ing of Bede to his friend Ecgbert on his becoming Arch- 
bishop of York. He has heard that "there were many 
villages among the mountains or in the thick forests where 
for years together the face of a bishop was never seen to 
confirm, or of a priest to teach, the true faith and explain 
the difference between a bad and a good action." " Some 
of the bishops w^on't preach or confirm gratis, and, what is 
worse, having got their offerings from the faithful, they 
contemn the ministry of the Word. The old root of all 
evil is the cause of this degeneracy of the clergy— the love 
of money." But what was worse, members of the laity, to 
escape secular services, by giving bribes to the king, under 
the pretence of erecting monasteries, got hold of territories 
where they might more easily live in idleness and gratify 
their lusts, assembling at these spots a herd of monks 
banished from the true monasteries, or monks of their own 
manufacture, who led quite a secular life within the walls, 
surrounded by their wives and children ; and this to the 
exclusion of soldiers who defended the kingdom. They 
exemplified, says Bede, the proverb that ' wasps can make 
cells, but they store up therein not honey, but rather 
poison.' Here, then, as everywhere, we discern the trail of 

1 Monumenta Moguntina, p. 286. 



FALSE MONASTERIES. rSg 

that false system which, wherever it has passed, has some- 
how never failed to leave behind it national idleness, 
impotence, and degradatioD. And all this when Eoman 
Christianity was fresh, and had hardly had time to grow 
callous. As with the priest, so with the people. They 
were both stamped with the same brand. The community 
at large, for good or for evil, took their colour from their 
teachers, who, if they were steeped in Eoman learning, 
were not averse to Eoman vices. 

l^^iat Boniface, that man of saintly life and great 
worldly experience, thought about the fast waxing de- 
generacy of the clergy, may be gathered from the saying 
attributed to him. " In olden times there were golden 
prelates and wooden chalices, but in his time there were 
wooden prelates and golden chalices." So stirred was his 
spirit within him at hearing of the state of things in 
England, that he writes, a.d. 748, from Germany to Cuth- 
bert. Archbishop of Canterbury, about it. He would no 
longer play the part of a dumb dog. To think that the 
laity, princes or their retainers, dared to seize on monas- 
teries and themselves play the abbot ! Our forefathers 
would have called such people sacrilegious robbers, homi- 
cides of the poor, wolves of the devil.^ 

A population reared under such auspices, all the spirit 
of manliness and of free intellectual play priest-ridden out 
of them, were hardly the men to cope with that irresistible 
rush of Pagan adventurers that was soon to burst on the 
land, flaming amazement and destruction from Dan to 
Beersheba, from Sheppey to Lindisfarne, and round Cape 
Wrath to the Sudreys and Ireland. And so it was that, 
when the Northmen began to ravage the island in 787, tlie 
people were as a body altogether changed, slow,^ and sub- 

1 Monumenta Moguntina, p. 2og. trious and great name of Saxon origin 

- Nay, this inertness seems to liave throughout our history. They were 

become engrained in the hreed, if we characterised by Kingsley as the 

are to believe the very strong asser- female, and the Scandinavians as the 

tion of a recent writer, that, with few male, of the English stock, 
exceptions, there is hardly an illus- 



190 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

si'quently slower as time wore on, and they were served 
by the Danes as they of yore served the Ceks. 

We altogether miss in them the quickness of the native 
Northman, whose motto was ' keep moving.' That old tale 
in the Chronicle of Tours of the answer given by Eolf to 
King Charles, when called upon to kiss the monarch's foot, 
' Xe se, bigotli,'^ ' Catch me at it, by Thor ! ' photographs the 
race. Mincing matters or picking phrases did not jump 
with their humour, still less being put upon in any shape 
or form. 

This sturdy spirit of independence, heritage from our 
Northern and not our Saxon ancestry, has permeated Eng- 
lish veins through and through, and flows on still. A not- 
able instance this of the conservation of energy in nations 
as well as in physics and pliilosophy. No wonder the 
Saxon Liturgy admitted a new clause, " A furore Norman- 
norum, libera nos." No wonder Charlemagne wept as he 
foresaw what this people would do to his people in the 
latter days, viz., nothing more nor less than bring about, 
in combination with other forces, the break up of his un- 
wieldy empire, torn as it was by internal dissensions, now 
one province, now another bidding for the pirates' help. 
Did not St. Liudger, the Frisian missionary, have a dream 
wliich he narrated with tears in his eyes to his sister, 
wherein he beheld a total eclipse of the sun, which he 
interpreted as a presage of the irruption of the Northmen ? 
Was not their approach heralded by fearful prodigies, 
which territied the wretched nation of the Angles, inas- 
much as horrid lightnings and dragons in the air and 
flashes of fire were often seen glancing and flying to and 

1 Truly a chip of the old block, perforce ' gang ; ' and that the earlier 

" His father was a man," says Dudo, Viking expeditions to France and the 

"who would never bow the neck to colonization of Normandy proceeded 

any one." The latest theory abcmt from Denmark. Steenstrup, " Nor- 

this Kollo is that he was a pure Dane maiinertiden," Copenhagen, 1876,— a 

and no Norwegian ; that Rollo is not proposition which he reasserts witli 

identical with the Norwegian Ganger emphasis in " Vikingetogene mod 

Kolf, who was too tall to ride the Vest i det, gde^ Aarhuudrede," 1878. 
small horses of the countrv, and must 



THE COMING OF THE NORTHMEN. 191 

fro, which signs indicated the great famine and the terrible 
and unutterable slaughter of multitudes which ensued ? ^ 
Were they not like stinging hornets, or rather fierce 
wolves, plundering, tearing, killing, not only sheep and 
oxen, but priests and Levites, monks and nuns ? Such 
was the language of Simeon of Durham about the attack 
on the isle of Lindisfarne, a.d. 793. It was in 832, accord- 
ing to the Chronicle, that the heathen men first overran 
the isle of Sheppey. But if the matter be carefully looked 
into, we shall be inclined to take the monkish accounts 
cum grano. It has been well observed by a powerful 
writer that the descriptions given by clerical authors of 
these Vikings — the tales fit to make one's hair stand on 
end about the wild ferocity of their leaders — can hardly 
be reconciled with the readiness with which they assumed 
the culture and religion of the foreigner ; w^hile their 
talent for military discipline and strong sense of personal 
freedom by no means chime in with the notion of their 
being utter barbarians. It must be conceded, also, that 
there are redeeming features in the picture of the locust 
flight. It is mainly to the Vikings that so mucli 
of England became united under Alfred. The internal 
dissensions in the kingdom of Northumbria, and the ad- 
vantage taken of them by the Northmen, taught us a 
lesson of unity. It was from these same maritime rovers 
that we and all Europe learnt the strength and the weak- 

1 Pertz, 3, ii. 412, 757, 758, Anglo- quite unprotected. Nay, monasteries 

Saxon Chronicle, 793. Charlemagne and rich ecclesiastical buildings were 

sailed with his fleet from Flanders to reared close to the shore, or even 

Rouen in 800, and in 811 went to upon islands quite open to attack: 

Boulogne to inspect his new navy e.g., Lindisfarne, lona. Peel, Rechru, 

(Einhard). and Noirmoutiers, at the mouth of 

Not tliat these Hyperboreans were the Loire. The sight of these places, 
utterly unknown among us before, or the news of them, awoke in the 
As peaceful traders, some of them quiet merchantmen that fierce cupi- 
had paid sporadic visits to England, dity and love of adventure inherited 
or had been seen by us in Friesland from the blue-eyed Kafirs, their fore- 
and Flanders. But the claws were fathers on the eastern slopes of tlie 
under the velvet then. Nobody Hindoo Cush. 'Naturarecurrit.' The 
dreamt of the transformation scene sight of the mouse reveals the cat lurk- 
impending. And so the coasts lay ing under the form of a bride. 



192 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

iiess of a coast-line. It was their adventurous sail up the 
Seine and siege of Paris, and its brave defence, which led 
to its becoming the capital of France.^ 

Besides, these A^iking fellows took quite a different view 
of aflairs from the good folks, dwelling under their own 
vines and fig-trees, wliom they harmed. To sweep the 
seas in quest of plunder, to make a sudden descent on 
the coast, drive the cattle down to the strand, and have a 
wholesale slaughtering of them (strand-hogg), was to them 
no disgrace whatever — 

" Antonio never yet was thief or pirate." 

On the contrary, with these Northmen piracy was a per- 
fectly honourable jjrofession, quite as much as it was some 
forty centuries before, when a Nestor would chat with his 
stranger guests after a good supper, and ask them what 
might be the object of their cruise over the ' watery paths :' 
was it a mere yachting excursion, or were his gentlemen 
visitors upon some sterner work, scuttling of ships and 
cutting throats.^ These Northmen evidently took their cue 
from their great hero Odin, the Northern Hermes, one of 
whose names was Gangleri, the gangrel carl, who travelled 
far and wide in search of wisdom. Indeed, if Wilhelmus 
Gemmeticensis and "Wace, who follows him (Eoman de 
Piou, V. 2 1 2), be true, when the population became too thick 
from polygamy, these Scandinavians were selected by lot 
and packed off to the frontier.^ This, in fact, brought 
Hengist to England, as Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us. 
The manifest germ this of our British recourse to emigra- 
tion. But, from whatever cause, they were all agog for 
foreign travel : everywhere gaining a knowledge of the 
world and a livelihood — whether honestly or not, it did 
not matter. "What made the typical man of craft and 
enterprise in old times so acute ? what but his knowledge 

1 Sars, Udsigt over den Norske ^ Cf. Jornandes, Muratori Scrip- 

Historie, Christiania, 1873. tores, I. i. 193 B (c. 4) ; Steenstrup, i. 

- Homer's Od., iii. 70. Cf. Tliucy- 202. 
dides, i. 5; Csesar, De Lell. Gall., vi. 23. 



THE NORTHMEN. 193 

of mankind picked up in travel ? ' Multorum mores 
hominum vidit et urbes.' It was this same spirit of 
adventure that sent Naddod, and Leif, and Eric the Ked, 
and Ingolf, and Ohthere, gadding about northwards even 
to Labrador and Massachusetts. It is from them our 
Frobishers and Drakes, our Parrys and Franklins, and 
Rajah Brookes, are lineally descended. No marvel they 
had skilful scalds to sing of their deeds : no marvel the 
Saxons had not, and went to Iceland for the commodity, 
where it was almost a drug. With them to attempt was 
to succeed, in whatever line they chose, whether as navi- 
gators, colonists, legislators, conquerors, historians, poets. 
In Spain to the very gates of Hercules;^ in Italy, in Eussia, 
and down to the Golden Horn, making many a mother 
pale at their very name; in France acquiring dominion 
and royal alliances as a matter of course, and assimilat- 
ing, as no mere brutal barbarians could possibly have done, 
in a short time all the stronger features of French charac- 
ter and civilization; in England transfusing new blood 
into the body social and political, administering a tonic to 
a frame massive and strong, but letliargic and deficient in 
vital energy, thus leavening the torpid elements of the 
Saxon nature, and making a mark in the land never to be 
effaced. Granted they burnt or plundered the libraries, 

1 Njorva Sund. An Arab writer lated the heathen." But no, he was 

tells us how they were first descried not yet out of the wood. The Arabs 

approaching Lisbon in August 844, had cried ' Victory ' too soon. In 

and how "the sea looked as if it was 859-861 the Vikings returned under 

full of dark red birds." They subse- Hasting and the sons of Lodbrog, and 

quently laid siege to Seville, but in approached the mouth of the Guadal- 

the Arabs they at last found they had quivir, but were beaten off ; on which 

caught a Tartar : a people united to they made for Algeziras, and burnt 

expel the foreign enemy, and not at the great mosque. They then sailed 

all like the sleepy and divided govern- through Gibraltar Straits and made 

nients of France. So they must fain a descent on Morocco. After this 

retire from the land, giving a Par- they plundered the Balearic Islands, 

thian blow to Lisbon on their retreat and, wintering on an island at the 

northwards, and " from tliat time mouth of the Rhone, ravaged the 

they disappeared from Spain;" while towns on the Italian coast the next 

tlie Emir Abderahman wrote to Tan- spring. Of. Steeustrup, " Viking. 



Tier to inform his co-religionists that, erne," 287 sqq. 
''thanks be to God, he had annihi- 



]if 



194 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

ami rang the last knell of that learning which, for one 
huiulred years after Bede, made England facile princeps 
among the nations of Europe in the world of letters, yet 
tlicy instilled into the North some portion of that poetic 
originality which has never left it.i But at length the 
invaders and invaded — the Saxons and the ISTorthmen — 
after varied fortunes, settled down peaceably side by side, 
the fiercer race of the two agreeing to embrace Christi- 
anity ; and by intermarriage, and neighbourhood, and the 
mollifying effects of time, animosities subsided, and the 
Danish and Saxon tongues, both dialects of one wide- 
spread language, were blended together. But a sudden 
catastrophe upset everything. The Eagnarok^ of the 
Conquest prostrated and engulphed people and tongue in 
one common ruin. 

The tongue had held on tenaciously for some three 
centuries, influenced doubtless over all England by its 
sprightly sister of Scandinavia, nay, superseded by her 
in the north and east. Now, however, on the entrance 
of the Normans, the Latin tongue was introduced a 

1 Roughly speaking, the various news from at least three quarters of 

nations of the North are held by some the world ? Many geographical trea- 

modern antiquaries to have selected tises are known to have perished, but 

each for itself a pet quarry to swoop there is one by Abbot Nicholas of 

upon : e.g., the Danes mainly chose Thingeyri, who returned home from 

England, the Norwegians Ireland, the his travels 1154, being an itinerary 

Swedes Russia. Steenstrup, i. 325. through Germany to Rome, which 

But the Northmen were not idle contains intei-esting facts. But as 

in the acquisition of a knowledge of early as 815 we find pilgrims visiting 

foreign parts quite apart from buc- the monastery of Reichenau in Ba- 

caneering. varia. Of. Werlauf, Symbols ad 

Poets visiting foreign kings ; mer- Geograph. medii sevi ex Monument, 

chants in the Baltic and Mediter- Islandd. 

ranean; traders in Britain and Gaul; " The twilight, which for a time 

navigators to countries under the hid the gods of Asgard, when the evil 

pole ; soldiers of fortune in the East ; deities prevailed. ' Ragnarokr ' is the 

and besides these, youths frequenting word used in the prose (i.e., Snorri's) 

the universities of Erfurth, Cologne, Edda. It turns out, however, to be 

and Paris ; clerics employed by the a mere corruption of a similar word, 

ever-active Roman Curia; pilgrims ' rok,' which does not mean ' gloom' 

to Rome, Compo.stella, Canterbury, (cf. English 'reek'), but 'doom.' 

and Jerusalem, — who will doubt that Cleasby's Diet. s. v. 
these men brought back with them 



DECA V OF ANGLO-SAXON TONGUE. 195 

second time by foreign ecclesiastics, and flourished among 
US till the middle of the thirteenth century, and along 
with it Latin in its modern shape of Norman. From 
these causes our old national speech became gradually 
debased as a written and cultivated language. Look at 
the Saxon Chronicle, which is continued to 1 155, to be 
convinced of this. To what a pitch of degradation it 
gradually sinks ! The text becomes a poverty-stricken 
tatterdemalion, with no majesty of form or comeliness 
of carriage, laggard and pitiful in the extreme. When a 
monarch is dethroned, the sooner he discards an affecta- 
tion of his former self, the travesty of better days, the 
better. A long dusk succeeded, broken at intervals, it is 
true, by lights of dimmer ray. Such were the poems of 
Layamon and Orm, the "Brut" (circa 1205), with its 
versified legends of British history, — the "Ormulum" 
(circa 121 5), a metrical narrative of the Gospels, reflec- 
tions, it may be, of a glory long set, serving too well to 
show that the sceptre has departed from the ancient 
speech. The dialect of these poems is generally called 
semi-Saxon. The " Owl and the Nightingale " (circa 
1280) may be 'an exquisite idyll,' but it is an idyll in 
the Dorsetshire dialect. Our straining eyes at length 
discern the end of the gloom. Eobert of Gloucester (circa 
1300) came to the front with his poem, in which he 
laments that though low men still hold to English (it 
being only preserved in the scattered dialects), yet, 
unlike any country in the world, England spoke in 
foreign speech, and unless a man spoke French he was 
little regarded. So the proverb arose, " Jack would 
be a gentleman if he could speak any French." That 
was the language of literature and of the court, and 
practically of law — a state of things which ceased and 
determined in 1 362, that memorable date when English 
was reinstalled in its natural rights and established as 
the language of the courts of law ; and so we at length 



196 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

behold, after the long life-aiid-death struggle, the survival 
of the fittest. 

" Graiciii capta iVrum victorem cocpit." 

]a) ! a new fabric rises, the like of which the world never 
saw — the modern English tongue, fit exponent of the 
thoughts, the will, the ailections of that composite strain 
bred of the Eoman, the Celt, the Saxon, and jSTorthman, 
and the Northinan once removed; a tongue less melo- 
dious perhaps than its nearest ancestor, but, for saying 
what we want to say, whether it be poet, philosopher, 
historian, or statesman, never perhaps surpassed. 



( 197 ) 



CHAPTER XIV. 

THE SCANDINAVIANS IN RUSSIA AND THE EAST. 

We have talked of Scandinavians visiting Eussia and 
Constantinople. So interesting a section of their history 
is this, that we will pause awhile and tell our readers 
something more about it, although, strictly speaking, it 
belongs rather to Part II. In the first document about 
early Eussia by the monk Nestor (died about 1 115), we 
read that the Swedes (Euss or Varangians) having 
become the dominant class, apparently on the Finnic 
shores of the Baltic, were invited by the Slavonians about 
862 to settle in Eussia, in order to put an end to the 
internal s'rife of the country — a movement which led to 
the first foundation of the Eussian state.^ The account 
he gives has, doubtless, a good deal of that mythicism 
which surrounds the similar legend about Vortegern 
calling in the Saxons on a like emergency.^ But be 
this as it may, we find from a variety of evidence, 
linguistic, archaeological, and historical, that these people, 
under the name of ' Euss,' not long after that date 
permeated the interior of Eussia and reached the shores 
of the Euxine.^ Besides the above native chronicle, 

1 "The German race is the great characteristic that they always at- 
manly generating principle. . . Even tacked by sea, on their native ele- 
in Russia the German Varangers had ment. Widukind in Pertz, iii. 419. 
to arrive to compress the loose mass " Were they not following the old 
into a state." A dictum which well road which, according to tradition, 
expresses the superb self-conceit of the Goths in the second century took 
the Prussian Chancellor, who ignores in their passage from the North to 
the Scando-Goths altogether. See the regions of the Euxine, viz., up 
Dr. Buscli's " Prince Bismark." the Vistula and down the Dnieper, 

2 Greek, 'Rhos;' Scandinavian, the great river Borysthenes of Hero- 
'Roer,' i.e., 'boatmen,' it being a dotus? 



198 OLD ENGLISH LIT ERA TURE. 

two literatures have especially thrown light on the 
subject — that of the Byzantine empire and that of the 
Arabs. In 865 these people, having reached the sources 
of the Dnieper, descended that river and appeared witli 
two luindred vessels before the capital of the Eoman 
empire. Of this expedition of 865, Johannes Diaconus 
(Chronicum Venetum, viii. c. 4) relates that the Northmen 
came with tliree hundred and sixty vessels, where, it is 
evident, his Northmen are the Ehos of the Greeks. Two 
sermons by the Patriarch Photios exist ^ giving an account 
of this expedition. Another expedition, this time of two 
thousand ships,^ appeared in 907 before the capital, and 
were only bought off by an enormous ransom. In 913 
they appeared in the Caspian Sea with a fleet of five 
hundred ships, each containing a hundred men. 

But it was not merely as pirates and warriors that the 
Euss came in contact with the Greeks : trade and barter 
were no less their object. For their Northern furs, slaves, 
and money they got gold and silver and costly stuffs, such 
as ' pell,' whatever that was, probably ' brocade.' The 
Arabian author, Ibn Dustah^ (c. a.d. 912), gives us some 
interesting particulars about them. " The Euss attack the 
Slaves by ship. . . . When a son is born to any one of 
them, the father throws a sword at him, saying, ' I do not 
leave thee any property ; thine is only what thou gainest 
with the sword.' The men wear gold bracelets. They do 
not exhibit boldness on horseback, but undertake all their 
expeditions and attacks in ships. When a man of quality 
dies, they put into the same tomb with him his clothes 
and his gold bracelets, and a quantity of victuals to eat, 
and coins." Another Arab, Ibn Padhlan,* describes the 

1 Photii Ejn.stolse, ed. R. Monta- brothers of the Baltic had laid siege 

cubius, Londini, 1651. to Constantinople, the capital of 

- Among the many possibilities Eastern Christendom. Steenstrup, 

that worked in the brain of the Vik- 287. 

ings was that of one day making a » St. Petersburg, 1823, 4to. 

descent on Rome, the headquarters * Ibid, 
of Western Christianity, like their 



FOUNDA TION OF THE RUSSIAN STA TE. 199 

funeral of a Euss chieftain. The corpse was placed on 
board ship with his swords and the bodies of several vic- 
tims, among others two horses. Then the ship was set on 
fire and reduced to ashes. ^ It is mentioned by Prudentius, 
Bishop of Troyes, that in 839 a party of these people 
came to Ingleheim with a letter from the Greek emperor 
Theophilus to Louis the Pious of Germany. They were 
called Euss, and they stated that they were Swedes.- 
Liudprand, Bishop of Cremona, 963, who had been 
twice at Constantinople as ambassador from King Beren- 
garius II. and the Emperor Otho L, also mentions them 
and their King Inger^ (a Scandinavian name), as having 
come to Constantinople with more than a thousand vessels. 
But we have linguistic evidence of great interest in the 
ninth chapter of the work of Constantine, " Porphyroge- 
nitus de Administratione Imperii," written about 950. 



1 Not unfrequently the ship on 
which the dead were placed was laid 
under a tumulus. Thus after his vic- 
tory over Gunhilda's sons at Kastar- 
kalv, Hacon ordered the captured 
ships to be drawn ashore, the slain to 
be laid on them, and earth and stones 
were heaped on the top. Tumuli 
opened in Norway and Sweden have 
corroborated these accounts ; but in 
most cases the buried ship had crum- 
bled into almost nothing. In 1871 a 
tumulus was opened on a branch of 
the river Glommen, in the parish of 
Tune, so celebrated for its ancient 
Runic stones, and a ship exhumed in 
a very fair state of preservation. The 
keel, which was 43^ Norwegian feet 
long, was of a single piece of wood, 
and quite undamaged. The breadth 
amidships was over 13 feet. Along 
the bottom was a square beam of oak 
across five ribs in the middle, and a 
still hirger log over it, with a square 
hole driven through each, in which 
the stump of the fir mast was still 
standing. A rudder of the same wood 
also lay across the vessel behind the 
mast. Near this lay some unburut 



bones, the remains of the deceased 
and of his horse, fragments of a carved 
saddle, and snow-skates. So that he 
might choose his own method of loco- 
motion to Valhalla, either in his own 
shi]>, dispensing with Charon's bark, 
on horseback, or on snow-shoes. So 
after the battle of Bravalla, Sigurd 
Ring ordered the body of the fallen 
Harold Hildetand to be driven into 
the mound on his chariot. The horse 
was killed, and Sigurd then had his 
own saddle buried in the mound, 
"that Harold might choose whether 
he would ride or drive to Valhalla." 
Here, then, is a vessel of the youngirou 
age, or Viking period, i.e., from about 
700 till a little over 1000 A.D. Most 
likely it was used along the coast, 
being too small for long voyages 
across the main. It is preserved at 
the Royal Museum in Christiania. 
With the exception of another disco- 
vered in Denmark, it is the only ex- 
tant specimen of the kind. 

2 Tertz, Mon. Ger. Hist. Script., i. 

434- 

3 Ibid. iii. 331. 



200 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

He tells us that these Scandinavians used to cross over 
Northern Eussia and row down the Dnieper, meeting near 
Kiev, Here their number was considerably augmented by 
new boats, for which materials had been floated down the 
lakes and rivers from the woods in Slavonia. They sailed 
from Kiev in June, and passed in company, for the sake 
of mutual aid, the long series of rapids upon the Dnieper, 
which extend for some fifty miles, a little below the 
town of Yekaterinoslav. He then gives in Scandinavian 
(Paxriari), as well as in Slavonian, the names of these 
rapids, such as " Holm force," " The yelling force," " The 
swallow fall," " The laughing water." Here, then, we have 
linguistic proof positive to back the historical evidence 
that these Rhos, these rowers, so apt and hardy when 
afloat, so out of their element on land, who gave these 
poetical names to the fierce cataracts — their playfellows, 
or foes as it might chance, from youth upwards — were our 
irrepressible Scandinavian friends. But what a sight it 
must have been, these dexterous Northmen, as they will 
now do in Russian Lapmark, shooting the rapids, some 
smashed in the attempt; putting their galleys now on 
wheels over the portages, now launching them again, and 
careering on to the fabulous East, the land of gold, and 
silver, and wines ! The names of the men, too, in the 
chronicles, after a little scouring, come out of pure Scandi- 
navian metal. Rurik is nothing but ' Hroerekr ; ' Olga = 
' Helga ; ' Oskold = ' Hoskuldr,' household names in the 
Scandinavian sagas. In two treaties between these Russ 
and the Greeks, of the years 912, 945, the plenipotentiaries 
of the former have all Scandinavian names.^ But what is the 
meaning of these wonderful expeditions ? Let us endeavour 
to explain it by the light of the book quoted below. Shut 
up for centuries within their own frontiers, progressing 
in arts and culture, such an increase of the Scandinavian 
population must have gradually taken place as left them 

1 Ancient Russia and Scandinavia : Three Lectures delivered at Oxford by 
Dr. Vilhelm Thomson, 1877. 



FOUNDATION OF THE RUSSIAN STATE. 20 r 

no resource but that of sallying forth, sword in hand, to 
win for themselves a new sphere of action and a new home 
under the leadership of this or that petty king. The increas- 
ing centralisation of political power would make them long 
for an excuse. Elbow-room or breathing space they would 
have by fair or foul means. And so as merchants or 
marauders they went forth conquering and to conquer, 
now making a pop visit, now settling down and founding 
kingdoms. Two w^ays were open to them — westwards 
across the ocean, or eastwards by the ' Austrvegr/ the 
eastern passage, i.e., across the Baltic through Eussia. The 
former current was chiefly composed of Danes and Nor- 
wegians, the latter of Swedes, who from time immemorial 
had frequented the lands beyond the Baltic, and with the 
maritime population of which they had from immigration 
become connected by blood and language. The sagas 
point in many passages to the lively intercourse which 
subsisted between the two countries, an intercourse only 
to be explained by blood relationship. But in them the 
foundation of the Paissian state passes unnoticed. 

From the Baltic lands, Esthonia, and Finland, they 
would have spread through Eussia (Gargariki), Novgorod 
(Holmgard), southward. But now, owing to the above- 
mentioned causes, the movement southward set in with 
redoubled energy, with or without the leave of the Sla- 
vonian population of the interior. Battles were fought, 
for many Swedish Eunic stones tell of warriors who " fell 
in battles in the East " under Ingvar and other leaders. 
Another substantial proof of these Eastern expeditions is 
the finds of coins brought from Byzantium through the 
interior. Thus 20,000 Arabian coins have been found in 
Sweden, dating from 698 to 1002, though far the greater 
part of them are from between 800 and 955. The central 
point of trade seems to have been Gotland, where 13,000 
coins have been already discovered. So again in the in- 
terior of Eussia Western coins have been found in barrows 
over chiefs, Anglo-Saxon, for instance — part, very likely, 



202 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TURE. 

of the Danageld which used to be wrung from the cowed 
Anglo-Saxons. Every fresh discovery of coins and works 
of art is likely to throw additional light on this subject. 

A further link, if any were wanted, in the proof of the 
identity between the enterprising Ehos of the Greek 
authors and the Swedes is found in the present Finnish 
appellation for Sweden, ' Euotsi = Norse, ' Eors-folk,' i.e., 
rowers or watermen. 

We must not omit to state here that in the Byzantine 
writings mention is made also of the famous Varangians, 
a Scandinavian word of disputed meaning.-^ The first 
record of them is 1034. The learned and literary Princess 
Anna Oomnena (loSi) speaks of the "Varangians from 
Thule," " the axe-bearing barbarians," in opposition to a 
division of the native army. Originally they were chiefly 
Swedes who served in the army of the Greek emperors. 
Harold Hardrada, whom Harold slew at Stamford Bridge, 
served in this corps. But Englishmen,^ who had been 
driven from home by the Norman conquest, and Danes also 
enrolled themselves under the same banner.^ Varangian 
denotes, then, Scandinavian, more particularly the Swedes ; 
and the Baltic is called by an Arabian writer, Al-Biruni, 
' the Varangian Sea.' About the beginning of the eleventh 
century the stream _of reinforcements from Scandinavia 
to the East fails, for the conditions which had given the 
first impulse to these expeditions had ceased. The com- 
plete establishment of Christianity had given an entirely 
new aspect to social life in the North. The cultivation of 
their own home resources claimed the attention of the 
people. The sun of the Vikings is now set, and some ten 
years later Varangians are mentioned for the last time as 
subsidiaries in the Byzantine army.* 

1 Some think it ='vsering'=' con- ^ jj^ratori, v. 584 (1724); cf. 

federate ; ' while others would derive Duffus Hardy, " Materials for British 

it from ' vajri ' = ' shelter : ' the History," i. xl. 

Swedes being denizens or metoeci in •» Muralt, Chronographie Byzan- 

liussia and the East. tine, p. 627. 

- Saxo-Grammaticus, part i. 616 ; 
cf. Xott, Uberr., p. 61. 



( 203 ) 



CHAPTEE XV. 



A MEDLEY. 



Hitherto our business has been mainly with the Saxon 
people and their literature. But, philologically and gram- 
matically considered, their tongue, of course, teems with 
interest to an Englishman. Without a knowledge of it, 
the beauty and full meaning of our own is only half 
revealed. Let us glance slightly at this part of the sub- 
ject in an omnium gatherum chapter.^ Take our infinitive 
mood. Where did we get the ' to ' before the verb. There 
is no ' to ' before the Anglo-Saxon infinitive. But side 
by side with ' lufian,' to love, there was another form, the 
gerundial, or dative of the infinitive, or whatever it may 
be called, to which a ' to ' was prefixed, e.g., ' to lu- 
fianne ' = to love. The new English tongue dropped the 
infinitive proper, except when coupled with an auxiliary 
verb, and instinctively caught up this gerundive with 
its preliminary ' to,' and discarded as surplusage the 
characteristic ' ne.' Many years later the terminal 
'an' disappeared, and the result, a mixture of two 
different forms, is the infinitive 'to love.' The Anglo- 
Saxons had positively no future tense, either as the pro- 
duce of inflection, as among the Greeks and Eomans, or by 
the calling in of an auxiliary verb. But the speakers of 
modern English being thoroughly alive to the difference 
between promise and performance, between the bird in 
hand and the bird in the bush, were not long in supplying 
the deficiency in the language by employing 'shall' and 

' See inaugural lecture at Cambridge by Professor Skeat. 



204. OLD ENGLISH LITERA TURE. 

' will ' to form a simple future. Like the Scandinavians, 
too, we have done away with the Anglo-Saxon (and 
German) prefix to past participles, and no trace of it 
perhaps remains, except such forms as ' y-clept : ' a clear 
wain. Instead of troubling ourselves with a distinction 
between ' ye will ' (ge willa])) and ' will ye ' (wille ge), we 
are quite content to use the form ' will ' only. Surely it 
was an unmitigated good to get rid in common parlance of 
these and many other like superfluities, when the meaning 
of a sentence was capable of being made equally plain in 
a shorter and more expeditious manner. But h, to express 
our sharp 'th' (as in 'thin'), and S, our soft 'th' (as in 
' this '), might have been advantageously retained. Not 
that we would venture to decide that these respective 
characters did originally, as some assert, represent those 
respective sounds. Indeed it is held by some philologers 
that the sound of the sharp 'th' was unknown to the 
Anglo-Saxons, and consequently the old original rune h 
was soft. Again, it is well worth while to note the dis- 
appearance of words and phrases from our tongue which 
were very prevalent in Saxon, owing to chance, or perhaps 
to the operation of linguistic laws with which we are 
imperfectly acquainted ; the very thing that happened in 
Horace's time, and for which the only explanation he 
offers is ' custom.' Take the word ' swySe,' which occurred 
constantly in Saxon, but which has vanished, and is 
replaced by what is really a French adjective, ' vrai,' I 
mean, ' very.' The ' deserts idle ' of Milton is first ap- 
preciated when we discover that in Anglo-Saxon times 
' idel ' meant ' vacuus,' empty. 

' Fetill,' the embroidered belt of the alderman ( = duke), 
is gone with the much to be regretted worthy who wore it, 
except that in the Eastern counties we meet with ' fettle,' 
i.e., ' up to the mark,' quasi ' with loins girt,' and also as a 
verb. There was a grand old Gothic word, ' veihs,' sacred 
— cf. the verb in ' veihnai namo Jjin,' = ' hallowed be thy 
name,' and the German ' weihen,' = 'to consecrate,' whence 



A MEDLEY. 205 

' weiclibild,' i.e., district defined by sacred sign or mark. 
Tliis word appears as a prefix to tlie holy burg in Jutland, 
Vi-borg, and in Market Weighton, near wliich was God- 
mundingliam, with its idol temple. In Saxon it was ' wig,' 
whence ' weofod,' an altar ; but it was superseded by ' halig,' 
a younger word derived from ' hal ' =r ' whole, sound/ and 
then ' holy.' Why is the verb ' cwegan ' all gone but its 
imperfect 'quoth,' which is nearly obsolete, while 'speak' and 
' say ' continue ? In this connection, why should we retain 
the convenient Anglo-Saxon genitive adverbial form, 'needs' 
{e.g. in ' I must needs go '), while we have rejected another 
genitive word, ' willes,' ' willingly ' ? Tlie negative form, 
' nyllan ' = ' ne-willan ' = ' to will not,' has escaped by the 
skin of its teeth, lingering on still in our antiquated ' will 
he, nill he.' Again, 'lie bith nydwyrhta hfes h3 he mis- 
deth ' = literally, 'he is a need-doer of that which he 
misdoes,' is a compacter phrase than ' that which he does 
wrong he does not willingly but of necessity.' 

Our Saxon forefathers were not content with a simple 
negation. They must have two. The new written lan- 
guage wisely got rid of the lumber. The old way still 
survives in the dialects : ' Don't ax me no questions, and 
I'll tell thee no lies.' 

No doubt the Saxon period had a greater liberty in the 
arrangement of words, the inflections indicating the sense 
and regimen ; but then the inflections, however interesting 
in reference to the history of the language, and adding, 
perhaps, to the music of the sentence, were a long-winded 
affair after all, and much less practical than our method 
of well-nigh abolishing cumbrous case-endings, while the 
meaning is marked by the position of the word, its prece- 
dence or sequence, by the auxiliaries, and the small par- 
ticles. And hence, while the sententious Saxon was at 
the beginning of his lengthy statement, we have got to 
the end of it by a plainer, simpler, and shorter process. 
Interesting as is Saxon, and admirably fulfilling its mission, 
the bursting thoughts of a modern Englishman would have 



2o6 OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. 

l)oen (luite sniothciL'd in its prolix seiitcnces and uu\Yioldy 
top-hampcv. 

A«;niii, how useful and interesting is Anglo-Saxon in 
supplying the etymology of our language and illustrating 
its caprices. Not many of us can parse the second word 
in tlie sentence, ' woe worth the day.' It is in reality an 
Anglo-Saxon leaving (weorgan, Is. verga — ' to become '), 
which has got embedded in the old poetic language. The 
parentage of our 'but' is first ascertained by reference to 
Anglo-Saxon, where butan = be-utan = ' by-out,' i.e., ' ex- 
cept.' It is almost the same, in fact, as our 'without,' 
which we use not only as a preposition, but also in the 
sense of ' unless.' Our ' among ' must be compared with 
the Anglo-Saxon ' on-gemong ' == 'into the crowd of.' 
A curious shifting of meaning is seen in the word 
' holm,' which in Anglo-Saxon = ' sea,' while in Icelandic 
it only = ' island : ' a sense which survives among us 
in local names, such as ' Steepholme.' The Anglo-Saxon 
' langsom ' meant ' lasting,' but in modern German it = 
' slow.' Our ' fear ' is from Anglo-Saxon ' fser ' = ' terror, 
danger.' But the Scandinavian ' far ' signifies neither 
terror nor danger, but ' evil,' ' passion,' ' mischief.' 
Take ' world ; ' it is the Saxon ' woruld,' the etymology of 
which becomes still more apparent by comparing it with 
the Icelandic ' verold ' = ' the age of men,' from ' verr ' = 
a man, and ' old ' = ' age.' And talking of man, ' whose 
breath is in his nostrils,' we have in the last word, ' nostrils,' 
an instance of a common word of which, perhaps, only a 
score or two people in the country know the full etymo- 
logy, viz., ' nos-]jirl,' where ' J)irl ' is the hole pierced 
through, as 'Turl' is the passage in Oxford pierced 
through from Broad Street to 'the High' — an explana- 
tion which, however, is called in question by local 
antiquaries. At first, one does not see the full force of 
our proverb, ' The more haste the worse speed,' for ' haste ' 
and ' speed ' arc pretty much the same thing in English ; 
but in Saxon, ' sped ' := ' wealth, prosperity.' And now 



_A MEDLEY. 207 

Tve see the meaning : ' This man is in too much of a hurry 
to succeed.' So the saying, ' With your leave,' or ' By 
your leave,' is not, as many peo^jle suppose, an otiose 
repetition, but means ' against ' (Anglo-Saxon wis. I. ve5), 
or ' with your leave,' ' will you, nill you.' There is not 
a nation on earth that takes things so much in earnest 
as the English ; but few of them know how suitable the 
etymology of the word ' earnest ' is to their cantankerous 
disposition. It has nothing to do with 'yearn,' as the 
dictionaries tell you. In Anglo-Saxon, e.g., in the 
Conqueror's laws, ' ornost ' or ' eornest ' ■= ' duel.' In 
Icelandic the word also occurs, but — n having become as- 
similated — as ' orrust ' = ' war.' To say nothing here about 
the etymology of ' war,' it at all events suggests ' victory ' 
or ' conquest,' thoroughly Romance words, that in Chau- 
cer's day had ousted from the language the good old 
' sigor.' This survives in German ' sieg,' and has never 
died out in Scandinavia. That ' sir ' is the last trace of 
this old English word seems too good to be true. The 
Anglo-Saxon ' wig ' and Icelandic ' vig ' = ' war,' and the 
corresponding verb, ' vigan,' are but poorly represented in 
' wigging ' a witness, i.e., ' blowing him up,' an expression 
which many people no doubt derive from the counsel's 
wig. All that remains of ' tawian ' = ' to beat,' is found 
in East Anglian ' to tew ' = ' to knock about.' It is only 
through Anglo-Saxon we learn that the enigmatical ' all 
to break his skull ' of Judges means ' thoroughly 
smashed it,' and that ' evil will at Zion ' = ' against 
Zion.' Our ' lich '=' gate ' (or corpse-gate) is from Anglo- 
Saxon ' lig,' Icelandic ' lik,' which last word, however = 
' a body,' not only in Mr. Mantalini's sense, but also one 
up and doing. In Iceland there was a regular word for 
a dead body, viz., ' nar ' (Goth. naus). Hence takes its 
name the narhwal, Icelandic, ' niihval ' = ' unicorn fish,' 
which an old Icelandic writer says is so called because 
whoever eats its flesh dies (Spec. Eegale, 30). When 
we talk of ' to cringe,' the fawning sycophant at once 



2o8 OLD EXCLISH LITERATURE. 

occurs to us ; Imt m tlio " ]5attle of Brunanburh" and the 
" Battle of JMalilon " ' criiigau ' is said of men who fell in 
fair%lit. It is only from the Anglo-Saxon 'steopan = to 
' bereave,' that we see the true meaning of the first 
svllahle of 'step-child,' i.e., 'bereft.' Now and then 
Saxon words elucidate obscurities in other languages, e.g., 
the German 'slindfluth' (tlie Deluge) is popularly sup- 
])osed to be the 'sin ilood.' The first syllable, however, 
is nothing but the Saxon adverb 'sin' = 'semper,' 'uni- 
versal,' as in ' sincaldu ' = ' frigus permagnum,' and ' sin- 
grene ' = ' evergreen ; ' so that ' siindtluth ' is the ' universal 
Hood.' A widow owes her ' weeds ' to Anglo-Saxon ; nay, 
she has a monopoly of a dress wliich once meant apparel 
generally, e.g., in the proverbs, Exeter Book, ' him syleth 
va^de nive' = 'gives him new clothes.' Anglo-Saxon 
has another important function; it makes apparent the 
whims and fancies in which language will sometimes run 
riot. Our word ' island,' where did it get that s ? The 
answer is, from 'isle.' But whence came its second 
syllable, ' land ' ? The answer is, from ' ig-land,' Anglo- 
Saxon = ' island.' In the Herefordshire adage — 

" Blessed is the eye 
That's between Severn and Wye," 

' Kye'=:I. 'ey.' We see that our word is a hybrid, manu- 
factured irregularly out of a French and Saxon one. 
Apropos of island, the present name of a celebrated island, 
lona, is a mere blunder. Adamnan calls it loua or Jova, 
an adjective in feminine, suband. 'insula,' i.e., 'Hy.' 
Tlie scribes, by turning u into % changed it into lona.^ , 
In such words, again, as ' songstress ' and ' sempstress,' 
the French termination is quite otiose; 'songster' and 
' sempster ' being Anglo-Saxon feminine forms to begin 
with (though the more ancient form of the noun feminine 
is in en), just like ' spinster' is; which, by good luck, was 
let alone, and is retained by us in her original dress, if 

^ Ileeves' Adamn., 259. 



A MEDLEY. 209 

WQ can only providentially keep her in that becoming 
costume. It is curious that in Saxon, as well as Icelandic, 
the ordinal number, the second, does not exist, and is 
represented by ' ojjer ' (Is. ' annarr ') = ' the other.' The 
etymology of our ' eleven ' appears from A.-S. ' end-lufon,' 
coupled with I. ' ellifu,' Goth. ' ainlif.' Eemoving excre- 
scences, we have ' enluf ' or ' ainluf.' The suffix -Zz/ cognate 
with Lith. -lika = decern. So Prof. Skeat, Etym. Diet., 
J. Kok ("The Dialect of South Jutland," p. 100) makes D. 
' elleve ' = ' one left,' i.e., ' one over ten,' from I. ' lifa,' to 
be left.' 

Our early Anglo-Saxon forefathers (Bede, De Mensibus) 
had their own peculiar names for the months. Thus they 
called March HrtedemonaS (from an extinct Anglo-Saxon 
goddess, Hreda) = ' fierce month,' reminding us of Mr. 
Tennyson's " roaring moon ; " while their name for April 
was EostremonaS^ from another goddess, Eostra, in whose 
name we discern our Christian Easter, jMay was called 
hrymylce = ' three-milk month.' So fat were the meadows 
that the milch kine came three times a day to the pail.^ 
At one time the Scandinavians were like to have had 
their week-days diiierently named from all their European 
relations. Bishop Jon (died 1121), in his zeal for the 
extirpation of every heathen recollection, altered the 
names of the week into ' second day,' ' third day,' &c., 
pretty much like the revolutionary Frenchmen changed 
the names of the months to suit the then prevalent ideas. 
We call the last day of the week ' Saturday,' but not so 
the Scandinavians. With them it was ' Laugardagr,' 
washing-day, the day appointed by law for washing and 
cleaning. This washing had a religious cliaracter, and came 
from a remote heathen age. In the Hist. Eliensis (Gale, 
p. 547) we are told of the Northmen that 'habebant con- 
suetudinem sabbatis balneare ; ' which ceremony, together 

1 Charlemagne nair.ed the months afresh in his own vernacular, "they 
having hitherto borne names partly Latin, partly barbarous" (Einhard, 
Vit. Car. Ma^'n., c. 29). 





2 , o OLD ENGLISH LITE E A TUEE. 

\s'\\\\ their solemn liair-comLing on tliat day, set the 
Saxons a wondering ; at all events, it spoke for the superior 
refinement of ' the heathen.' May not, by the way, our 
institution of cropping close the hair of a convict be a 
reminiscence of ancient days when long hair was the 
si«Tn and ornament of Anglo-Saxon freedom ? 

The Anglo-Saxons, as we have said elsewhere, were very 
fond of alliteration in all its varieties, especially in poetry. 
When the martial song was sung, these alliterative words 
were musically emphasised, the company joining in by 
striking their swords upon their shields, or by uttering 
hollow sounds into the concave side of them, a custom 
mentioned by Tacitus. There was a noble simplicity and 
grandeur about the strain which enthusiasts compare to the 
sound in the tree-tops of some dark forest struck by the 
evening wind. It is difficult nowadays to form anything 
like a true idea of the imposing effect thus produced. 
Most of the attempts to reintroduce this sort of verse 
have failed ; as, for instance, Eiickert's " jBoland der i^ies 
am Nathans zu B?'emen." The right tone seems more 
nearly caught in the lines of Fouque's "Thiodolph," be- 
ginning "Weit in Weinberg." But the spirit has fled 
which created these natural sounds, and all attempts to 
recreate them must degenerate into mere empty form and 
artifice. Alliteration in modern England is well-nigh 
forgotten, or has become dwarfed into mere orthoepic 
tests for the young, e.g., 'Peter Piper picked a peck of 
pickled pepper,' or ' Pound the rugged rocks the ragged 
rascals ran." Before it fell out of use, it would most 
likely get torn to tatters : notably on the stage, as is clear 
from the hit Shakespeare deals it in his prologue to that 
tragic interlude in " Midsummer Night's Dream " — 

" Whereat with blade, with bloody, blameful blade, 
He bravely broached his boiling, bloody breast." 

The Anglo-Saxon language was far richer in poetical 
appliances for this sort of verse than the modern. Por 



A MEDLEY. 211 

instance, there were a great many different expressions 
for one word, e.g., ' man.' The language, too, was equally 
rich in adjectives full of plastic signification. Many words 
that permitted this alliteration have disappeared altogether 
from our tongue. 

Bishop Lupus in his rousing address exhibits instances 
of this alliteration with good effect. He couples together 
' stric ' and ' steorfa,' = sedition and plague ; ' here ' and 

* hunger,' =:: army (of the Danes) and famine ; ' stalu ' and 

* qualu,' = robbery and murder ; ' hoi ' and ' hete,' = slander 
and hatred ; ' dered Searle,' = damaged severely. Though 
in the equivalent of ' rypera reaflac,' = rapine of reivers, 
and ' bryne ' and ' blodgyte,' = burning and blood-spilling, 
we are still able to retain alliteration. 

As late as 15 th January 1548, it was a keen and telling 
weapon in the trenchant hand of a Latimer. Those " un- 
preaching prelates " who heard his sermon that day deli- 
vered in the shroudes of St. Paul's Church in London must 
have winced not a little as they heard. " They are so 
troubled with lordly living, they be so placed in pallaces, 
couched in courtes, ruffeling in their rentes, dauncing in 
their dominions, burdened with ambassages, pomping of 
their paunches, mouching in their maungers, moyling in 
their gay manors and mansions, and so troubled with 
loitering in their lordshippes that they cannot attend to 
it (preaching) " (" Sermon of the Plougli "). 

In legal formulas the Anglo-Saxon people were quite as 
much addicted to this artifice, which was no doubt intended 
as an aid to the memory.^ It was a method also in vogue 
in the North,^ and was probably a survival from very 
ancient times. In the Canons of Edgar (9) we have this 
alliteration or love of repetition run mad, so to say, in the 
form of confession, but which is not reproducible in Eng- 
lish. " I confess the sins of my body in fell and flesh, in 

1 So in the charters, 'sac' and 'soc,' 'strand' and 'stream,' 'tol' and 
'team.' Thorpe, 245. 
- Cf . Gragas, i. 206, formula for makiug a truce. 



2 1 2 OLD ENGLISH LITER A TUEE. 

bono and sinew, in tlie veins and the gristle, in the tongue 
anil in the lips, in the gums, in the teeth, and in the hair, 
in overvthing soft and everything hard, wet or dry." Here 
we are reminded of the form used in excommunication, 
equally explicit to the very last jot and tittle, and which 
the auilior of " Ingoldsby " has immortalised in his " Car- 
dinal." 

In the above pages we have endeavoured to show gene- 
rally what the Anglo-Saxon literature is and what it is 
not,i and have hinted how, philologically and grammati- 
cally, it bears upon English. We have not attempted to 
treat the subject exhaustively, but rather in a popular and 
suggestive form. Having by this time got a fair notion 
of how much Anglo-Saxon literature, language, and cus- 
toms bear upon these things in modern England, the 
reader will, if he so list, address himself to the further 
prosecution of the study. Those who have neither oppor- 
tunity nor inclination to venture further will have, at all 
events, acquired a certain amount of information, we hope 
interesting and instructive, though necessarily fragmentary 
and incomplete. And we may promise the reader that 
the value of this will be greatly enhanced by a study of 
our Second Part. Every step taken in the field of Ice- 
landic literature will throw fresh light on what has been 
already said, and to Icelandic we shall therefore now turn. 

1 Semi-Saxon with its Layamon and Ormulum does not enter into tlie 
scoiie of this inquiry. 



Part 3IL 

ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 



CHAPTEE I. 

THE REFORMATION IN ICELAND SUPPRESSION OF THE 

MONASTERIES CONSEQUENT DISPERSION OF MSS. 

We have seen above, in the First Part of this work, how 
Archbishop Parker, with others, rescued from destruction 
the almost forgotten remnants of Anglo-Saxon learning 
which still survived in England in his day after the 
destruction of the monasteries. In Iceland, where the 
literary activity had been wonderfully fertile, a vast quan- 
tity of old vellum MSS. was stored in these establish- 
ments, mementoes of that past Augustan age. But the 
voice of Luther began to be heard in this distant isle, 
conveyed, doubtless, in heretical tracts and treatises by 
German traders from Hamburg.^ Jon Einarson, rector of 
Skalholt, who had secretly read some of these publications, 
ventured, one Candlemas Day, under the very nose of 
Bishop Ogmund, to call invocation of saints idolatry. 
But, worse still, another clerk, Gizur Einarson, whom the 
Bishop had sent to school at Hamburg at his own expense, 
heard Luther and Melancthon preach at Wittenberg, and 
came back to Iceland a staunch Lutheran, to the intense 
disgust of his patron. Meantime, one Didrik of Minden, 
a German by descent, who had for some years been fac- 

1 Kcyser, Norske Kirkes Historic, p. 847. 



2 1 4 ICE LA NDIC LITER A TURE. 

totum of the Danisli authorities in Iceland, thought he 
iiii;^'ht as well follow the lead of his royal master, Christian 
III., in Denmark, and set about despoiling the religious 
houses in the island on his own account. The Augustinian 
Ahbey of Vido was his first quarry. The inmates were 
packed off, and their goods and chattels appropriated. 
This took place May 25, 1539, which was Whitsunday. 
He next started off for the monasteries of Thykkvabo and 
Kirkiubo, breathing out threatenings against the unfortu- 
nate monks. On the road it occurred to him to turn aside 
and pay a visit to Ogrnund, the Bishop of Skalholt, who 
was now blind. Loading the aged prelate with insults, he 
boasted to him that he could take all Iceland with six 
men. The soft answers of the old man failed to turn away 
the wrath of the spoiler, who only became more violent, 
liouring out a torrent of the vilest abuse in German. At 
this juncture a noise was heard outside. It was the 
Bishop's nearest tenants, who had got word from his 
assessor to come to the rescue, and had beset all the 
approaches to the apartment where Didrik sat carousing, 
liesistance availed not, and the whole band, leader and 
all, fell, save a boy of twelve, August 10, 1539. The 
Bishop swore he was not privy to the transaction, which 
seems to have been strictly true. But shortly after, the 
old man, now eighty years of age, was surprised in his 
bed, and, in spite of the remonstrances of his attached and 
aged sister, set upon a horse and carried off, thinly clad 
and in cold weather, to the coast, after being cajoled, by 
false promises of liberty, out of his gold and all his valu- 
ables. He was then carried off to Denmark, and died the 
next year at Soro. Charges of complicity in this transac- 
tion and of base ingratitude to his old patron, and appa- 
rently not without reason, w^ere brought against Gizur 
Einarson, who succeeded him in the see of Skalholt. At 
heart he was a Eeformer, but the stiff-necked Icelanders 
still stuck to the old faith, and the new one made but 
little progress. 



THE REFORM A TION IN ICELAND. 1 1 5 

A great liindrance to tlie Eeformation had, it is true, 
"been removed in Bishop Ogmund, but in Jon Areson, the 
Bishop of Holar in the iSTorth, it had a much more formid- 
able and potent antagonist to contend with. A staunch 
Papist in all but the matter of celibacy, which he had 
practically scouted when yet a priest, living in open con- 
cubinage with Helga Sigurd's daughter, by whom he had 
five sons and two daughters, he nevertheless thought it 
best for the present to profess much respect for the royal 
ordinances proclaiming the establishment of the Eefor- 
mation. Gizur, his episcopal brother of Skalholt, on the 
other hand, did what he could in the contrary direction, 
doing away with Eomish observances whenever he could. 
Not far from Skalholt stood a wayside cross, by the mouth 
of the Olve river, which was the object of much supersti- 
tious veneration. It stank, consequently, in the nostrils 
of the Eeforming Bishop. In February 1 548 he rode to 
the spot and had the cross pulled down. On his home- 
ward ride he was seized with illness, took to his bed, and 
died in a month — a signal instance, of course, in the eyes 
of the Eomanists, of the just judgment of God. Mean- 
while news of the victory achieved over the Protestants 
by the Emperor Charles V. in the preceding April (1547) 
at Miihlberg had reached Jon Areson, and he was embol- 
dened to throw off the mask. He at once wrote, it is said, 
to the Emperor, begging him to send an expedition to Ice- 
land from the Netherlands. He also wrote to the then 
Pope, Paul III., August 7, 1548, asking for counsel. The 
former letter miscarried. To the latter he received an 
answer the following year, dated 8th March, encouraging 
him to resist King Christian III.'s introduction of the 
Eeformation into the island. This Papal rescript came in 
the nick of time. Sooth to say, at this very moment, the 
sturdy upholder of the old faith needed moral as well as 
physical support ; for only a few months before the new 
Protestant Bishop of the Southern See, Skalholt, returned 
to the island from Denmark with a royal letter proclaim- 



2 1 6 ICEL A XDIC LITER A TUBE. 

iug Jon Arcson an outlaw. Yerily it was an occasion to 
be'made the most of. All the priests and clerks of the 
diocese were summoned to the cathedral of Holar to hear 
the Papal letter read, while Bishop Jon, standing before 
the altar in his most gorgeous vestments, crosier in hand 
and mitro on his head, thanked God and the Pope, and 
vowed he would die rather than betray either the one 
or the other. As good as his word, he had the letter 
translated into the vernacular and distributed about the 
country, and at a meeting of the clergy resolutions were 
agreed to for the suppression of the new " idolatry." That 
autumn Bishop Jon, learning that his brother prelate, 
]\Iartin of Skalholt, was on a visitation on the borders of 
his own diocese, secretly despatched a hundred armed men, 
who succeeded in surprising the Bishop and carrying him 
away captive. 

Previous to this, Bishop Peter Plade of Seeland, in 
Denmark, had written to Bishop Jon Areson, urging him 
to submit to the King, and telling him that it was vain to 
expect help from his friend. Pope Paul III., as he was 
dead, and before another Pope was elected Jon might be 
dead too. To this friendly advice the Bishop paid no 
regard. Xay more, he resolved to meet his adversaries 
face to face, and journeyed to the Althing with four hun- 
dred armed men. With such a force he carried everything 
before him, and succeeded in deposing the speaker, and 
placing his own son. Are, in his stead. Thence he made 
a swoop upon Skalholt; and when the garrison showed 
signs of resistance, put the captive Bishop, whom he had 
with him, in front of his men as a mark to their missiles, 
and so caused them to surrender. During his stay he re- 
consecrated the cathedral, which he pronounced deiiled by 
the Protestant worship, and he had Bishop Gizur's corpse 
dug up and buried outside the churchyard, as the corpse 
of a heretic. He then held a meeting of the clergy, and 
had himself proclaimed lawful administrator of the dio- 
cese; and he finished up his thoroughgoing proceedings 



THE REFORM A TION IN ICE LA ND. 1 1 7 

witli the consecration of a priest in the church, after the 
approved Eomish fashion. He then made a round of the 
western coast, visiting monasteries, routing out the Danish 
officials who had snugly ensconced themselves therein, 
reconsecrated churches, and returned to his episcopal seat 
at Holar, saying he had now got all Iceland under him 
save a boor's son or two, alluding, doubtless, to his great 
opponent, the captive Bishop's brother-in-law, Dade Gud- 
mundson, who was of low birth, but the most powerful 
person in Western Iceland, notwithstanding his being 
under the ban of Jon Areson.^ He next placed the 
Church's ban on Gisle Jonson, priest of Seladal, on the 
ground that he was a married man,- an offence of which, 
as we have seen, the prelate was equally guilty ; but the 
real cause of his ire was that, on his own deposition, he 
ascertained Gisle Jonson was nominated by the King to 
succeed him. 

The Bishop's sons did not all of them approve of their 
father's proceedings. Sigurd the priest kept aloof entirely. 
Are often said he knew his father was in the wrong, but 
he did not like to desert him in his old age ; while Bjorn, 
on the other hand, egged him on still farther along the 

1 An anecdote is related hereanent lak, born 1133, i.e., just forty-five 
which illustrates the old Icelaudic years after the death of Dunstan, on 
saying, that when people are slander- his return to Iceland from a six years' 
iiig or gossiping about a person behind residence in Paris and England, medi- 
his back, he hiccoughs every time his tated marriage with a rich and noble 
name is mentioned. The same day widow. Unluckily, or luckily, for 
that the Bishop fulminated the ex- the latter, the night before he iu- 
communication against Dade, the lat- tended to propose to her, he was 
ter was seized with a violent fit of warned in a dream not to do so, and 
hiccough, when he observed, " About ever after he remained a bachelor 
me is the word, when I am not at the (Hist. Ecclesiast., p. 288). Nay, in the 
board." year 1179, we find him formally pro- 

2 Liberty of lawful marriage to the mulgating the edict of Archbishop 
clergy, and the legitimisation of their Eistein enjoining celibacy on the 
offspring, was at last conceded by clergy (ibid., i. 112), a law never 
King Christian III., in a rescript, accepted by the clergy. They were 
dated Copenhagen, St. Gall's Day, quite ready to attend to Papal pre- 
1551. Cf. Finni Johannei Historia cepts about shaving their beards and 
Kcclesiastica Islandica, vol. ii. p. 308. clipping their hair, so that the lobes 
Long had this matter been a bone of of the ears might be visible ; abstain 
contention in Iceland. Even St. Thor- from gaudy colours in their dress 



:iS 'ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

slippery path of fanaticism and ambition. And thus he 
kept on his course, spite of threats and warnings, till an 
abvss opened in front of him from which there was no 
retreat. 

Dade Gudmundson, whom lie regarded as his sole re- 
maining foe of any note in the island, he now determined 
to crush at one powerful stroke. With ninety armed men 
he marched, 29th September 1550, to Saudafell, a country- 
house belonging to Dade, but which was claimed as his 
own property by Are, the son of the Bishop. But Dade 
came to the rescue with a larger force, and beset the place 
in spite of the lire of the Bishop's men. He offered those 
inside liberty to depart unharmed, which was refused by 
the Bishop. Presently the Episcopalians retired to the 
church close by, closely pressed by the besiegers. They 
managed, however, to make good their entrance, and bar- 
ricaded themselves inside. But not for long ; and on an 
entrance being effected by Dade and his men, the Bishop was 
seen standing in front of the high altar in full pontificals, 
the consecrated wafer in one hand, an image of the Virgin 
in the other. But in Dade's fierce followers the sight 
failed to inspire awe. The Bishop had acted too much 
like a Viking to escape the fate of one. In his ambitious 
violence his sanctity had collapsed. One profane fellow 
threw himself on the unfortunate prelate, and with ex- 

an<l so on (Kcyser, Norske Kiike) ; were, by the end of the eleventh cen- 
but when they were forbidden niatri- tury, brought under this detestable re- 
inony, this was the addition to the striction, and knuckled down to Rome 
burden that broke the camel's back, in the long-run in everything great 
They resented the order as an in- and small, notwithstanding cases of 
fringemeut of their natural rights ; individual resistance. Dunstan long 
and the country sustained them, and had the discredit of backing up the 
marry they did, like good honest Popes in these celibatic encroach- 
fellows ; and Isleifr and his brother ments on his brother clerics (see Mil- 
bishops and clergy, .and their succes- man) ; but he, like Henry VIII. and 
sors to the d,ays of the Reformation others, has been whitewashed, in this 
and after, were the fathers of happy case most justly, of the charges made 
families born in wedlock. Nought against him, and it has been proved by 
such can suruly be predicated of our Stubbs that "he vindicated clerical 
Anglo-Saxon clergy, who, with the mnrriage .against the Popes "("Memo- 
Romish clergy of the rest of Europe rials of S. Dunstan," cxviii., Stubbs). 



THE RE FORM A TION IN ICE LA XD. 2 1 9 

treme violence, like tlie men of Brennns did on the Con- 
script Fathers, and dragged him out of the church, and he 
was sent forthwith, together with his two sons, under a 
strong escort to Snakedal. A court was set three weeks 
later, at which the liberated Bishop Martin and the 
Danish commissary. Christian, were present, and it pro- 
nounced the memorable ' Doom of Snakedal,' to wit, that 
the Bishop and his sons were lawful prisoners. The 
prisoners were then removed to Skalholt, and a council 
was held to determine what was next to be done. Opi- 
nions were divided, and the deliberations lasted for several 
days. The Danish commissary, fearing an attack from the 
Bishop's friends in the North, was averse to being his jailor. 
AVhat was to be done ? " Do ! " exclaimed one of the 
inquisitors, Priest Jon Bjarneson, " why the axe and the 
earth will make all safe." The words fell upon willing 
ears, and after a show of opposition on the part of Dade 
and others, the death of the captives was resolved on with- 
out any regular trial. The Bishop now saw what his own 
' unbounded stomacli ' and the evil counsels of others had 
brought him to. Still he retained his firmness. Of his 
sons, Bjorn behaved pitifully ; but his other son, Are, as 
usual, carried himself calmly and courageously. The three 
were placed in separate cells, but allowed to see each otlier 
occasionally : and on the last day of their life received the 
" body of God " from the hands of Bishop Jon. 

On Friday the 7th November, a simple block was erected 
in the courtyard of the palace at Skalholt, at which stood 
a man fetched from Bessastad, axe in hand. Arii, the son, 
strode first to the place of execution, with a constancy 
which never left him. He had been offered, it M'as said, 
free pardon if he would swear never to seek revenge, but 
lie refused. Taking leave of Bishop Martin and Dade, 
who stood by, he knelt down and stretched his head on 
the block, and it was severed at a blow. Bjiirn was next 
led out, and as he laid his head on the block kept exclaim- 
ing in piteous accents, " My poor little children ! " In his 



220 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

extroinity of fear he screwed neck and shoulders close 
Uvether, and it was not till the fourth blow that he was 
decapitated. Between each blow he is said to have cried 
for mercy. The old Bishop came next. He was offered 
his life. " No," said he ; " they have followed me well, 
and I will follow them." As he passed Dade, he offered 
to release him from the interdict he had placed on him. 
" Interdict ! " retorted Dade, " thou canst see no more trace 
of interdict on me than on thyself." At the block he 
kneeled and said in Latin, " Lord, into Thy hands I com- 
mend my spirit." His shoulders were much bent from 
age, and it was not till the fifth or sixth blow that his 
head was separated from his body. After lying exposed 
for some hours, the bodies were at last, at the prayer of 
some humanely-disposed persons, removed and buried in 
the churchyard behind the choir. 

So fell the last Popish Bishop of Iceland, betokening, in^ 
his resistance to the new order of things and in the un- 
ruffled calmness of his end, the blood that ran in his veins. 
He had children who had enough of their father and the 
old Northern strain about them to determine on a blood 
revenge. His daughter, Thorun, a bigoted Eoman Catho- 
lic, and a woman of a high and vengeful spirit, equipped 
some of the Northern people with arms on their road to 
the great south country iishing-gathering that Christmas. 
Hither came, among the rest, Christian, the Danish com- 
missary, and at the first opportunity he was set upon by 
the emissaries, and, after a long resistance, a lad of Tho- 
run's despatched him by forcing a spear under his coat of 
mail and up through his bowels. So fell the chief doomer 
of the Bishop, hated by most people. 

The next 30th March, thirty men, accompanied by three 
priests, suddenly arrived at Skalholt, and demanded of 
Bishop Martin permission to disinter the three corpses, 
and he dared not refuse the request. The bodies were 
taken up with the utmost haste, and placed in coffins 
brought for the purpose. Arrived at Holar, all the cathe- 



THE REFORM A TION IN ICELAND. 221 

dral bells rang, responding to the bells attached to each 
coffin, and a number of clergy stationed outside conducted 
the cavalcade into the church, where the three were buried 
with great pomp. They were looked upon as saints, and 
many people, blind, or affected with other disorders, pressed 
forward to touch the coffins, and apparently received a 
cure. 

Shortly after two Danish men-of-war appeared off the 
coast, and Sigurd, the Bishop's son, who had been elected 
to succeed him, thought it best to subside into private life, 
and thus the old Eoman Church of Iceland fell, and the 
Eeformed Church took its place, a.d. 1551. 

The adherents and relations of the Bishop were on 
the whole treated with clemency, but most of the valu- 
ables belonging to the cathedral lucre escheated to the King 
and carried off to Copenhagen. When the present writer 
visited the place, a few hangings in cunning needle- 
work were the sole memorials' of the pomp and state of 
this Icelandic compound of Wolsey and Becket. The 
memory of the Bishop is held in honour to this day 
among the Icelanders. The first families in the island 
count it a great distinction to be of his stock. Nor 
has it escaped remark that of Iceland's later bishops, 
five of Skalholt and three of Holar were descended from 
him. Possessed of fine natural gifts, Jon Areson was of 
a thoroughly ungovernable spirit. He was just the man 
to play the part of a great potentate in those days. Fond 
of splendour, hospitable, munificent, proud, and energetic, 
he was every way calculated to win the admiration of his 
countrymen. Not a whit behind Bishop Ogmund in 
worldly ambition and love of rule, he was inferior to him 
in intellectual acquirements : not so, however, in the force 
of his understanding. A poor Latin scholar, he was an 
excellent poet, perhaps the very best of his day, and, like 
the old Scalds, ever ready with some metrical effusion 
when occasion requii-ed. In the society of intimate friends 



J : : ICE LA NDIC LITER A TURE. 

lie was cheerful and jocose, but in ordinary life, and in the 
business of his calling, he could display a dignity in keep- 
ing with his high office.^ His chief adversary, Dade, on 
the other hand, was held in no such regard; and when, 
some years later, 1563, he died of a cancer in the face, it 
was regarded by his cotemporaries as a judgment from 
Heaven. 

1 Kevser, Den Norsko Kirkes Hist., p. 845. 



( 223 ) 



CHAPTER II. 

COLLECTORS AND COPYISTS OF MSS. — ARNE AIAGNUSSON. 

We have given in the preceding chapter a leaf out of tlie 
history of the Icelandic Eeformation, not only for its own 
romantic interest, but in order to show how matters began 
to fare with the monasteries, the chief receptacles of old 
Icelandic learning. Of course all the MSS. were scattered 
abroad or destroyed, pretty much as had happened in 
England a few years before ; but with this difference, that 
there was no Archbishop Pai'ker empowered by royal 
mandate to rescue literary remains from destruction. 
What was done for the immense stock of Icelandic MSS. 
was due to private intelligence and enterprise.^ It was 
not till 1600, some fifty years after the suppression of 
the monasteries in Iceland (in Norway, where they were 
never popular, they were suppressed twenty years earlier), 
that a new intellectual life began to be awakened. 

Oddr Einarson, Bishop of Skalholt, a wise and learned 
man, was the first to set about making collections and 
copying the old documents found there. His collection 
of deeds and diplomas is the best extant, thougli the 
originals are lost. A little later, Arngrim Jonas began 
rummaging out of their various hiding-places all over the 
island the stray MS. treasures, and acquiring everything 
he could lay his hands on. A taste at once commenced 
for making paper copies of the old vellums which turned 
up. One of the most industrious of these copyists was 
Jon Gizurarson (died 1648), brotlier of Bishop Brynjolf- 

1 Biskupa SiJgur, p. viii. 



2 24 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

son. A nnnilior of his autograph copies are still in 
existence. ]Iis contemporary, Bjoni of Skardsa, a most 
conscientious and trustworthy person, got hold of a great 
number of old MSS. Bishop Thorlak Skulason, who lived 
about the same date, was the first to collect and copy 
those most interesting biographies, the Lives of the Ice- 
landic Bishops from a.d. 1056 to 1330 (Biskupa Sogur), 
some of which were first written down shortly after A.D. 
1 200. These throw a world of light on all sorts of matters 
connected with the history of the twelfth, thirteenth, and 
fourteenth centuries. It must be remembered that no work 
of a similar kind appeared in England till the latter half 
of the nineteenth century. Skulason's collection consists 
of three books, two upon parchment, which, as the 
originals have been lost, are exceedingly valuable. But 
of all the copyists of old Icelandic lore, Bishop Brynjolfr 
Sveinson bears the palm. What he did in this line, with 
the able assistance of the Eev. Jon Erlendsson (1632-72), 
is truly astonishing. By the exertions of these men and 
others, to whom Iceland and the literary world owes an 
exceeding debt of gratitude, a heap of the best sagas have 
survived which would otherwise have been lost. This 
will become the more apparent when we state that many 
of these sagas survived in their day only in a single 
vellum in all Iceland, and of some of these original vel- 
lums not a shred remains, so that were it not for the 
copies then taken, they would have been xitterly lost. 
Such were the " Islendingabok," the " Landnamab(5k," 
" Svarfdoela," " Vatnsdcela," and others. " Vigastyr Saga " 1 
is entirely lost. At the great nre in Copenhagen, 1728, 
which utterly destroyed the University Library, irre- 
parable havoc was made among the Icelandic trea- 
sures. In the seventeenth century many choice vellums 

' Failing to obtain a copy of this original vellum, perished in the great 

saga in Iceland, Arne Magnusson fire. A year later the copyist set 

procured the JIS. from Stockholm, down from memory what he remem- 

A copy -was made of it by John bered of the original. 
Olaffsen, which, together with the 



COLLECTORS AND COPYISTS OF MSS. 



-^-5 



had been sent from Iceland as presents to Ole Worm, 
Eesenius, and others : many of these had got into the 
library and utterly perished, e.g., the "Eyrbyggia," also 
"Fagrskinna" and " Kringla," which came from ISTorM^ay 
and belonged to the library. The vellums in the Eoyal 
Library which did not suffer from that fire, including the 
priceless " Codex Eegius " of most of the old Edda, sent 
by Bishop Sweinson of Skalholt to King Frederick III. 
of Denmark, were saved. The Icelandic MSS. sent to 
Sweden in the middle of the seventeenth century are now 
for the most part safe in the libraries of Stockholm and 
Upsala, But we must here make mention of the man who 
did for Icelandic MSS. at the beginning of the eighteenth 
century what Archbishop Parker did for Anglo-Saxon in 
the sixteenth. We mean Arne Magnusson (died 1730), the 
professor of Northern antiquities at Copenhagen. Many 
admirable persons, as we have seen, had laboured before 
him, and to some extent he entered into their labours ; but 
as a most untiring collector of old Icelandic MSS. he was 
facile princeps. For ten years of his life he was occupied 
in travelling in Iceland from farm to farm, hunting up 
MSS, which might be stored up in those huge oak chests, 
receptacles of the wardrobe and everything accounted 
valuable by the peasants, or lurking peradventure over 
the doors of the guest chambers or elsewhere. Being 
armed with authority as a Danish official, his facilities 
were great, and, like Parker, he was equal to the occasion. 
Nothing escaped him, and whatever was to be found in 
Iceland in the shape of a valuable record about 1700, he 
found it and carried it off to Copenhagen. In Norway, 
likewise, he secured many manuscripts, penetrating as 
far as Nordland in quest of them. Many of these were 
presents from private persons, e.g., from Dean Miltsow in 
Voss ; some which he borrowed were never returned. But, 
of course, these book collectors are apt to be oblivious. ' 
At the above disastrous conflagration pretty near all his 
vellums escaped. But, besides this, he had a staff of 

p 



22G ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

scribes, lioaded by Asgeir Jonsson, constantly at work 
transcribinj:; vellums not in his possession. To crown all, 
lie left by will the whole of his library of MSS. to the 
University of Copenhagen, together with a sum of money 
to be employed in their printing and publication. The 
result of which beneficence has been the appearance of 
that goodly array of quarto volumes, containing all the 
chief Icelandic works, each volume having on its title- 
page a representation of the founder. To tell the truth, 
many of the texts are very badly done. Arne Magnusson 
would turn over in his grave were he to see them. 

The first impulse to inquiry into Icelandic literature in 
England — not so much, perhaps, in a learned as in a 
popular sense — was given by Bishop Percy's translation 
of Mallet's "Northern Antiquities," a.d. 1770, dedicated 
" to such persons as study the ancient languages of the 
North" — at that period a very select few. The trans- 
lator's preface had no little share in provoking the study 
which has since yielded such valuable fruit. And if in 
his " Relics of Early English Poetry " he conferred a 
lasting benefit on our own language and poetic litera- 
ture, his Scandinavian illustrations were perhaps scarcely 
less valuable in directing attention to the grand old 
fountain-head of our legendary lore. The poet Gray, with 
his odes " The Eatal Sisters " and the " Descent of Odin," 
i.e., to Hel's abode — translations from the Icelandic, the 
former from the Norn song in the Njal saga, the latter 
from " VegtamskviSa " in the old Edda, through the 
medium, however, of Latin versions — would, doubtless, 
whet English curiosity to know more of this vigorous 
language and literature,^ In 1782 the Ptev. James John- 
son, chaplain to the British embassy, published at Copen- 

' Jlr. Pvitson, however, " Early Eng- savage and degraded people, from 

lish Metrical Romances," preface, p. whom it is vain to expect proofs of 

•xxvi., regrets that Mr. Gray should genius." The Saxons, too, were by 

have polluted his sublime Pindarics no means in his good graces. He 

with the Scandinavian mythology, tells us that there is only one single 

With him the Northmen are "a Suxon romance in existence, " Apol- 



COLLECTORS AND COPYISTS OF MSS. 22? 

hagen "The Death-Song of Lodbrog," followed (1786) by 
his " Antiquitates Celto-ScandicEe," and containing speci- 
mens of Snorri, &c. "Walter Scott followed suit in the 
same line in his translations and imitations from the 
Icelandic. Now, will the reader be surprised to hear 
that this language, of which, perhaps, he knows so little, 
was once so well understood in England, at all events by 
the higher classes, that the old Norse tongue in the mouth 
of the Northern Minstrel was current at the English 
court ? Nay, Gunlaug, a famed scald, talked with King 
Ethelred about matters in general in London streets, 
while, as we have seen, the tale of a Northern navigator 
w^as perfectly appreciated by King Alfred. 

In this language, and in it alone, is embalmed much 
that is interesting to us as Englishmen. AVe know that, 
though now Christians, we were once Pagans. We once 
had a mythology which, though it very early grew pale 
in the light of Christianity, was once more or less 
common in its main features to all the Teutonic races. 
Ijut of that mythology all memory as a systematic whole 
would have perished, had not two documents been pre- 
served to us which present to us, in words that cannot 
die, the very form and fashion of that wondrous edifice 
of mythology which our forefathers in the dawn of time 
imagined to tliemselves — their theogony and cosmogony.^ 

We mean the two Eddas : " The Older Edda," a collec- 
tion of traditional legends, first collected, it is said, by 
Saemundr Sigfusson (born 1054, died 11 33}, but which 
existed previous to the emigration to Iceland, and is 
probably as old as the seventh century — the century to 
wdiich belong the oldest remnants of Saxon, of Low 

lonius" (a translation from tlie Latin), whether Scots, Picts, or Danes." Cf. 
forgetting apparently that "Beowulf" "For dullness the creeping Saxons," 
— which was in his time, however, in a poetical list of national charac- 
hardly known— may be fairly classed teristics in llacfirbi's "Book of Gene- 
in that category. These Saxons he alogies," cited by O'Curry (Materials 
pronounces to be "a spiritless and for Irish History, p. 224). 
cowardly race, at the mercy of any ^ Dasent, '"Introduction to Ice- 
one who sought to invade them, laudic Dictionary." 



2 2 S ICELA XDIC L I TEJRA TURK. 

(Jormaii and High German, as represented respectively 
in " Beowulf," in the " Heliand," and Otfried's " Christ." 
" The Younger Edda," designed by Snorri as an Ars Poetica, 
a course of poetical lectures illustrated by old poetic scraps, 
for his young countrymen desirous of cultivating verse. 
He wrote it circa 1241. Coupled with it was a prose ver- 
sion of the lays contained in the elder Edda, to explain the 
many figures and allusions in old Icelandic poetry.^ 

' The reader will liave observed days all over Scandinavia, yet they 

that we have generally used the were almost invariably the work of 

term 'Icelandic' The rich and racy Icelanders living in Iceland, e.g., 

language in which these imperishable Ari Frodi, Sasmund, Snorri Sturle- 

jnonuments were cast— the Old Norse, son, and Sturla Thordarson, the cou- 

Danisli, or Icelandic, as it is indiffe- tinuer of the sagas after Snorri. 
reutly called— was current in those 



229 ) 



CHAPTEE III. 

PROSE EDDA AND ITS DISCOVERER, ARNGRIM JONAS. 

The disinterment of the (prose) Edda, and its publica- 
tion to Europe is due primarily to Arngrim Jonas, an 
Icelandic clergyman, who, in his " Crymogaja sive Eerum 
Islandicarum," libri iii. (the first edition of which appeared 
at Hamburg, 1609, only six years after the death of 
Queen Elizabeth), seriously set about spreading a know- 
ledge of his remote Thule to the outside world. 

Hearing much in his lone and simple parsonage at Mel- 
stad in North- Western Iceland, of the activity of Ole 
Worm, the great Danish antiquary, in Eunic and Northern 
lore, he writes to him at the request of their common friend, 
Thorlak Skulesen, Bishop of Holar, 15th August 1626. 
Worm replies in great delight at meeting w^ith so 
congenial a spirit. " It was no pay, no promised reward 
that led him, when his grave avocations permitted it, to 
disinter Northern antiquities, but the sheer love of the 
thing." He is soon deep in a discussion on the value 
of the rune, /fv, and concludes by saying that "the royal 
Chancellor had got the books sent by Arngrim, but so 
injured by shipwreck, so wet and dirty, that hardly a 
letter was decipherable." Here the enormous difficul- 
ties with which Icelandic literature had to contend begin 
to come out. Wonderful to see men writing, as this 
Arngrim did, in the midst of epidemics, earthquakes, 
volcanic eruptions, fearful cold, and prodigiously deep 
snow, the last preventing all access to Eunic inscriptions 
which Worm was anxious to have. To these fates, so 



2 30 ICELA NDIC LITER A TV RE. 

adverse to the historic Muse, add frequent shipwrecks, 
M-here all was lost, not only " man and mouse," but the 
long and anxiously-looked for letter or paper to print on, 
expected from the lands of civilisation. Well might 
Arngrim Jonas exclaim in a letter to "Worm, 1638, "0 
Neptunum, o piratas nostrarura literarum commercio 
iuvidentes ! " But he adds hopefully, " Sed erit post 
nubila Phoebus." Then another year, 1633, the Danisli 
ships, on which Arngrim depended for everything, could 
not approach the north of Iceland till August on account 
of the Greenland ice besetting the coast. The author of 
this work knows by personal experience what a magazine 
of cold is there stored up to vex the poor Icelanders. No 
less untoward were the fates to Ole, on his side, in the 
pursuit of knowledge. He writes, March 1635, "The 
letters I expected from Arngrim this year perished in 
a shipwreck ; " and in November of that year, " No news 
this season from Iceland yet, but I am daily expecting 
some, unless they have been lost in a shipwreck. Three 
Icelandic ships, they say, have gone down." Talk of 
your argosies laden with rich wares ! Why, to these 
votaries of learning the interests at stake on such occa- 
sions were far costlier than the merchandise of gold and 
silver. Think of the copy of that Eunic inscription that 
has since been broken up for building purposes, or that 
unique vellum MS. destined for Copenhagen and for the 
longing eyes of the antiquary, who would never see them. 
Sometimes the bearer of the letter from Iceland abroad, 
or vice versa, lost it, or mislaid or forgot it, and then the 
correspondence did not come to hand till the Greek 
kalends. The go-between was, may be, an ingenious 
Icelandic student or a merchant. On one occasion it is 
John Mummius of Eotterdam, "a fowler (catcher of 
falcons), who for many years has, to his great profit, 
been the privileged falcon-catcher through nearly all 
Iceland." 

Quaint obstacles sometimes occur to bar Worm's ap- 



PROSE ED DA AND ITS DISCOVERER. 231 

proacli to the shrine of Eunic lore. Such, for instance, as 
that alhided to by Magnus Olavius in a letter dated 1640. 
" I have consulted several Eunists in vain. But there is 
still one most skilful Eunist, who was brought before our 
courts this summer on a charge of necromancy, but man- 
aged to get off. We should have consulted him, but his 
reputation is so bad that we refrained." So this oracle 
gave no sound. On the 4th September 1628 Arngrim 
lends to Worm his copy of the prose Edda, accompanied 
by the " Skalda," for as long as he likes to keep it ; a 
welcome solace, doubtless, at a time when " the fury of 
fierce war had silenced his Muse, and the loss of his 
beloved wife had almost extinguished his passion for these 
things." 

Before long Worm is, like Oliver Twist, asking for more. 
His appetite has been whetted. He begs Arngrim, 1632, 
to send him some old Icelandic historic cantilena3 about 
the Skioldings : his Magnificence the Chancellor wants 
to see them ; to which Arngrim replies he has never 
heard of such a thing. But Worm was not the man to be 
daunted in the pursuit of a literary or scientific object, and 
we find him in 1635 writing to Gisli Oddsson, Bishop of 
Skalholt, to be on the look-out for " any old cantilense, 
especially such as Saxo referred to at the beginning of 
his History." The prophetic soul of Worm led him to con- 
jecture that somewhere among the cavernous abodes of 
Iceland a manuscript might turn up of those old mythic 
songs on which the prose Edda confessedly rested, or of the 
numerous other poets cited in the " Skalda," not to mention 
the heroic lays alluded to by Saxo, the Danish Livy. 

The Bishop, however, is drawn blank. " As for Eunic 
literature, beyond a few trifles, there were no monuments 
of it to be found in his diocese. Magic runes, he hoped, 
were banished for ever from the country. Of the ancient 
cantilense cited by Saxo I am not aware that any exist in 
this land, with the exception of the Edda and ' Skalda,' 
which I believe you have already received from Arngrim." 



232 ' ICELANDIC LITERA TURE. 

Objects of natural liistory were not much in his line, but 
he will permit himself, D. V., to describe a monster which 
he had seen with his very eyes in the neighbouring White 
Eiver,^ last June, in the presence of four witnesses. From 
the distance off, its form was not clearly to be made out, 
but it seemed to him like a new island in the very midst 
of the rapids, with the lower end brooding over the water 
like an eagle. In about an hour's time it gradually sank. 
This same month, when a shepherd was boating over with 
his horse in tow, the animal suddenly commenced wading ; 
and at another spot there was descried something like a 
vast serpent with three folds above the water, each of the 
size of twenty paces or more. What sort of monster it 
was the Lord knew, he did not." The Bishop was obvi- 
ously not the man for Worm, and the correspondence 
drops. Not so with Arngrim. Eunes, the horn of the 
unicorn, whales' teeth, the site of Ultima Tlmle, whether 
Iceland or Thelemarken, or where on earth it was, and a 
world of other matters, are discussed between them ; ^ but 
Worm's favourite topic, the Edda, constantly crops up. 
'' Who wrote this Edda ? " he asks. " Well," replies 
Arngrim, 1638, "our old documents plainly state that 
the (prose) Edda was written down and digested by 
Saimundr, and afterwards added to and improved by 

1 It was in this river that the au- by the mouth and nose, as we have 
thor's horse was nearly drowned in its seen our sailors do it ; also how much 
effort to swim across. In the " Egil- is the correct dose, and is it to betaken 
saga," cap. 28, we have the account full or fasting ? " These weighty que- 
of Skalagrim, one of the Norwegian ries V^orm solves thus : "The history 
refugees, taking possession of it. His of the Nicotian herb has been investi- 
men were astonished at the colour of gated by Clusius, and recently again 
the water, still retaining the tint of by Johannes Neander of Bremen. 
its parent glaciers, a phenomenon The plant is specially beneficial for 
quite new to them, and called it cold and humid constitutions, pro- 
'• White River " (hvita) in conse- vided, like other medicaments, it is 
quence. used in moderation. Smoked through 

2 For instance, Arngrim writes, a tube, sailor - fashion, it removes 
1631, " That herb by some called In- phlegm from the head and organs of 
dian, by others Holy, by others Nico- sense; it exsiccates the brain and 
tian, vulgarly, tobacco, pray tell me takes away colds and catarrhs ; but I 
in your next what effect it has when am not aware whether it can be taken 
inhaled through a tube and exhaled internally with safety." 



PROSE EDDA AND ITS DISCOVERER. 233 

Snorri." ^ In 1639 he has a welcome piece of intelligence to 
convey to the simple parson of Melstad. " My friend Henry 
Spelman, who is mentioned in my book the ' Literatura 
Danica/ sends his greetings. His very words are, ' Cupio 
ut si obvius tibi venerit Arngrimus Jonas Islandicus eum 
meo nomine salutes.' You see," adds Worm, with a little 
pardonable vanity, " how far your fame has been borne by 
my ' Literatura.' ^ The knight little knows how far you 
and I are apart." To this greeting of " the most noble 
Spelman, to whom, no doubt, as to others, I have become 
known by your book," Arngrim replies, 1639, " He would 
acknowledge his message himself if he knew the knight's 
address, or could ascertain it from the English falcon- 
catchers." An interesting allusion this to a sport now 
almost obsolete in England. In June 1640 Worm writes, 
" I have sent your message to Spelman. He is living still 
in London at the Barbican, a veteran of seventy-six, and 
last year brought out the first volume of the ' Councils, 
Decrees, &c., of Great Britain,' a great and laborious work, 
which I trust he will be able to bring to a happy con- 
clusion. He has a son, John Spelman, who bids fair to 
imitate his father's virtues, from whom we expect great 
things." Meanwhile, the old man Arngrim was already, 
1643, fiv6 years before his end, bethinking him of its ap- 
proach, and he sends to Worm his future epitaph of forty- 
four Latin elegiacs to be inscribed on an oaken tablet at 
Copenhagen, along with the following curious record : — 
" Arngrim Jonas and Sigrid Bernhardi, married in 1628, 
he being a widower of sixty, with four children by his 
former marriage ; she a maiden of twenty-seven. The 
following are the names of the children by his second 
marriage, with his age at the time of their birth : — 

1 Arngrim, "Crym.," 82, ascribes it "The French ambassador here, De 
to S. Sturleson, but in a letter cited Thuillerie, has been anxiously collect- 
by Resenius, to Sajinundr. He halted iiig all your works to adorn the library 
between two opinions. Cf. " Vita of Cardinal Mazarin at Paris. So yovi 
Ssemundar," p. xv. see liow highly you are esteemed by 

- i3th June 1646 Worm writes, the literati of France." 



:34 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 



Beriiliar(l,M-li('n til e father was 70. 
Giulbraud, „ „ 71. 

Hilda, „ „ 75. 

Guniiar „ „ -j-j. 



Tliorkill, wlii'ii the father was 61. 
Thorlak, „ „ 63. 

Jonas, „ „ 64. 

Solveij,', ., „ 66. 

Ingeborg, „ „ 67. 

Tlie tablet is duly forwarded by Worm in June 1647 J 
the inscription lettered in gold, not on one block of wood, 
but on several, owing to its great length. He had added 
a ' leve epigramma ' of his own : " Quod si minus arrideat 
deleri facile potest. Amor in te mens hoc extorquebat, 
quern tibi ad rogum volo illibatum." A touching close to 
this correspondence of twenty-one years, full of quaint 
learning and honourable affection. 

The old man was troubled with some scorbutic affection 
and also spasms, for the former of which the good doctor in 
this letter prescribes CocMcaria hecapunga and Nasturtium 
aquatile, and for the latter sends him two rings made of 
walrus tooth. This was an age, be it remembered, of odd 
credulities. For instance, the horn of the narhval, so 
called, says Worm to J. Peyrere, because it feeds on dead 
carcasses {ndr), was supposed to be an antidote to poison. 
Hence Charles IX. had always a piece of it in his wine. 
In a letter to Clusius, Worm begs for a bit of jade. A 
friend of his, troubled with calculus, will give any money 
for it. The veteran Icelander, as we learn from a letter 
of Einar Arnfinn to Worm, died on the 29th June in 
the following year (1648). "Sitting in his bed, after 
exhorting his people, who had been summoned for the 
purpose, to patience and continuance in the faith, he 
concluded with a psalm. He then quietly lay back as if 
to sleep, and in the same moment yielded up his soul to 
his Creator. To use the last words of your epigram, 
' Crede mihi baud moritur qui bene sic moritur.' " 

But Arngrim Jonas had lit a candle \yhich was not 
destined to be extinguished. Buried though he was all 
his life long and out of the world, the light from his 
living tomb is burning brightly yet. The literary world 
was now thoroughly on the qui vive about this same 



PROSE EDDA AND ITS DISCOVERER. 235 

Edda. To Thomas Bartholimus of Leyden Worm writes, 
1646, "Edda is not an historian, nor the name of a man 
or any author, but a boolc so called, containing various 
fables, such as were used in old Danish poetry." Cardinal 
Mazarin meantime desires to have a copy of the Edda, 
and his librarian, Gabriel Naudaus, writes to Worm 
(" Decus literatorum nostri sfeculi eximium ! ") on the 
subject, with a promise of the Cardinal's medallion 
likeness when it is ready. Worm (1645) writes back 
that he shall kiss the portrait when it arrives. As for 
the (prose) Edda, "which is most rare and difficult to 
understand," he has chartered a young Icelander to make 
a copy of it from his own copy, with a Latin translation 
(by Magnus Olavius) appended to it. Be it observed 
here, that the involved and long-winded sentences of his 
Eminence's librarian contrast unfavourably with the clear, 
elegant, and incisive style of the Dane. Next year the 
transcript being brought ' ad umbilicum,' Worm sends it 
to the French ambassador, describing it as " Edda Islan- 
dica, liber quo rarior et intricatior in Septentrione vix 
invenitur, totius priscte Pceseos fons et fundamentum, in 
quo qui bene versatus non fuerit frustra in veterum car- 
minibus et cantilenis enucleandis desudabit." He has 
paid ten imperials to the Icelandic copyist, " than whom 
there w^as not in all Copenhagen one better versed in 
Northern antiquities, or more modest withal." To the 
poor Icelander these ten imperials, though not much 
for a Cardinal reputed to have died worth ten millions 
sterling, must have been a veritable vision of Potosi, 
and he at once expresses his perfect readiness to pro- 
ceed to France, if required, for a suitable consideration. 
Cardinal Mazarin next year, 1648, showed the value he 
set upon the Edda by sending to Worm, as the " muni- 
mentum et pigmus amoris," a medal with the likeness of 
the King on one side and of the Queen-mother on the 
other, besides a watch of ingenious w^orkmanship enclosed 
in an exquisite gold box inlaid with amber. 



( 236 ) 



CHAPTEE IV. 

THE PROSE EDDA. 

We Iiave seen how the learned men of Europe rose to 
their feet when the news reached them that a great 
discovery had been made — as great in its way as that of 
the tomb of the Homeric hero at Mycenae. Of works 
proclaiming the names and the doings of the gods of 
Greece and Eome, European libraries were full, but of the 
Gothic divinities and the creations of a simple, rugged 
people, who superseded effete and over-civilised Eome, 
how little knoMdedge of these and of the worship paid to 
them had survived to those days ! Nothing, indeed, but 
the short and haphazard account by Tacitus (Germania, 
viii.-ix.), who fitted the names and attributes of the 
sophisticated Eoman deities to the Gothic gods. With 
Zeus or Jupiter, Mercury or Hermes, Mars and Venus, 
every schoolboy was well acquainted, but what about 
Odin and Thor or Ereya, and those deities who, if the 
months had borrowed their names from the Eoman 
mythology, had anyhow given their names to some five 
of the Teutonic days of the week? Tacitus might say, 
in a perfunctory manner, led by some resemblance between 
the gods of Eome and what he had heard of these Gothic 
deities, that these people worshipped Mercury and Terra 
Mater, and sacrificed to Mars ; but surely this Northern 
worship goes farther back into the ages, at a point nearer 
to its source in the infantine days of its huge and uncouth 
development. In Tacitus we may catch a transient 
glimpse of Alruna or Veleda — a cross between the Delphic 



THE PROSE EDDA. lyj 

priestess and Joan of Arc — uttering her oracles from the 
top of her tower or inciting her countrymen to battle ; 
but in the Edda we are actually listening to the awful 
Volva and her Spsedoms, with Odin and the Aser for her 
audience, and shadowy Valkyrs and Xorns, arbiters of 
man's destiny, filling in the scene. A striking testimony, 
however, in this apotheosis of women to the truth of the 
record of the Eoman historian that, in the opinion of the 
Germans, there was something sacred in the female sex, 
and that they were gifted with prophetic powers.^ Three 
Volvas, relates Nornagestr in his saga, were present at his 
birth, women who went round the country and arrived 
at his father's house on the occasion. Two of them 
spaed good luck for the new-born infant, but the third 
said he would not live longer than the candle on the 
table would keep alight. The sequel of the story reminds 
us of that of Meleager, while to some will recur the sibyl 
present at the birth of Henry Bertram and Noma of the 
Fitful Head. But besides these grotesque gods in all 
their simple massiveness, there are in the Edda, e.g., the 

1 The weird females lingered on her supper of the hearts of divers 

even under the light of Christianity, animals — Sigurd, we remember, had 

as may be seen in that lifelike picture a taste for that soi't of dish — with 

of the Volva, Thorbjorg, in Thor- porridge made of the milk of tlie 

finn Karlsefne's saga ( Gronlands goat — the beast of Thor, the sworn 

Ilistoriske Mindesmaerke, cap. 3). foe of evil spirits; her copper knife 

The scene is laid in Greenland about shafted with walrus tooth, such as 

A.D. 1000. The wise woman is sum- are found in the Northern grave- 

moned to predict the future at a mounds; her belt, from which hung a 

time of great distress and gloom, bag of magic tools ; her catskin gloves 

She enters the chamber, and is and shaggy calfskin shoes ; the circle 

greeted by all with a profound obei- formed round the witch, the old 

sance. Her get-up is symbolical all Icelandic charm (Vardlokkur), so 

over. The cushion of the high seat sweetly sung by Gurid, to help in 

where she sat was stuffed with the appeasing the spirits ; the prophecy 

feathers of the cock, the bird whose of the abatement of the famine and 

watchful voice chaseth away evil sickness that jiressed upon the land, 

spirits from the days of the Zenda- and that Gurid should return to 

vesta to those of the Edda ; her Iceland and be well married tliere, — 

blue cloak and glass and amber orna- all this may be despised by the philo- 

ments, typical mayhap of the sky sopher, but, nevertheless, is an in- 

and the stars; her black lambskin teresting link in the history of our 

cap, lined with white catskin (the race. 
pet beast of Freja) ; her magic staff ; 



23S ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

H;ivaiual, vestiges of really thoughtful and serious culture, 
wliile iu the Sigurd lays the passions of men and women 
universal and permanent are expressed. 

No wonder then that Mazarin and other enlightened 
men, when they beheld this treasure exhumed, stared 
with an amazement more intelligent than Virgil's rustic 
who turns up the grandia ossa of an age which had not 
begun to degenerate. Hitherto these deities were but 
vague personages under Latin aliases. Now, however, the 
curtain lifts, and they stand no longer incognito — revealed, 
moreover, in all their grandly conceived and sharply 
defined attributes. But let us preface what we have to 
say with the remark, that though the first part of the 
prose or Snorri's Edda, the '•' Gylfaginning," gives an 
account of the Scando-Gothic heaven and its deities, this 
was not the main object of his work, but merely inci- 
dental to it. His main object was to give a course of 
poetical lectures, or Ars Poetica, illustrated by old poetic 
scraps from the skalds, for his countrymen desirous of 
cultivating verse. Such is the second part, "Skaldska- 
parmal," with its preface, " BragarseSur," treating of poetic 
arts and diction. Then follows the " Hattatal," or key to 
the multifarious metres, from the artificial court heroic, 
" DrottkvseSi," to the simple " FornyrSalag," or narrative 
epic, exemplified in a laudatory poem on King Hacon 
Haconson and Skule Jarl, a very surprising and important 
work. Important, for it contains many stories about gods 
and heroes not alluded to in " Gylfaginning," and it also 
explains many bits of old poetry which, but for this, 
would have been incomprehensible riddles. Surprising, 
wlien we look at the author's boundless acquaintance 
with the works of the ancient scalds by the hearing of 
the ear alone, as well as the skill displayed by him in 
employing them for his purpose. 

The first part, " Gylfaginning," the interesting and popu- 
lar part, wherein we are introduced to the Northern gods 
one after another, is a prose conglomerate of the old 



THE PROSE EDDA. 239 

" Shield Lays," ^ and other mythical rhapsodies, many of 
which are in the Old Edda, while others are not extant. 
The verdict of the editors of the Edda, 1787 (pref., p. xi.), 
is : " Snorri, seeing the utility of the Old Edda (in a poetic 
and linguistic sense), being himself well versed in poetry 
and history, sought to preserve these props of poetic art 
from destruction. His own sagacity showed him that the 
few remaining mythic verses would either be lost, or, from 
their archaisms, become difficult and obscure. He there- 
fore arranged the material into fables written in an easy 
and popular style, and left it to j)osterity. To these he 
added a cornucopia or treasury of poetic phraseology 
(Eddu-Kenningar), and rules of prosody, i.e., himself or 
others after him." 

It was the opinion of Kask that this part, together 
with the above-mentioned " Skaldskaparmal " and treatises, 
grew together in the family of Snorri Sturleson (who died 
1 241, while Saemund died 11 33), the work of several 
hands at different times — Ole Hviteskald, Snorri's nephew, 
among the rest. 

^ Such was the famous "Haustlong" His circling course, and on Orion 
by Thiodolf, and the "Kagnars KviSa" waits, 

by Bragi, and the two " Beiudrapur " Sole star that never bathes in the 
by Egil (Cleasby, Diet., sub voct), ocean wave. " 

severally describing the subjects j^^^ ^n bowls, and other objects of 

carved and painted on the ring of Phoenician workmanship, representa- 

the shield. Who does not call to ti^^, ^^.^ f^^^^ ^iniilar to the wonders 

mind tbe wonders wrought by He- ^1,^3 wrought by Hephsestos, amongst 

phffistos on the shield of Achilles? them images of the sun and moon 

side by side with symbolic human 

" Thereon were figured earth and figures, as if sun- and moon-worship 

sky and sea, were on the point of being transfig- 

The ever-circling sun and full-orbed ured into sun-myths. Aproce.sswhich 

moon, in the Edda has been finally com- 

And all the signs that crowd the pleted and passed into a further stage, 

vault of heaven, where history and fable — the Scythian 

Pleiades and Hyades and Orion's conqueror and the deity who had 

might, been transformed from a power of 

And Arctos, called the "Wain, who Nature to the lord of Valhalla— be- 

wheels on high came inextrically blended. 



( 240 ) 



CHAPTEE V. 

THE PROSE EDDA — CONTINUED. 

The plot of "Gylfaginning" is as follows : — King Gylfi was 
a man wise and cunning in spells, who ruled over the 
country now called Sweden in the days when Odin and 
Ids Asir folk ^ invaded the North. Hearing of the success 
and cunning of these people, the old Swedish monarch, 
like another Queen of Sheba, journeyed to see them and 
their wisdom, and to satisfy himself whether the success 
of the new-comers was due to their own natural parts or 
to the great gods whom they worshipped. Like many 
other potentates on their travels, Gylfi assumes an in- 
cognito. He dresses up as an old man, Gangleri ('gan- 
grel ') by name, and journeys to Asgard, the headquarters 
of the invading king, where he has speech with a wonder- 
ful sword-player, who had seven swords aloft at once. 
This man undertakes to lead him to the monarch. Being 

1 Greek, Roman, and Chinese au- ray of light. When Alexander crossed 

thors mention a people called Asi or the Hindoo Cush and overran the 

Ansi, who dwelt on the shores of the Oxus lands, multitudes of the inhabi- 

Oxus or Amu, 200 B.C., and as late tants, and with them probably Odin, 

also after the Christian era. Accord- fled from the country westward, 

ing to the " Ynglinga Saga," cap. 2, These people arriving in the North, 

their chief city was called Asgaard. brought with them a higher civilisa- 

In it was a great place of sacrifice, tion, and the natives out of gratitude 

presided over by twelve high priests and admiration looked upon them 

called Diar, with Odin for their chief, as demigods. The halo of tradition 

Jornandes mentions that the Goths gradually gathered round them, and 

called their chiefs Anses, i.e., demi- they came to be worshipped as gods 

gods. According to Professor Munch, of heaven. Holmboe ForhanJlinger i 

'Asir," though of dubious significa- Videnskabs - Selaskabet, Christiania, 

tion, is generally supposed to mean 1872, p. 61. 
' shiuing ones ; ' Sanskr. ' an^a ' = a 



THE PROSE EDDA. 24.1 

entered into a lofty hall, a strange sensation comes over 
him : — 

" Six or seven 

Colossal statues, and all kings, stood round me 

In a half circle. Each one in his hand 

A sceptre bore, and on his head a star. 

' These are the planets,' said that low old man ; 

' They govern ■worldly fates, and for that cause 

Are imaged here as kings.' " 

But no ; the scene differs somewhat from that whicli 
Thecla beheld in the hall of the alchemist. He saw three 
high seats, one above another, and three men sat, one in 
each. Then asked he what the names of those lords might 
be. He that led him in answers, " He on the nether- 
most seat was a king and hight Har; he on the next, 
Jafnhar; on the next, Jjrigi." And at once the wayfarer, 
nothing daunted by the splendour of the hall and the 
awfulness of that presence, puts a series of hard questions 
to these personages. Those whom Gylli interrogates are 
not, in fact, the earthly Odin, but they here expand into the 
lineaments of the high one himself, the Lord of Valhalla, 
the heathen trinity ; and by the aid of this machinery Snorri 
proceeds to give a complete system of the Northern theo- 
logy, the Asatro, which, according to some old tradition, 
liad been revealed in this manner to a denizen of earth. 
" Who is the oldest of all the gods ? " first asks Gylfi. 
" Who created the earth and the heaven ? " They answer 
him, now one, now the other, as he proposes his questions. 
The vehicle is prose based on Voluspa and songs in 
the old Edda and elsewhere — those ballads embodying the 
myths of former ages. The wondrous tale is told by the 
three. All-father, and the Eime giants, and Hillogres pass 
before us. Creation dawns upon us anew. We hear how 
the monster Ymer was slain by Odin, Vili, and Ve, and of 
liis carcase was made the earth, of his blood seas and 
waters, of his flesh earth, of his bones the rocks, of his 
teeth stones and pebbles,^ and of his skull the arch above. 

1 In the Anglo Saxou "Salomon and Saturn " there is something similar. 

Q 



242 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

How tliey next constructed heaven (Asgard) for their 
residence. How All-Father gave the swarthy Nott and 
the fair Dag, her son/ a chariot apiece, and set them up 
in heaven to ride by turns. Nott drives first the horse 
called Hrimfaxi (rime-mane), and every morn he bedews 
the earth with the foam from his bit ; Dag's horse, Skin- 
faxi, takes up the running, and all the sky and earth 
glistens from his mane. Gylfi hears of Yggdrasil, the 
ash of destiny, biggest and best of all trees, under whose 
wide-spread boughs the gods hold their doom each day. 
And to his querry, " Whence comes the wind ? " Har 
answers, " At the northern end of heaven sits a giant, 
Hrffisvelgr (hight) ; he has eagle's feathers, and when he 
flaps them for flight, then arise the winds under his 
wings." iSText he hears how All-Father or Odin (as he 
becomes in his earthly avatar) by his wife Jord begat 
the mighty Tlior (in Tacitus, Hercules), whose athletic 
sports and adventures are also recorded, and form not the 
least humorous and grotesque, as well as chief, episode in 
this primeval and more than Titanic drama. The 'march 
jiast' still continues. We have Heimdallr, the god's 
warden, stationed at the end of that dizzy bridge, Bifrost, 
to look out for possible squalls. The model of porters 
he, for he needs less sleep than a bird, he sees a hundred 
miles ahead day or night, he hears the grass grow on the 
earth and the wool on the sheep's back without the aid 
of the microphone. He far out-Eolands Eoland,^ for his 
horn is heard all the world over. His teeth are of gold. 
For durability we should have preferred bone cased with 
enamel. 

Har tells also of Baldr, Odin's second son, who is con- 
jectured to be an allegory of the bright sweet summer 
season. Of him it is good to speak. He is the best, and 

•' So in the Veda night is author Roland, reduced within strictly his- 

of dawn (Hibbert Lectures). In the toric limits, is just this : " In which 

Chaldean legend the moon is created battle Hruvaldus with many others 

before the sun. was skin." Eiuhard, Vit. Caroli, 

- The circumstantial romance of p. ii. 



THE PROSE EDDA. 243 

him all praise. He is so fair of face and so bright that it 
glistens from him ; and one plant is so white that it is 
likened to Baldr's brow. It is of all plants the whitest, 
and thereafter mayest thou mark his fairness both in hair 
and body. He is the wisest of the Aser, and fairest-spoken 
and most merciful. But this peculiarity attaches to him, 
that no doom of his can be ratified. He dwells in a 
place liight Breidablik, that is, in heaven. In that stead 
naught can be that is unclean, as is here said — 

" Breidablik higlit, 
Where Balder hath 
Made himself a hall, 
In that land 
Where I wiss He 
Fewest foul things." 

Next we are told how Loki, the Evil One, who, be it said, 
has none of the grandeur of the rebel archangel, compassed 
the death of Baldr. It is an affecting story to hear and 
to tell. His mother's heart broke. The gods were utterly 
cast down, the desire of their eyes gone with a stroke. 
Still there was one chance left. Hel may relent and let 
their darling out of her grim domain. So Hermod ! is 
despatched on this sacred errand. " He shall fare back to 
the Aser," quoth she, " if all things in the world, quick and 
dead, will weep for him." So beloved was Baldr, that all 
things, quick and dead, even the very stones, wept for him. 
But no ; one old hag refused (it was Loki in disguise), 
and so Baldr, like Eurydice, was snatched again to realms 
of endless night. 

Midgardsorm, the earth-serpent, vast and hideous, and 
the rest of Loki's brood, deploy before the Swedish king. 
He sees Valhalla and its 540 doors, so wide that 800 
horsemen might ride in abreast, and no fear of a possible 
block ; and also its denizens, those, in fact, who in battle 
were slain. Here is Odin pictured in his state, with ravens 
twain, one sitting on either shoulder, who at his bidding 
start forth each morn to fly over the whole world, and 



:44 ICELANDIC LITERA TURK. 

brini;- him tidings at breakfast of all that was going on 
therein — a remarkable anticipation of our modern postal 
arrangements. These and many like wonders those three 
men seated on the high seats relate to the disguised king, 
whom, though he scrupulously kept up his incognito, they 
knew perfectly well. But the last tale, the crowning point 
in this strange eventful history, is to be told, to wit, the 
coming of that dreadful day, the twilight of the gods, all 
l)rought about by the demon Loki, whom Thor and his 
thunderbolts had failed to subdue. It is preceded by an 
equally dreadful state of things on earth. Brothers fight with 
brothers, iniquity abounding, love waxen cold, an axe-age, 
a sword-age, a wolf-age, ere the world stoops to doom. 
Fenris wolf now gets loose from his fast fetter, and fares 
with mouth agape, upper jaw in heaven and lower on 
earth — like the monster Eumour in the ^Eneid (iv. 177), 

" Ingrediturque solo et caput mter nubila condit ; " 

in the Veda, " Pire with burning/aw devours all things ;" — 
and he would gape more if he had space and verge enough; 
and he swallows the sun. Another wolf, Managarm does 
the same by the moon.^ 

By his side, fit yoke-fellow, breathing venom, is the earth- 
serpent. On they rush with Loki and legions of hell's 
spawn, and encounter the gods. Odin, with his golden 
helm, and bright mail, and his spear, Giingner, singles out 
the wolf, who was, however, one too many for him, and 
bolts him entire ; Thor being unable to come to the rescue, 
as his hands were full with the Midgardsorm, whom he 
slays ; but, like Beowulf, who is doubtless a reflexion of 

1 We have a modern representative ber, took another form. The wolf 

of him in that dragon who, as the became a witch, whose potent spells 

Eastern soldier supposes, is ingurgi- (carmina) would have certainly availed 

tating the moon in eclipse, an extinc- had they not been drowned by the 

tion which he manages to prevent by incessant clatter of cymbals, which 

firing cannon till he reliuciuishes his well-meaning persons interested in 

hold. In a country like the ancient the preservation of the ' lesser light ' 

Thcssaly, so renowned for magic, the got up for the occasion, 
cause of her eclipse, we may remem- 



THE PROSE EDDA. 245 

the Northern god, dies from the blast of his venomous 
breath when only nine feet off him. Well might the tree 
of destiny shake and groan at this supreme crisis ! The 
elves peeping from their stony coverts howl, and fill up 
the ghastly picture ; rocks dash together ; the sun being 
gone, all is gloom : the sea boils over the earth and the 
stars fall. Such is the twilight of the gods.^ Interspersed 
in the tale we have pictures such as that of Na-strand := 
the strand of the dead, where is a mickle hall with doors 
looking northward. It is wrought and wattled with 
adders' backs, their heads all pointing into the hall, and 
dropping venom, in whicli wade murderers and man- 
sworn. 

But in due time a new earth shoots up from the sea, 
green and fair, and a new heaven, into which the gods come 
quite promiscuously, and sit and call to mind their old 
tales, and the tidings which happened aforetime, and they 
find in the G;rass those "olden tables which the Aser once 
had. Gylfi, curious and inquisitive though he was, had 
forgotten to ask the meaning of these tables, and what in 
the name of all that is wonderful they were will never be 
known ; nay, we cannot even guess. The secret is lost for 
ever. At this moment Gangler, or Gylfi, hears a great din 
all round, and finds himself standing in a valley with not 
a vestige of any hall or burgh to be seen ; so he starts 
homewards, arrives in his kingdom, and relates what he 
has heard and seen, a great deal more than we have had 
room to recount, and after him each man told others these 
sayings. 

Such is a brief sketch of the contents of the book that 
Arngrim Jonas sent to Ole Worm, telling us, in fact, all 
we know about the Gothic deities imagined, and Avor- 

1 An adumbration of the twilight of tinction ; wliereat Momus, Loki-like, 

the gods may be found in that re- mocks and jeers them unmercifully in 

markable Dialogue of Lucian, where their hour of need. Momus, how- 

we have Zeus and the other deities ever, is a mere apprentice-hand in tlie 

liolJing a council as to what is to be art of Billingsgate as compared with 

done in view of their approaching ex- Loki. 



246 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

shipped not by dwellers in cities, in the close and confined 
centres of over-civilisation and excessive refinement, but 
by people free and uncultured, living in the forest or the 
wild, holding converse with Nature in all her moods. 
What a sublimity there is in the wistful guesses at the 
trutli which occur in these fables ! The connexion of 
mortality with immortality, of the human with the divine, 
of the seen present and unseen hereafter, how strikingly 
is it shadowed forth in the Ash Yggdrasil, with its triple 
root, one on earth, one among the Eime giants, one in 
Heaven ! What a wonderful conception is Eagnarok,^ the 
gods under an eclipse, to be succeeded by a palingenesis, 
a new heaven and a new earth ! Our rainbow was with 
them the tri-coloured bridge from heaven to earth built 
by Aser. Such was their account of the bow in the cloud 
caused by the sun shining on the drops of rain. 

What classic people ever developed so supremely fine 
an idea ? The tale of creation and destruction and of 
resurrection, with the gods concerned therein, form, as 
we have seen, the groundwork and serious features of 
Snorri's prose drama; but there is a mass of facetious 
byplay interposed, chiefly in reference to Thor's adven- 
tures, much of which, besides abounding in drollery, is 
inimitably told. One evening Thor, accompanied by 
Loki, arrives at a peasant's, and gets a night's lodo-ino-. 
The house affording but poor entertainment for such 
visitors, Thor at once slaughtered his two goats, and 
after flaying them, cast them into the boiler which is 
always to be found in the corner of every Northern hut. 
When the flesh w^as enough sodden, Thor, in the fulness 
of his heart, bids the husband and wife with their two 
children, Thialfi and Eauskva, join in the supper. The 
household were told, when they had picked the bones 
clean, to cast them into the skins. The lad Thialfi, not 

1 Most likely the oldest missionaries Christianity. So Ans^ar, born 8or 
made use of this Raguarok as a pro- died 865. Bugge, "Indskriften paa 
phecy of the future introduction of Kingen i Forsa Kirke," p 90 



THE PROSE EDDA. 247 

content with polishing off the bones, must forsooth split 
up a thigh-bone with his knife for the marrow. At peep 
of day Thor rose, and proceeded to hallow the goat-skins 
w4th his uplifted hammer. The dry bones at once lived 
again. Up stood the goats ready to be harnessed to the 
car, when Thor became aware that one of them went halt, 
and he at once saw that its thigh must have been broken, 
and not merely picked, by the clumsy peasant. The god's 
sublime rage and the abject fright of the simple folks 
may be imagined, but here it is described. Thor let his 
brows sink down over his eyes, but enough of these were 
visible to make the husband think he should fall to the 
earth at the sight alone. Thor clutched his hammer-haft, 
so that his knuckles whitened, while the whole household 
bellowed amain for mercy, and offered all they had for 
an atonement. Thor softened, and was content to take 
the son and daughter for a ransom, and they were his 
bond-servants ever after.^ Be it observed that the tale 
about the marrow points to a time for the composition of 
the legend not far removed from the age of the Danish 
kitchen -middings, which abound with bones broken 
evidently for this purpose. Not less full of fun and 
humour is tjie well-known tale of the Thunderer and the 
Jotun Skrymir, on whose sleeping skull his hammer 
made no more impression than the fall of an acorn from 
the oak. How glad even Tlior was to take leave of such a 
Brobdignag monster comes out in the narrator's concluding 
words : " It is not said that when the Aser bade him fare- 
w^ell they made any allusion to their next merry meeting." ^ 
The preface to the prose Edda, conjectured to be the 
work of Thordar Hvitaskald, is a strange jumble by a later 
baud, based apparently, from the mention of Odin inter- 
changeably with Woden, on Anglo-Saxon sources. The 
Tower of Babel, Jupiter, Priam of Troy, Frigga, Priam's 
wife, whence Phrygia derives its name, Ector, Zoroaster, 
Erculus, the Turks & Co., are lugged in after a marvellous 

1 Prose Edda, 44. - Ibid., 45. 



248 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

fashion. Centuries after Priam, relates this critical histo- 
rian, I'ompey invaded Asia, when a great chief of the land 
assumed the name of Odin, a divinity of those parts (ori- 
ginally Priam), fled to Saxland, afterwards progressed to 
Jutland, and so on to Sweden and Norway. But as this 
younger Edda was written in Christian times, whereas 
the old Edda on which it is based is strongly saturated 
with heathenism, young scalds are carefully warned in 
the after-word not to believe in these tales of the heathen 
gods generally, but at the same time to make such use of 
these old mythic recitals as would improve their poetic 
powers.^ This officious scribe then proceeds to water down 
the mead goblet as follows : — Eagnarok is the Trojan war ; 
and Eenris wolf Pyrrhus, the slayer of Odin ; and Odin in 
reality was a mere Turk, only famous for wisdom and craft. 
Thor was no god, not he, but only a son of Troan, daughter 
of Priam, king of Troy ; and that yarn about him fishing 
for the earth-serpent ^ with a bull's head is merely an old 
scene furbished up from the Trojan war, in which Hector 
enticed Achilles with the head of the slain Volucrontes, 
and, missing his mark, slew the champion hight Eoddrus, 
as Thor was feigned to have slain the great Ymir, his 
fellow-boatman, when he missed catching Midgardsorm. 
Alas ! that this new interpreter of an old tale could not 
let these Iceland youths still enjoy the quaint imaginings 
of their forefathers, and revel yet a space in those grand 
poetic fancies ! Schiller be our warrant ! Listen to his 
pathetic lament in his ' Gods of Greece ' over these extinct 
creations of a simpler age : — 

" Where now our sages fain would teach us 
Turns a fiery ball devoid of soul, 

^ Christianity might make wry who would have beau ennuyed to 

mouths in the person of bigots like death without the zest of poetry to 

the two kings Olaf, but the Scalds season their existence, must perforce 

at their courts were not to be weaned kiss the rod. 

in a hurry from the old source of in- - The tale of Thor's fishing in Gyl- 

spiration, and continued to fetch most f aginning differs from that in "Hymis- 

of their allusions and images from the kvitJa " in the old Edda, so that it 

discarded Aser- worship. So the kiugs must be derived from another source. 



THE PROSE EDDA. 249 

Helios there, majestically placid, 
Drove Lis golden car from pole to pole ; 
Sylvan nymphs abode in yonder mountain, 
Every tree became a Dryad's home ; 
From the urns of lovely Naiads flowing, 
Sprang tlie fountain's silver foam." 

Yes, and listen to that outburst of our greatest sonnet- 
writer in his complaint that the world is too much with 

us nowadays. 

" I'd rather be 
A Pagan suckled on a creed outworn, 
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea. 
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn ; 
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea. 
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn." 

So let us take these poems in their natural sense and 
rejoice therein, not wash the colour out of them, nor seek, 
with the author of the epic of Hades, for these mythic 
personages an interpretation of ethic value. 



( ::5o ) 



CHAPTER YI. 

THE POETIC EDDA. 

Tin-: old or poetic Edda, on whicli the younger or prose 
Kdda was based, was not made known to Europe till the 
year 1643, when the prose Edda had, as w^e have seen 
above, been long in the hands of Ole Worm, who got it from 
Arngrim Jonas in 1628. Parenthetically we may observe, 
that the MS. of its German congener, the Nibelungenlied 
— which, in the opinion of Lachmann, consisted originally 
of twenty ballads, written between 1190 and 12 10, and 
subsequently thrown into a whole by a poet of the Thu- 
ringian court — was not discovered till more than a century 
later, by Bodmer, in the castle of Hohenems, in the Tyrol 
As for the meaning of the word Edda, it has been differently 
interpreted. Until the time of Arne Magnusson it was 
supposed to mean a great-grandmother, a sort of Gammer 
Grethel, who was versed in venerable lore, genealogy, 
religious secrets, and old poetic story, such as aged women 
used to repeat. But Arne Magnusson mentions that poetry 
is called Eddu-list by the Abbot of Munkethvera (13) ; and 
in the " Lily," a song to the Blessed Virgin by Eystein 
Asgrimsson (died 1361), the rules of poetry are called 
' Eddu-reglur.' He therefore conjectures the meaning of 
Edda to be ' poetry,' and the word to be derived from an old 
w^ord, ogr =: mind, poetry.^ Others derive it from Odde, 
the residence of Ssemund, while some connect it with the 
Sanskrit Veda. The ancients only applied this name to the 

1 Professor Rhys suggests {Aca- used for old Irish historic tales of a 
t/em.'/, January 31, 1880), "aideadh," tragic character. See Appendix for a 
plur. "aitte" = "death," the title typical specimen of the kind. 



THE POETIC ED DA. 251 

M'ork of Snorri. It is uncertain whether he (Snorri) him- 
self called it so. It occurs on a MS. of it written some 
fifty years after his death : " This book is called the Edda ; 
it was compiled by Snorri Sturleson." ^ 

The MS. of the old Edda, Eegius Codex, now in the 
Eoyal Library at Copenhagen, was first discovered by 
Bishop Brynjolfr Sweinson of Skalholt (in 1643), in one of 
the farmhouses belonging to the see of Skalholt, whither, 
very likely, it had come in the scramble for the contents 
of the religious houses, which, as we have seen, ensued on 
their suppression at the Eeformation. It was presented 
by him to King Frederick III. of Denmark. The inter- 
mixture which it contained of Paganism, and even of 
magic, would no doubt lead the Papal clergy, in their 
orthodoxical zeal, to push it and such like stuff into dark 
holes and corners — a circumstance which might actually 
contribute to its preservation. Unlike English monks, who 
w^ere ready to cry out on such finds, "iSTehushstan ! Di talem 
avertite pestem ! " these born inditers of old traditions, 
whether priest or peasant, would naturally be loth to ex- 
tinguish utterly a bit of old parchment. Indeed, we have 
no record of such vandalism in Iceland. All is well, how- 

1 Later another MS. of the Edda, notion that the original MS. was in 

but only fragments, was discovered, runes is as mythic as the songs it 

bound up with Skalda, which is now contains. When W'orm asks Olavius, 

in the Arne Magnusson Collection, 1627 (cf. Epistolse, p. 353), for his 

No. 748, quarto. All other MSS. Edda written in runes, he replies, 

seem to be derived from these two. " Merse nugse." This referred to the 

There is a lacuna in the Codex Re- prose Edda, but was equally true of 

gius, wliicli, liowever, contains thirty- the elder Edda. 

one pieces, doubtless the cream of the Tlie poems of the old Edda came 

whole collection. It is of the begin- out at first in detachments under the 

ning of the fourteenth century, and auspices of Kesenius in 1665, " Vii- 

contains fifty -three leaves. The luspa" and "Havamal" in 1750, 

jiarchment is dirty, dark, and much "Havamal" by Gorannson ; in 1779 

thumbed on the margin, testifying to " VafJjru'Snismal" by Thorkelin. In 

the frequent use made of it. It is 1787 appeared part i. of the Arnse- 

written straight on without any dis- magnaean edition, containing tlio 

tinction of verses from the prose, mythic poems ; the second part, con- 

The titles of the poems and initial taining the heroic poems, did not 

letters are in red and green ink, now appear till 1818, having been antici- 

pale and nearly illegible. Tliere is pated in 1812 by V. d. Hagen, and in 

110 title to the primary codex. The in 1815 by the brothers Grimm. 



252 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

L'ver, that ends ^Yell. And it is owing to the enlightened 
c'ner<]^v and care of the bishop that the precious relic is safe. 
] lavin;j;, it is said, on an examination of it, developed the idea 
i'loni his inner consciousness ^ that Saemund the Learned, 
ihe student at Erfurth and Paris, the great collector of old 
national poetry, must have written it ; he affixed Samund's 
name to it, or rather to the copy he had made from it ; 
but recent critics have deposed Soemund from his pedestal 
of fame, and deny that he was the author of the old Edda. 
I'oor Sffimund ! The chief reward he got for his great 
learning while yet alive was to be accounted a necroman- 
cer, as the poet Virgil was in the Middle Ages.^ 

It has been asserted by some, as Bishop Sveinson, that 
Sajmund was the first to write down these poems, which till 
then had only floated about in oral tradition, and to throw 
them into a united whole. Others, as Resenius, were of 
opinion that Sajmuud, who first introduced Latin letters 
into Iceland — rather say Bishop Isleif, who was educated 
in Westphalia (Vita, xiv.), and erected a school in Iceland 
twenty years before Saimund returned thither — copied 
tliese poems from Eunic documents in which they were 
written. But unfortunately for this theory, such Eunic 
documents, according to Magnusson, were never heard of 
or seen; and as for Stemund's share in the matter, he objects 
that, had this been the case, as he lived only i8o years 
l)efore him, Snorri, the composer of the new Edda from the 
old Edda, would have mentioned his name, which he does 
not. As to the age of some of the poems, Eunolf Jonas ^ 
contended that the Asiatics brought Voluspa with them 
into Scandinavia, and that it was from the mouth of the 
Erythrtean sibyl, who lived before the Trojan war ; while he 

1 Magnusson, however, distinctly doune fared no better with their Scot- 
states, "Thorniodus Torfaeus, when a tish countrymen, both of whom stu- 
sexagenarian, told me, on the autho- died in foreign universities, and, from 
rity of his father, that it was called their acquaintance with out-of-the- 
Sainund's Edda before the time of way sciences, came to be looked on as 
lirynjolfr" (Vita Saemundi, p. ix.). dabblers in the black art. 

-■ In the century succeedingSsemund, ^ Linguae Septentrionalis Elementa. 

Michael Scott and Thomas of Ercil- Copenhagen, 1651. 



THE POETIC ED DA. 253 

and Gudmimdus ascribed the " Havamal " ( = ' the sayings 
of the High ') to Odin, one of whose names was Havi — 
the High. A. Magnusson seems, with reason, to dispute 
the stupendous antiquity thus claimed for some of these 
poems. He says, " If the person who wrote it down was 
Ssemund, it is certain he could not have done so before he 
was seventy, and after that time he was too much occupied 
with his Norwegian History, now for the most part lost." ^ 
But, in fact, Ssemund's surmised authorship of these songs 
is disposed of at once on reference to the Flateybok version 
of Olaf Tryggvason's saga {i. 356), where it may be seen 
that two of them, viz., the second ode of " Sigurd the 
Dragon-Slayer " and the " Helreid Brynhildar," were re- 
cited at the Norwegian court at Trondjem sixty years 
before Ssemund (born A.D. 1056, died 1133). Gunlaug, 
the author of the above history of Olaf (Pref. Edda Vet., 
xxxviii.), would never have made this statement had 
Sffimund been the author. 

Bishop Sveinson deplored that the old Edda, as we have 
it, does not contain a thousandth ^ part of what once ex- 
isted, and what does remain is a mere shadow of its former 
self, which but for Snorri's epitome would have also 

1 Vita Ssemundi, p. xiv. come to the rescue. At every turn 

2 Ibid., p. xix. many resemblances may be traced 
We shall perhaps cease to wonder between the two, the Edda and the 

that such a mass of metrical legends Rigveda. The direct references to 

could have been preserved in the worship of fire and of other great 

mouths of the people, accompanying natural forces, the lightning, the 

them in their wanderings from the wind, in the Veda reappear in the 

remote East, when we bear in mind Edda in reference to solar and other 

the case of the Rigveda, with its thou- celestial myths. The symbolism of 

sand and more hymns and songs, the the earlier books has liere been taken 

whole containing twice as much mat- for reality. Again, in both there are 

ter as "Paradise Lost." Here, as clear traces of the recognition of a Su- 

in the old Edda, is stored the entire preine Being, an All-Father, of whom 

treasure of the sacred and national such gods as Indra and Odin and 

poetry. And yet there are priests at Thor are only manifestations. Those 

the present day in India who can re- who know how deeply imbued the 

peat the whole of the Rigveda by Northern people were with a love of 

heart, just as their ancestors did more genealogy will be interested to find 

than twenty-four centuries ago; so that in his metrical recitations each 

that if every MS. or printed copy day the Brahmiu never omits his 

of it were destroyed, memory would pedigree. 



2 5 4 ICE LA NDIC LIT ERA TURE. 

perished." No doubt, adds ]\Iagnusson, many " oral songs " 
reached Saxo which are now lost. Upon the whole, it is 
clear that these poems, with the exception of one or two, 
for instance the Solar Ljod, a vision of heaven and hell 
after the manner of Dante,^ which is manifestly of Chris- 
tian origin, could never have been the composition of one 
man, Sasmund. Indeed, their style is much simpler than 
that of Norse and Icelandic poets later than the eighth 
century. There are less of those transpositions, circum- 
locutions, recondite and far-fetched nomenclature.^ The 
position of the words is mostly simple and natural, so 
different from that in the Drottkvsegi whose rigid rules 
enforced much transposition of words. The Edda ap- 
proaches more nearly the poetry of StarkaS and Bjarki 
than of Thiodolf Hvinensis and Eyvind and their suc- 
cessors (ibid., xxxviii.). Its obscurity is due not to con- 
struction, but to obscure mythical allusions, to archaic 
expressions, and corrupt readings. The authors were 
Pagan worshippers, who recited them in honour of their 
gods and heroes. They were Norwegians, or the scenery 
is that of a mountainous country like Norway, especially 
in the myths about Thor, and the treatment is that of the 

^ Though a sincere Christian, the The same is the case with the versifica- 

author, who evidently lived when tion. FornySrlag was undoubtedly 

Christianity was new, could not rid the oldest as it was the simplest 

himself of the grand poetic ideas of metre. It required only alliteration, 

heathenism. The S. Ljod is further while in the more artificial Drott- 

remarkable from the fact that there kvasSi, syllable-rhyme was a neces- 

is a very old Thelemarken traditional sity. But even this last can be traced 

ballad which greatly resembles it, to the eighth century. Alliteration, 

exhibiting the same curious mixture be it said, was the common property 

of Paganism and Christianity as the of all German races even before the 

original. It is entitled " Draum- time of their separation into North 

kv{)eSi," the dream-song of Landstad's and South, and hence it may be 

Folkeviser. Christiania, 1853, p. 64. safely stated to have come with them 

- It would be, however, a mistake from the East (Keysir, "Efterladte 
to suppose that these obscurities of Skrifter," 82 sqq.). DrottkvseSi is 
style are the sole offspring of the derived from Drott = a band of sol- 
eleventh and two following centuries, diers. It was originally the martial 
They were quite as rife in the ninth song sung in honour of the leader, 
and tenth centuries and among Harfa- and it very likely developed among 
gers and Scalds. In fact, these artifices the Norse Christians, beginning with 
may be traced to the verge of history, the eighth century. 



THE POETIC EDDA. 255 

Norse scalds of the Aser myths. " Hynduljod " must be 
Norse from its contents, while one of the Atli lays is 
named after Gronland, a place in Norway). The stuff of 
the heroic lays came from the South. Brought to Ice- 
land by the early colonists and others, these poems had 
the luck to survive all accidents, till, on the introduction 
of Christianity and the use of letters along with it, they 
w^ere copied down by some antiquary, anterior to or con- 
temporary with Saemuud, from the mouths of men ; ^ one 
object of this being doubtless that they might serve as an 
aid to young poets. Stemund, though this even is doubted 
by Magnusson, is thought to have collected them, adding 
more from his owai and others' recollection. This farrago 
of mythic (and heroic), with other papers of Ssemund, 
came into the possession of John Loptson, Saemund's 
grandson, under whose roof Snorri Sturlesou was brought 
up. Snorri made or obtained a copy, and upon this 
foundation composed the prose Edda. 

But let us now turn to the contents of the elder or 
poetic Edda, with its samples of the earliest intellectual 
activities of the Northern Teutonic race, dating, according 
to Grundvig, from the fourth or fifth century ; according to 
Bugge, from the ninth or tenth. Its contents are of a 
twofold character — the mythic and the heroic — the former 
treating of the origin and fate of the universe, and the 
latter of the dawn of social life throughout the Teutonic 
w^orld. The great mass of this is in verse, interspersed, 
however, with bits of simple prose, connecting or explaining 
the story, a species of composition which eventually ripened 
into the finished sagas of after-times. Some of these 
prose interludes are coeval with the verse, and are poetic 
in everything but their form. These are of great value. 
Others are of later date, and added by the copyists (Sars 
Den Norske Historic, ii., 311). 

1 According to Keysir, about 1120, earlier, viz., under Maguus the Good, 
when oldsagas and laws were first writ- 1035-1047. 
ten down in Iceland, but in Norway 



-6 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

()ue of these poems, ilie " Voluspa," than which nothing 
more remarkahle exists in old Norse literature, first de- 
mands our attention. The awful Volva, fostered among 
the Jotuns, embracing with the prophetic eye of a sibyl 
})ast, present, and future, she who overlooks all worlds, their 
beginning and end, like some witch of Endor rises out of 
the deep and proclaims to gods and men their destiny and 
that of the world from the first to the last. This is the 
oulv existing ancient poem in which an attempt is made 
to ffive us as a whole the heathen notion of the world.^ It 
discourses of the beginning of things, of a time when this 
earth was without form and void, and darkness yet brooded 
over the face of the deep. 

" It was the morning of time,^ 
When yet nought was, 
Nor sand nor sea was there, 
Nor cooling streams. 
Earth was not formed, 
A yawning gap there was, 
Nor Heaven above, 
And grass nowliere. 
Sun that wist not 
"Where she had her halls, 
Moon that wist not 
Where he his space had. 
Stars that wist not 
Where an abode tliey had. 

This Pagan version of chaos is supplemented in another 

eddic poem, " Grimnismal " (40) — 

" From Ymir's flesh 
Was earth shapen : 

1 The Chaldean legend of crea- Then the chaos of waters gave birth 

lion, as written on the tablets of Me- to all of them, 

sopotamia, and dating back some And the waters were gathered into 

4500 years, tells us something like one place ; 

this : — No men yet dwelt together, noani- 

'■ When the upper region was not mals yet wandered about ; 

yet called heaven. None of the gods had yet been 

And the lower region was not yet born," &c. — Fox Talbot in Ra- 

called earth, cords of the Past, vol. ix. p. 117. 

And the abyss of Hades had not yet ^ The tale is told very differently 

opened its arms, in "lieowulf," 185. 



THE POETIC ED DA. 257 

From his blood the sea, 

Rocks of his bones, 

Trees from his hair, 

But of his skull heaven. 

And of his brows 

The blithe powers made 

Midgard for the sons of men. 

But of his brain 

Were, hard of mood. 

The clouds all shapen." 

Then again, as we have seen in the prose Edda, which 
was principally worked up out of the elder, at the end of 
the world — 

" Sartr fares from the south 

With blazing brand, 

Shines the sun 

From the sword of the god of the slain. 

Rocks dash together, 

Giants totter 

Men tread the way to Hel, 

But heaven is cleft " (p. 56). 

Blood, fire, pillars of smoke, a dislocation of nature, 
a universal catastrophe ! Salvator Eosa and Gustave 
Dore combined might have made something possibly of 
such a study. A remarkable coincidence or parallelism 
here with the account in our religious documents, sug- 
gesting an original unity, and exhibiting vestiges of an 
ancient general tradition, inherited from the fathers of the 
human family of the creation, as we find it in Genesis, 
and also with the revealed account of what is to be 
hereafter. 

All through this striking drama, be it observed, the 
benignant powers of Asgard, with Odin for their head, 
are assailed by the evil and malignant spirit, the sinister- 
minded power, Loki, who had in days of yore been of one 
heart and one mind with the All-Father; nay, as the 
Edda says, had been his foster-brother. It was he who 
stole from the gods the apples of immortality,^ whereupon 

1 The very name reminds us of the fruit of the Tree of Life. 



2 5 8 ICELA NDIC LITER A TURE. 

they Logan to get prematurely grey: lie who by secret 
piict proposed to barter away sun and moon to the Jotuns, 
and thereby to quench the light of heaven: he who 
fathered that terrible trio, the earth-serpent, Fenris wolf, 
and hell, authors to be hereafter of unspeakable calamity 
to the celestials : he who, adding insult to injury, at that 
memorable carouse (iEgisdrekka) chaffed the Aser, nay, 
bespattered them with foulest abuse : he who compassed 
the death of Baldr, the innocent and beautiful. But there 
is surely little trace of a monk's hand here. The tale is 
as fresh as if just come from the pine woods of Scythia. 
We are quite aware that Bishop Jon Finsen (Hist. Eccles., 
i. 25) points to the Eddaic trinity, to the great All-Father 
Odin, to the just judge Baldr, to Valhalla's 500 gates 
(cf. Apocalypse, 212), as proofs that the Scandinavian 
religion is a distorted and depraved version of the Chris- 
tian Scriptures. He might have added, the way in which 
Odin rides the storm astride of his eight-footed horse, 
Sleipnir, leads us by comparison to think of Him " who 
maketh the clouds His chariot, and walketh upon tha 
wings of the wind." But the same might be said surely 
of the religion of the Brahmins. Indeed the Eig-Veda, 
as we have shown above, exhibits many similarities to the 
Old Edda ; or it might be asserted that the parable of 
Dives is only the tale of Tantalus resuscitated. Coinci- 
dences of this kind may be pointed out everywhere. It 
was the occurrence of such that gave rise to the notion, 
now generally discarded, we believe, that Seneca derived 
some of his best teaching from the very lips of St. Paul. 
So Socrates discoursed in the spirit of a Christian philo- 
sopher, while Virgil's fourth Eclogue contains passages 
redolent of the prophetic inspiration of the Hebrews. 
There does, however, exist a writing, in other respects 
almost identical with that in the Voluspa above quoted, 
which, unlike it, is monkish all over. We refer to the 
so-called " Wessobrunner Gebet," an alliterative prayer 
in old High German of the eighth century, which was 



THE WESSOBRUNNER GEBET. 259 

edited by Wackernagel,i from a MS. found in the Bavarian 
monastery of Wessobruu. It runs thus — 

" Tliis I found to be the greatest of human wisdom : 
When the earth was not, nor the heaven above, 
Neither hills nor trees, nor flowers nor fields. 
When the sun shone not and the moon gave no light, 
When there was no ocean, no end nor boundary. 
Then there was an Almighty God. 

God Almighty ! Thou who didst shape heaven and earth, 

And didst give so much good to men. 

In Thy mercy give me the right faith, 

And good desires, wisdom and prudence, 

To be doughty in good deeds and resist the devil, 

To reject the evil and perform Thy will." 

Again in these Eddas, e.g., in " Vafthrudnismal " and 
" Grimnismal," we have revealed to us the divinities of 
Asgard, to whom man owes his existence, and who ever 
protect him from the race of giants, i.e., the chaotic natural 
powers. Here is Thor, the god of thunder, the champion 
alike of gods and men against trolls and evil spirits. He 
is ever armed with his mighty hammer, ]\Iiolner, emblem 
of the lightning — in the Eussiau laniruafre liifhtuincj is 

00 0000 

molniya. In shape it is like the cross, and upon it 
lieathen men swore, as Christians do upon the holy rood. 
With it Thor consecrated the funeral pile of Baldr and 
the happy wedding of the Jotun and Freya. 

The account in " Hymiskvida " of Thor's fishing differs 
from that in the prose Edda, so that the latter must have 
had other- sources now lost (Keysir, 148). Bluff and 
blunt is Thor, one in whom there is no guile, hot of 
temper, of few words and ready stroke. No marvel this 

1 Feussner, Hanau, 1845. Profes- was labouring among Saxons. One 

sor Stephens of Copenhagen asserts very convincing proof of this which 

that this jioem was originally Anglo- he adduces is that the MS. of this 

Saxon, brought from England by the ancient poem has the Anglo-Saxon 

missionaries, and copied by an Eng- mai-k "] for 'and,' and % the English 

lishman, or Englishman's pupil, but sigu for 'gi.' 
iu a Saxouised form, as the writer 



26o ICELA NDIC LIT ERA TURE. 

son of mother earth was such a favourite deity with those 
downright word-and-a-blow-Gothic races, and that the 
cream of the Edda falls to his share. His adventures form 
not the least interesting and grotesque features in this 
primeval drama. 

What is also very interesting is the fact that a " cate- 
chism font," i.e., a font adorned with sculptured events 
in Bible history, by the side of which the priest used to 
stand and catechise the rising generation, pointing to these 
sculptures, has been discovered in Sweden, dating from 
about A.D. 1000, where Thor and his different exploits are 
depicted — his raids against all sorts of evil powers — which 
would point the moral of Christian heroism to the young 
catechumens.^ 

Odin is the chief divinity, who, with two other gods, 
Hcenir and Lodur or Loki, formed man, giving him each 
of them a gift, breath (spirit), mind, and craft. He is the 
fountain-head of wisdom ever since he got that drink at 
Mimer's well and pawned his eye for it, and thought it 
a cheap bargain,^ which curious transaction to a man apt 
at discovering resemblances in remote ideas is suggestive 
of that over-addiction to the pursuit of learning which has 
forfeited the eyes of many, and helped to make the fortune 
of the spectacle-makers ; as the case of Kvasir, suffocated 
by a plethora of knowledge, is typical of the fatal effects 
of overcramming imputed by men like Mr. Lowe to our 
universities. Again, while Odin, on the one hand, merges 
in the All-Father,^ the supreme Author of everything exist- 
ing, the Eternal, the Ancient of Days, the living and awful 
Being, the Being that never changeth, the Ood of battle, 
the Searcher into hidden things ; so, on the other hand, 
he is the inventor of runes, of culture, and poetry. What 
a strange mixture here of the attributes of the celestial and 

1 "Thunor tlie Thunderer carved - Philosophers, however, regard the 

on a Scandinavian Font of about the tale as an allej^ory of sunset in the 

year looo," by Dr. George Stephens, sea. 

F.S.A. CoiJenhagen and London, 'So in parts of the Veda the gods 

1878. all merge in All-Father the Supreme. 



THE FAITH OF THE NORTH. 261 

the terrestrial, of the lofty counsels of a divinity and the 
mundane sayings and doings of one over whom men after- 
wards threw the mantle of divinity ! True, Odin may not 
be as sublime as the Olympian Jove, dressed up in all the 
gorgeous wealth and infinite taste of the Greek imagina- 
tion, who, when he shook his locks and " nodded," all 
Olympus trembled at his nod; but there is an unchastised 
strength about Odin and his paladins that aptly reflects 
the origin of the Gothic race. Take further, as a sample 
of the intensity of the Northern imagination, that grisly 
description of Hel. This daughter of the witch of Jotun- 
heim has no part or lot in Valhalla and its triumphs. To 
her belong all who die the " straw death " of sickness or 
old age, that consummation devoutly deprecated by the 
old Northmen.! " In Niflheim she hath great domains, 
and her yard walls are of strange height and her gates 
huge. EliuSnir liight her hall, hunger her dish, starving 
her knife, Ganglati her thrall, Ganglot her maid (they can 
scarce creep for sloth) ; an ugsome pit is the threshold of 
her entry, her bed a sick-bed, gleaming bale the hangings 
of it ; she is half blue and half the hue of flesh, which 
makes her easy to know, and she is very stern and grim 
withal." Such, then, are some of the main points in 
the wild faith of the Pagan North, its machinery, its 
personages. 

We have pointed out above how the Eddaic notion of 
the creation and end of the world falls in w^ith that revealed 
to us in the Hebrew Scriptures. But, on the other hand, 
these gods and goddesses, in their attributes, their doings, 
their very names, remind us more or less of the deities 
of Greece and Eome. If in the latter we find Adonis, 
beloved by Venus, killed by the boar, in the former, Odin, 
beloved by Freya, the Northern Venus, is destroyed by 
the wolf. Odin may be compared with Mercury for his 
eloquence and " quod pias leetis animas reponit sedibus." 

^ In that land of fighting men, Montenegro, at the present day, when a boy- 
is born, his friends bless him with this speech, " May he not die in his bed! " 



262 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

In tlic magic sleep-thorn M'itli which Odin sent Bryn- 
hihl to shnnber we are reminded of the Caduceus, the 
sleep-bringing wand of Mercury. Midgard, that central 
abode of the hyperborean gods, reappears in Delphi, the 
navel of the earth, the peculiar abode of Apollo. The 
god Thor, bluff and colossal, with his brutal honesty of 
purpose, his hammer, belt, and gloves, at once suggests 
Hercules with his club, lion-skin, and crestus. He also 
slew Midgard-snake and fought with the giants, as Her- 
cules slew the Hydra and overcame the giants. In Thor, 
the wielder of the hammer, the symbol of the lightning, 
we descry the Thunderer Jove, who hurled the giants 
to Tartarus. The sea-deities, the daughters of Ean, are 
the Greek Nereids, the daughters of Doris. The three 
Norns are manifestly related to the three Parcse. It was 
a taste of the dragon's blood that gave Sigurd the power 
of understanding the language of those sagacious birds l 
who put him on his guard against the dwarfs' treachery, 
and it was the application of the serpents' tongues to the 
ears of Melampus that endowed him with the knowledge 
of futurity. 

As we have hinted above, those acquainted with the 
sacred writings of India will find many points of resem- 
blance between the religion there developed and those of 
the old Edda. Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva possess attri- 
butes akin to those of the Scandinavian gods. Krishna 
destroying the serpent reminds us of Thor and his adven- 
ture with Midgardsorm. Those thousands of demons who 
infest Southern India and are kept at bay by the several 
gods, reminiscences of the older Dravidian men who were 
conquered by the Aryan invaders, forcibly call to mind 
those giants (Jotuns) whom it was the business of Thor 
and other benign deities to subdue, but who were the 
remains, real or imaginary, of the old original inhabitants, 
invested by the people with supernatural attributes. 

^ Ig3a = Motacilla alba, or white and black water-wagtail. Others refer 
it to the Sitta Europea, or nuthatch, a bird that frequents solitary spots. 



CURIOUS COINCIDENCES. 263 

When we hear of Brahma's body being divided, and its 
several members doing duty in another capacity among men, 
his mouth reappearing in the Brahmins, his arm the origin 
of the mihtary caste, his thigh of the merchants, and his 
feet of the lowest caste ; the Scandinavian student thinks 
of Hymer's becoming the sea, his flesh the earth, his bones 
rocks, his skull the arch of heaven (Prose Edda). These 
are a few specimens of the curious accordance between the 
features of the Northern mythology and the religions of 
other nations ; but there are numberless points which must 
remain insoluble by any conjecture whatever, not even 
excepting that great solvent of every mystery, the solar- 
myth theory, which has, with much probability it must be 
allowed, been applied to the story of the Volsungs and the 
Nibelungs. Such is that eagle sitting on Yggdrasil, the 
world-ash, and the snake Nidhug gnawing at its root, 
the squirrel running up and down busily between them. 
Such are the golden tablets discovered by the gods in the 
grass after the restoration of all things. 

Again, what numbers of kings, heroes, pirates are men- 
tioned in the Skalda of whom nothing is known, as in the 
story of Volundr ; and in the deeds referred to in the " Har- 
bardsljoS " there is a reference to matters, likely enough of 
historic origin, now lost to knowledge. We must not 
expect to find in these Eddas a complete system of Scandi- 
navian theology ; nor is this to be wondered at when we 
remember that when Ssemund, or whoever it was, col- 
lected the poems on which Snorri built Ms Edda, the 
poems then extant had seen much better days, while 
others were utterly defunct. Snorri's pages, be it remem- 
bered, contain much, the foundation and key to which is 
not apparent at all in the extant rhythmic Edda. And so, 
on the other hand, there are mythological allusions in the 
Eddie odes or in other poets which are not explicable by 
Snorri's Edda. This shows that many monuments of 
Northern mythology formerly existing in verse have 
perished. 



264 ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

Note. — Since the above Avas in the hands of the printer, the author's 
attention has been called to the Prolegomena to Vigfusson's edition 
of the "Sturlunga Saga." Herein, with the exception of "Hava- 
mal," the Great Volsung lays, and " Ham^ismal," which he refers to 
a very remote age (the two first to Norway), as well as " Atlamal " 
and "HymiskviSa," both of which he refers to Greenland proper, he 
attributes all the other Eddaic poems to Norse poets in the Western 
Isles in the Viking period. Quite recently, Professor Bugge, whose 
name is mentioned elsewhere in this work, has come out with a theory 
not a little startling, though not quite new. He maintains that of the 
whole mass of mytliological and epic tradition handed down in the 
two Eddas only a small fraction is common Germanic, the great bulk of 
it being of foreign origin, based on tales and poems heard by the Vik- 
ings from Englishmen and Irishmen. The ultimate sources of these 
English-Celtic legends being (i.) the old Greek-Roman mythology ; 
(2.) Jewish-Christian Bible legends of various degrees of apocryphal- 
ness. Thus the myth of Baldr is mainly Greek, founded on the story 
of Achilles and Patroclus, who are fused into one person. A work 
developing Bugge's views is shortly to appear. Meanwhile we are 
content to rest upon J. Grimm's dictum : " The genuineness of the 
Norse mythology can no more be doubted than the genuineness and 
originality of the Norse tongue ; " and further, that " the close kinship 
existing between Norse mythology and the religious belief of the 
Teutonic tribes is equally palpable." " Although," as Mr. Sweet 
says, " the result of these discoveries will, if confirmed, be to depose 
Norse mythology from its proud position of representative of the 
original Teutonic beliefs, the value of that mythology as an expo- 
nent of Norse character and thought will not be in any way dimi- 
nished. On the contrary, we shall learn to admire still more its 
harmony and grandeur, and the skill with which the edifice has been 
built up out of so many discordant materials. The working up of 
these originals is certainly profoundly original, far more so than the 
Latin adaptations of Greek myths." And if so, the encomiums which 
the author has passed on the extraordinary literary power of the old 
Norsemen receive additional warrant. 



( 26s ) 



CHAPTEE VII. 

HEROIC EDDA. 

Turn we now to the second portion of the elder Edda, 
the heroic, as it is generally called, or more properly the 
mythic-heroic songs, descriptive of Northern life when 
mythus was passing into actuality. Foremost among these 
stands the lay of Volundr the typical smith, the Northern 
Vulcan, the real personage like Odin, but who, like Odin, 
assumed the blurred features of some Oriental deity. 
Here we learn how he was beguiled in Ulfdal by the swan- 
maiden, and the cruel way in which King Nidud, anxious 
to avail himself of his skill in metallurgy, ham-strung 
liim, thus fondly hoping to prevent his locomotion : how 
finally the biter is bit, and the smith, after chopping off 
the heads of the king's sons, turned their skulls into 
curious ornaments — much as we should transform a cocoa- 
nut into a silver-mounted beaker — and baulked the wrath 
of the father by taking flight in the air with wings of his 
own invention. But all this wiU be mentioned in a 
subsequent chapter. So we will pass at once to the real 
staple of the heroic Edda, the story of the Niflungs or 
Giukungs and the Volsungs, of Sigurd, Brynhild, and 
Gudrun, that story of profoundest pathos and deepest 
tragedy, retold in music by Wagner, and now recently 
elaborated into a symmetrical whole by Mr. Morris. This 
ancient world-renowned saga comes to us in various 
shapes. We have these old primeval Edda songs, the 
Middle- Age Volsung,i and Vilking (Dietrich) ^ sagas and 

^ Composed in the fourteenth, per- - It expressly mentions Saxland 

haj)s as early as the thirteenth cen- {i.e.. Lower Germany) as the home 

tury, from German tales and ballads, of the ballads on which it is based ; 

(Grundvig, p. 56, cf. ibid, p. 34). in the same manner as it was a .S'axuri 



266 ICELANDIC LITER A TURK. 

the German heroic poems, Nibelungen Lied and tlic 
lliirnen Siegfried, wliich hist is strongly imbued with the 
mythic element. But there are traces of it in the Anglo- 
Saxon " Beowulf," the poem of the eighth century. All the 
history of Sigurd still lives in the national songs of the 
Faro Islands,^ and in the Danish ballads.^ The legend, 
in fact, was spread over all Scandinavia and a great part of 
Germanic Europe, and was interwoven with Northern his- 
tory in the saga of Ragnar Lodbrog, his putative descen- 
dant ; in the South, with the story of Attila and Dietrich. 
Nay, it was even localised, e.g., in Sweden, where the trea- 
sure was said to have been concealed in Garphytteklint in 
Nerike (Geier, i. ii8); and again in the Lingwurmswiese 
near Seyfriedsburg in Lower Franconia, where Saiifritz, 
the swineherd's boy, often bathed in the dragon-spring 
and so became invulnerable,^ upon which he started out 
on adventurous quest, and returned in possession of great 
treasures and built Seyfriedsburg."* 

The most ancient, the most original and comprehensive, 
as well as the noblest and most poetic shape in which 
this old legend has come down to us, is unquestionably 
to be found in the elder Edda songs, which were noted 
down in the eleventh century, and in the Volsung saga, 
which arose from them in the thirteenth century.^ 

singer of whom Saxo-Gr. speaks, an Italian fairy tale " LoDrngone," it 

Mone is of opinion tliat the middle is enough to say that all the resem- 

High German Nibelungen Not is blance between the different tales is 

founded on Low German songs. that a dragon appears in all. The 

1 Fffiroiske Qvgeder, Copenhagen, Brothers Grimm, and after them 

1822. Hammershaimb ; and SjurG'ar- Moe, profess to find the tale of Si- 

kvfeSi, 1851. gurd recurring in Indo-European fairy 

- S. Grundvig, Copenhagen, 1853, legends, but in reality all it amounts 

*7?- to is that the Scandinavian saga con- 

* Metcalfe, German Literature, p. tains colourings and touches common 

88. to the legendary store of half the 

•» Mone's idea that the legend re- world. Those legends are totally de- 
curs in the old French poem " Garin void of the groundwork, have nought 
le Loherain" is baseless. There is only of the grand tragic unity which makes 
a sHght resemblance in certain names the Volsung saga what it is. 
and situations. Of Grasse's suppo- s Gruiidvig's Danmark's Gamie 
sition, connecting it with the English Folkevisir, i. i, 45. 
and French poems of King Horn and 



SIGURD, BRYiYHILD, AND GUDRUN. 267 

A battle royal has always raged among the learned, from 
the days of the Brothers Grimm till now, as to whether 
the legend had its root in German or Scandinavian soil, 
in the ' Fatherland ' or in the far Xorth. It is of the heroic 
Edda notably that we now speak, the tale of Sigurd the 
dragon-slayer, who, on his horse Grani, of the race of 
Sleipnir, the best blood out, sprang over the Shieldburg of 
fire, and awoke the sleeping beauty of the frowning castle, 
Brynhild or Sigrdrifa, the Valkyr queen of Hindarfell. 
Herein we learn how he wooed and won her, and forgot 
her when he set eyes on the lovely Gudrun, beguiled 
thereto not by the quicksilver devil of inconstancy, but 
by the contriving manoeuvring devil, her mother, the sor- 
ceress Grimhild, who wanted the hero for her own daugh- 
ter, and gave him a sleeping potion to make him forget all 
about his first love. We learn how he marries Gudrun, 
and helps his brother-in-law, Prince Gunnar, to gain the 
hand of Brynhild, by a stratagem : how the two wives 
manage to quarrel on a question of precedence, the grim, 
vulture-eyed Brynhild, and the gentle, dove-like Gudrun, 
surprised into a momentary irritation to think that her 
lord should be postponed to Gunnar ; all unconscious, too, 
of his previous love passages, the root of her rival's jealousy 
and hate. We behold revenge ! revenge ! rankling and 
rankling in that fierce one's heart. Surely never was there 
stronger warrant for the saying, " Hell hath no fury like a 
woman scorned." 

" Alone she sat -without 

At eve of day, 

Began aloud 

With herself to speak : 

' Sigurd must be mine ; 

I must die or that blooming youth 

Clasp in my arms.' 

He is Gudrun's consort 

And I am Gunnar's; 

Tiie hateful Norns 

Long suffering have decreed us.' 



26S ICELANDIC LITERA TURE. 

Oftentimes she wandered, 

Filled with evil thoughts, 

O'er ice and icebergs, 

Every eve, 

When he and Gudrun 

Had to their couch withdrawn." 

She eg,?s on her liusband, Gunnar, to have Sigurd mur- 
dered in the night (Lay of Sigurd, iii. 6). 

" Sunk in sleep was Gudrun 
In her bed, 
Void of cares. 
By Sigurd's side. 
But she awoke. 
Of joys bereft, 
When in the blood 
Of Frey's friend she swam. 
So violently she struck 
Her hands together, 
That the beakers on the wall 
Responsive rang, 
And in the court 
The geese loudly screamed " 

(Ibid., 24). 

Brynhild, eagerly waiting for any sound of the horror 
that is being enacted, at last hears the piercing scream 
of the young widow, and knows that the deed is done. 

" Laughed Brynhild, 
Budli's daughter. 
Once only 

From her whole soul, 
When in her bed 
She listened to 
The loud lament 
Of Giuki's daughter." 

She says to her spouse — 

" Him alone I loved. 
None other ; 
The Valkyr had not a changing mind." 

She won't survive in spite of the expostulations of her 



GUDRUN TRANSFORMED. 269 

consort or the dissuasion of her people. Hogni alone takes 
a very matter of fact view of the situation. 

" Let no one hinder her 
From the long journey, 
Whence may she never 
Born again return. 
Unhlest she came 
On her mother's lap, 
Born in the world 
For ceaseless misery, 
For many a man's 
Heartfelt sorrow." 

" Let a pile be raised/' chimes in this woman of un- 
daunted mettle, " bedecked with shields and hangings. 
Let them burn the Hun (Sigurd) on the one side of me, 
and at the same time my household slaves and two hawks. 
Let us lie side by side and his sword between us." She 
put on her golden corslet and then pierced herself with 
the sword. So died Brynhild, part Valkyr, part Budli's 
daughter, mystic union of the mortal and the supernatural. 
And then comes the transformation scene of this dread 
pantomime. Gudrun, the girl once so tender and gentle, 
so bright and cheerful, with her fond, innocent prattle, 
glum as a thunder-cloud, mute as a stone, and, when her 
tongue is at length loosed and the tears flow, still her 
whole nature altered ; the once meek lamb turned tigress, 
the future slayer of her children and server up of their 
tiesh and blood at the banquet ; the murderer next of her 
second husband, Atli, but balked at last in attempted self- 
slaughter. Truly a Northern Medea, made so by the 
machinations of a Northern Clytemnestra, or Lady Mac- 
beth, or what you like to call her. Sister on sister work- 
ing unutterable woe — the old tale ! 

But it was in the Northern blood to feel " no compunc- 
tious visitings of nature " on due cause shown. Witness 
those Cimbrian women who accompanied their husbands 
on the invasion of Italy, and who, seeing all lost at the 
great battle of Itaudium agaiust Caius Marius (Mallet, i. 



270 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

22, citing Floras), dashed out tlie brains of their children, 
and completed the tragedy by destroying themselves.^ But 
we are anticipating. The chamber of death exercises a 
fascination upon us not to be resisted. " Gudrun sat over 
Sigurd dead ; she wept not as other women ; no sifh she 
uttered, nor beat her breast, although ready to burst with 
sorrow," Men and women came to console her, but that 
was hard to do. Gudrun has gone mad. Dry eyes, say the 
doctors, are a symptom plain of insanity. Sage jarls came 
forward to divert her from her sad state of mind ; but no 
• — she could not shed a tear. 

" Sat tliere noble 
Wives of jarls 
Adorned with gold 
Before Gudrun ; 
Each of them told her sorrows, 
The bitterest she had known. 

" Then said Giaflaug, 
Giuki's sister : 
' I know myself to be 
On earth most joyless ; 
Of consorts I 
The loss have suffered ; 
Of two daughters, 
Sisters three, 
And brothers eight, 
I alone live.' " 

But this tale of sympathetic woe moved not Gudrun ; 
her soul's anguish was too great for tears 

" Then said Herborg,^ 
Hunaland's queen : 
' I a more cruel grief 
Have to recount ; 
My seven sons 
In the South land, 
My spouse the eighth, 



' Cf. Tacitus, Germania, 8; Plutarch, Marius, 19; Caesar, B. G., vii. 51. 
^ GuSruuarkviSa, i. 6. 



But— 



CONSOLATION OFFERED HER. 271 

In conflict fell ; 

My father and mj' motlier, 

My brothers four, 

On the sea 

The wind deluded ; 

The waves struck 

On the ship's timbers. 

Their last honours 

'Tvvas mine to pay, 

'Twas mine to see them tombed, 

Their funeral rites 

To prepare was mine. 

All this I went through 

In one half year. 

And to me no one 

Consolation offered. 

Then I became a captive 

Taken in war 

At the close 

Of the same half year ; 

Then had I to adorn 

And to tie the shoes of 

The hersii"'s wife 

Every morn. 

from jealousy 

She scared me. 

And with hard blows 

Drove me ; 

Nowhere master 

Found I a better. 

But mistress 

Nowhere a worse.' " 

" Gudrun could not 
Shed a tear, 
Such was her woe 
For her dead consort. 
And her soul's anj^'uLsh 
For the king's fall. 

" Then said Gullrcind, 
Giuki's daughter : 
' Foster-mother, thou canst not, 
Wise as thou art. 
With a young wife 
Hold discourse.' 



21 1 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

" She snatched the pall 
From Sigurd's corse, 
And turned his cheek 
Towards his wife's knees. 
' Behold thy loved one ; 
Lay thy mouth to his lip, 
As if thou wouldst embrace 
The living prince.' 
Gudrun upon him 
Cast one look ; 
Slie saw the prince's locks 
Dripping with blood, 
The chiefs sparkling eyes 
Closed in death, 
His kingly breast 
Cleft by the sword. 
Then sank Gudrun 
Back on her pillow. 
Her head-gear unloosed, 
Her cheeks coloured, 
And raindrops 
Fell from her eyes. " 



She weeps aloud. 



'• Then said Gudrun, 
Giuki's daughter : 
' Such was my Sigurd 
Among Giuki's sons 
As is the garlick ^ 
Among the lesser herbs. 
I also seemed 
To the prince's warriors 
Higher than any 
Priestess of Odin. 
Now I am as little 
As the leaf oft is 
In the stormy winds. 
The chieftain being dead. 
Oft in the mansion 
Great was the mirth 



1 Gehlauk = " spear-leek." Few Englishmen know the etymology of our 
word. Cf. the Eastern "jereed" = "sijear." 



THE FURY OF BRYNHILD. 273 

When my Sigurd 
Grami saddled, 
And Brynliild, 
That witch accursed, 
They went to woo 
In an evil hour.' " 

AVe have been quoting throughout from the famous 
" Lay of Gudrun," and in it Brynhild has not yet de- 
stroyed herself. She is gazing on the havoc she has 
wrought — 

" She by a column stood, 

The wood violently clasped. 

From the eyes of Brynhild, 

Budli's daughter, 

Fire gleamed forth. 

Venom she snorted, 

When she beheld 

The wounds of Sigurd. 

Then said Brynhild, 

Budli's daughter : 

' May the hag^ lack 

Spouse and bairns. 

Who thee, Gudrun, 

Caused to greet. 

And this morning 

Gave thee runes of speech." ^ 

Match us this tale of pathos in the literature of any non- 
classic land before the days of Shakespeare! Gudrun's 
character is, we see, painted with a firm hand and with no 
sketchy uncertain pencil. Sweetness and light are the 
halo of her early and happy days. She can be nettled on 
due provocation, but, generally speaking, her features are 
those of a fair, gentle, and confiding woman. Neither is 
she the only woman true to the death in these old legends. 
When Baldr's corpse was carried to the ship, his wife 
Nanna's heart burst with grief (harm) and she was laid 
on the pile and burnt with liim. When Loki was tied 

1 Gullrond. 2 Po^er of snecch. 



274 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

(luNvn hy his son's entrails to tlie three flat stones, and a 
chained serpent kept dropping venom into his face, his 
wife, Sigyn, caught the poison in a basin, and it was only 
when she left for a moment to empty out the vessel that 
tlie venom struck him, and then his struggles made the 
earth to quake. This wifely devotion in a celestial shows 
clearly how earthly women would and did act. Bergthora 
miglit have come forth unscathed from the burning house, 
V)ut she refused : she was the wife of his youth, she had 
lived all her life with Njal, and she would not leave him 
in death. 

We fear Anglo-Saxon literature has none such pictures 
to boast of. Judith is a grand exception ; but she moves 
in too lofty an atmosphere for us to compare her with 
other women. Joan of Arc would be her meetest peer. 
Take the fine Anglo-Saxon epic; how little insight it gives 
us into female character ! And no wonder, for in its whole 
range we fail to meet with a tale of true love, or any- 
thing like it.^ Freaware, Hrothgar's daughter, bears the 
ale-cups to the earls and gives treasures to the w^arriors 
(4048). Why on earth didn't she chat with Beowulf, and 
ask him about the ladies across the water, and give him 
meanwhile a sidelong look, as maidens will do to a gallant 
stranger ? Hildeburt, again, is a mournful woman, who 
bewails in songs her beloved ones killed at the linden 
play (2150), but not a jot more do we know about her. 
We are told in the baldest way possible that Queen Hygd 
(3869), a beautiful woman, violent of mood, was moved to 
an appalling crime. Kuthless, she slew her wedded lord, 
and married again to King Offa of England, causing 
great scandal ; indeed, Eomer, the son of Hemming, re- 
proached her with it when drinking his ale. But surely 
Wealh-theow, Hrothgar's queen, will come out in bold 
relief with such a foil in the person of her colourless 
daughter. Not so. She is a "joyous woman, of exalted 
mind, who dispersed cups of beer, bore the mead-cup, 

1 Except perhaps in the lately-found fragment of ""WalUere." See Tart I. 



THE VOLSUNGS. 275 

and gave treasures," and made a speech or two. That is 
the sum and substance of her personal qualities and the 
part she played in the ' world ' epos of the Anglo-Saxons. 
Yet another human passion besides love and hate is 
painted here, as in the " Mbelungen Lied," in tints that will 
never fade — the accursed greed of gold, auri sacra fames — 
and the fatal fascination which it exercises on man. In 
the German poem, whoever gives himself up to the gold 
becomes a ISTibelung, doomed to death (Niflheim), while 
the gold hoard is destined to pass out of his hands. The 
treasure, once the property of the powers of darkness, in 
the person of the dwarf Andvari, passes from him, while 
he utters a curse on the future possessor of it — a curse 
which comes true in its inheritor, Hreidmar, who is mur- 
dered for the sake of it by his demon son, Fafner.^ The 
new owner retreats to his stronghold on Gnita heath, and 
in the shape of a dragon coils lovingly round his darling 
gold, brooding over it with a consuming passion, the very 
type of Martial's avaricious man — 

" Largiris nihil incubasqiie gazo9, 
Ut magnus Draco quern canunt poetas, 
Custodem Scythici fuisse luci." ^ 

Was the Eoman poet acquainted with the tale of the 
Volsungs ? But ere long the invincible champion, Sigurd 
of the glittering eye, is let into the secret of the treasure 
by the crafty Eegin, Fafner's brother, who was enraged at 
being cut off with nil, when he had expected a share of 

1 The huge penalty paid for the Haug, "Eeligion of the Parsees," p. 

death of the otter in this legend 212, Bombay, 1862. 

clearly points to this animal being Yet another illustration from the 

held sacred by the ancient Northmen. East, valeat quantum. Among the 

Did they get this cultus from their ancient inhabitants of Yennen, the 

Eastern home? At all events, by the man who killed a dog belonging to 

Parsees the slaughter of an otter one of his tribe was obliged to give 

(Sansk. "udra") is considered a the owner a heap of wheat large 

horrible crime, this beast being be- enough to cover the hound entirely 

lieved by them to contain the souls from the head to tlie tip of the tail, 

of a thousand dogs of the male and This is the exact penalty for killing 

a thousand dogs of the female sex. — the king's cat. Laws of Wales, p. 355. 

^ xii. S3- 



276 ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

the ill-gottcu yaiii. The son of Sigmuud waylays tlie 
monster on liis road to tlie watering-place, pierces him 
tlirough and throngh with his magic sword, Gram, tastes 
of his heart's blood, and in a moment can interpret the 
voice of the birds in the tree hard by, who see through 
the guile of the dwarf (Fafnismal, 32). Slightly altered, 
a modern poet fits in here : — 

" The little bird sat on the greenwood tree, 
The little bird sang, ' Sir Lion, arise, 
For I hear with my ears and I see with my eyes, 
And I know what I know, and I tell thee tliis, 
That liegin the dwarf a traitor is.' " ^ 

Sigurd takes the hint and becomes sole proprietor of the 
treasure on the death of Regin, whom he slays for his 
premeditated treachery ; and, like all previous possessors 
of the gold, he dies a violent death and verifies the curse. 
The same fate awaits the Giukungs ; till at last it is sunk 
in the Ehine, and reverts to its first owners, the spirits of 
darkness. 

Well might Teuton and Scando - Goth fight for the 
authorship and the parentage of such a tale, when, to make 
the contest hang still more doubtfully in the balance, 
the Germans have in their own tongue a poem (the 
" Nibelungen Lied," above cited ^), in its main features, 
personages, and incidents greatly resembling this Northern 
poem. That the tale of Sigurd rests on a historic basis 
seems certain, but how much of it is history and how 
much fable can never be ascertained. All inquirers into 
this recondite subject. Mythology — fresh light on which 
has been thrown by the Veda, and will continue to be 
thrown by the discoveries in Assyria and elsewhere — are 
well aware of that curious process whereby mythical 

^ Sir H. Taylor. have much too favourable an opinion 

2 Once attributed to IT. von Ofter- of these things," wrote to him Fre- 

din^'cn, an idea long exploded. An derick, king of Prussia. "To my 

edition of tlie whole poem was first mind they are not worth a charge of 

I)roduced by the Swiss, I. von Miiller, powder, and I'll have no such trash 

the only man of his time who appre- in my library." 
ciated it at its real worth. "You 



HISTORIC POINTS IN THE TALE. 277 

characteristics have been attached by early nomad races 
to historical personages and actions, and, on the other 
hand, by a sort of compensation of errors, historical facts 
agglutinated to mythical persons. What the intermediate 
stages were by which the sun-god became transfused into 
the popular hero and the popular hero melted into the 
sun-god, might be revealed if we had earlier monuments 
containing the missing links. The next question in in- 
terest will of course be as to what race of people may the 
myth be said to belong. The best solution of the vexed 
question of its nationality will perhaps be found in the 
verdict of the late Professor P. A. Munch, no mean autho- 
rity, viz., that the saga is the common property of the 
Northern and Germanic races ; that it became moulded 
and shaped in the earliest days of the migrations from the 
East, when the Scandinavian and German races, allied in 
speech and origin, were tossed about together in wild con- 
fusion from the Alps to the Dovre Fjeld, from the P^hine 
to the Black Sea. 

But if Sigurd is to all intents and purposes prehistoric 
as far as we are concerned, the outlines of the hero gra- 
dually expanding into and blending with the mythic 
features of one who does duty for the sun-god, still in 
the Northern as well as in the German version of the 
tale there are points, as afore hinted, historically true. 
Thus the three Burgundian kings are matter of history. 
The same may be said of the destruction of a royal Bur- 
gundian race by Attila. Attila himself, his brother Bleda 
(in the "Nibelungen," Blodelin), and Dietrich of the "Nibe- 
lungen Lied," who was of the blood of the Amalungs, 
the royal race of the East Goths, are also historic per- 
sonages. The transactions in which they figured must 
have taken place from 45 1 to about 500 a.d., though in 
the German poem they are compressed into a shorter 
space. Attila, who died 453 a.d., cannot have been con- 
temporary with the Ostrogotli Theodoric,^ whose reign 

1 lie was with the Visigoth Theodoric. 



278 ICELA MUC LITER A TURE. 

conimcnccil in 4S0. It should be noted that the drinking 
blood in the saga, which reminds us of the wont of the 
sons of yEacus, as described by Hesiod — 

'• Drinking tlelight of battle as at a feast," — ^ 

actually did occur at the battle of Chalons. The mythic 
saga of Sigfried would be primarily quite distinct from 
these sagas of Attila and Dietrich, which would be 
brought up to the North by pilgrims, Vaerings, and students, 
and become mixed up with the old Northern mythology. 
This remarkable fact, that King Dietrich in the Northern 
saga has nothing to do with the Niflings, while in the 
" Nibelungen Not " of the thirteenth century and Dietrich 
saga of the fourteenth century he plays a weighty part, 
seems, as Grundvig remarks, to have escaped the attention 
of Grimm. 

In Charlemagne's days these old legends (at least of 
Dietrich) were the subject of German songs, which even 
then were called " antiquissima." ^ 

Pity that no longer exist those historic songs and glees 
which the aged Scylding, so well informed, recited from 
far-off days to the sound of the harp — wondrous tales, 
sooth and sorrowful — before the guests assembled in his 
hall, on the flight of the cannibal Grendel (Beowulf, 
4217). Such was the lay of the hero Ingeld, son of 
Frodi, prince of the Heathobards (ibid., 4135), whom 
Grimm (Haupt-Zeitschrift, xv. 314) identifies with the 
Hinieldus of whom the monks loved to sing, much to the 
disgust of Alcuin. " Eead the word of God at dinner," 
he writes to Bishop Speratus ; " away with your harpers. 
Listen to sermones patrum, non carmina gentilium, quid 
enim Hinieldus cum Christo ? " 

^ AlaKiSai iro\i/j.qi Kexo-pvoras rjvTe mina, quibus veterum regum actus 

hairL— Hesiod, Fragm. ccxiii. (93), et bella canebantur" (Einhard, Vita 

Giittling. Caroli Magni, cap. 29). 

^ " Barbara et antiquissima car- 



( 279 ) 



CHAPTEE YIII. 

OTHER POEMS IN THE EDDA. 

Again, what a thrilling tale is that of Sigrun and Helgi 
in the Edda ! He has been slain, pierced with a spear by- 
Dag, and is buried in the great howe ; but a female slave 
sees him riding one night towards it, his wounds still 
bleeding, and she goes and tells her mistress, Sigrun, 
who starts forth to the mound to kiss her lifeless king 
before he lays aside the bloody corslet. She cries — 

" Thy hair is, Helgi ; 
Humid with sweat of death, 
My prince is all 
Bathed in slaughter-dew ; 
Cold, clammy are the liands 
Of Hogni's son-in-law." 

And she asks the cause of this. He replies — 

" Thou art the cause, 
Sigrun of Sefatioll, 
That Helgi is 

"With sorrow's dews suffused. 
Thou weepest cruel tears 
Ere to sleep thou goest ; 
Each one falls bloody 
On the prince's breast, 
Wet, cold, and piercing, 
With sorrows big." ^ 

And compare with this the later Danish ballad of Aage 
and Else referring to this superstition — 

1 ilelgi Hundicide, ii. 42. 



-So ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

" When thou, my dear, are cheerful 
And easy in thy mind, 
The cofliu where I slumber 
Is all with roses lined ; 
But oft as thou'rt in sorrow, 
And bowed with grief so sore, 
Is all that while my coffin 
Brimful of blood and gore." 

The dream of tlie Christian sage transports us yet a stage 
further in the vision of the future — 

" When I do good and think aright, 
At peace with man, resigned to God, 
Thou look'st on me with eyes of light, 
Tasting new joy in joy's abode." 

Or, would we wish to see the grotesque side of love, 
behold the god Freyr, his heart set all aflame with the 
sight of a white arm of a maiden opening a wicket. But 
what wonder! So white it was that it made sky and 
water glisten. God though he was, there was no mistak- 
ing it. There were the usual symptoms : no sleep — he 
was quite off his mead and out of temper. But his trusty 
man, Skirnir, manages to get the secret out of him. He 
liad seen a fair woman and could not exist without her. 
" Thou shalt go and ask her hand for me, and have her 
home whether her father will or no." The tale is told in 
the prose Edda, but it is also set forth in the " Journey of 
Skirnir" in the poetic Edda. The fierce dogs who guarded 
tlie bower of the delicate maiden Gerda, the daughter 
of Gymir the Hillogr, began to bark. Her quick ear 
detects an arrival. The messenger is admitted, and tries 
to propitiate this daughter of Eve (or of Lilith, Adam's 
other wife, the traditional mother of all preternatural 
anthropoids) with eleven golden apples ; but in vain. The 
precious ring, burnt with Baldr, and sent by him from 
Hel as a keepsake to his disconsolate father, which threw 
out another ring monthly — compare with it the goose 



THE SONG OF THRYHf. 281 

that laid the golden eggs — also avails not. Afterwards 
he threatens to decapitate her, and draws a picture of her 
horrible fate if she became the wife of some three-headed 
ogre. Would she reject such a lover as Freyr ? She 
relents, and promises to come in nine nights to the wed- 
ding. The faithful envoy rides back on Skidbladnir and 
tells Freyr how he has sped. Quoth the impatient god, 
with whom, as with Claudio, " Time goes on crutches till 
Love have all his rites " — 

" Long is one night, 
Long are two nights, 
How can I last out three ? 
Often one month 
Seemed to me less 
Than this half night of love." 

"Wliat will perhaps make this tale of short wooing more 
interesting is, that in the last stanza of the poem occurs a 
word, 'hy-iDott' = 'wedding-night,' which is conjectured 
to be the origin of our ' honeymoon,' quasi ' wedding-night 
month ' (I. Diet.), though the ' honey ' = ' darling,' of ISTor- 
thern England seems more to the purpose. 

One more leaf out of this very interesting chapter of life, 
human and divine, humorous and beautiful alike, and we 
have done. One of the Edda poems is called " The Eeco- 
very of the Hammer ; or, the Song of Thrym." It is the 
more interesting as the bridal trousseau and bridal customs 
are accurately described. While Thor is asleep his ham- 
mer is stolen from him. He tells Loki of his loss, M^ho 
discovers that it is in the possession of Thrym, king of the 
Jotuns. The loathly giant refuses to give it back unless 
he gets Freya for a bride. Great was the consternation in 
heaven. Without that hammer w^hat would become of 
them ? " Become of you ! " echoed the acute Heimdal to 
the assembled conclave ; " why, dress up Thor as the lady, 
the obtuse Etin will never know the odds, and leave the 
rest to me." The refractory god protests that he will be 



282 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

uic'knanied 'argr' ever afterwards, but at last yields to 
Luki's armiinents. He is veiled ; round his neck is hung 
the lianiing Brkingamcn ; ^ by his side tingle the orthodox 
bunch of keys; over his knees hangs the skirt; on his breast 
are the disk-shaped ornaments still worn by the Scandi- 
navian bride, and on the head tlie towering white coif. 
Loki acts as bridesmaid. Off they post in the car drawn 
by goats, and arrive at Jotunheim. Affecting apparently 
the language of Odin when he expects guests in Valhalla, 
Thrym cries, " Up, giants ! dress the benches for my bride, 
the daughter of Niord ! Many a treasure I possess, many 
a necklace; Freya alone is wanting." Huge forms are 
there in numbers, and the banquet begins. The bride's 
appetite and thirst are incredible. The bridegroom gets 
uncomfortable. "Never saw I bride eat and drink so 
voraciously." " Ah, poor thing ! " explains the bridesmaid, 
" Freya has not tasted bit or sup for eight nights, so wud 
was she to come to Jotunheim." Touched at this pathetic 
state of things, the giant leaned forward to snatch a kiss 
under the veil, but started back in affright and right across 
the hall. 

" Maggie coost her head fu' heigh, 

Looked aslent and unco skeigh, 

Gart poor Duncan stand aheigh. 

Ha, ha the wooin' o't." 

" What dreadfully fierce eyes ! I thought they were all 
aflame." " Ah, poor dear ! " put in the quick-witted maid, 
" she has not slept for eight nights ; she was longing so 
madly for her Jotunheim." A horrific giant maid now 
appears and claims the customary fee. All now wanting 
to complete tlie marriage is the benediction. " Bring in 
Thor's hammer," said the giant, " to give the holy sign 
(J^) and make them lawful man and wife." It is placed 

J " Flaming collar." In due time this mythic trinket passed from heaven 
to earth and became the property of Mrotbgar, whose queen presents it to 
Leowulf (2403). Cf. Specim. Gloss. Edda Vetus I., sub voce. 



THOR'S HAMMER. 



283 



on tlie knees of the bride.^ At the sight of his trusty 
hammer Thor visibly grinned through his veil. Up he 
started, swung his pulveriser, and demolished the whole 
brood, king and all. 



1 So Thor consecrated with his 
hammer Baldr's funeral pile. In 
Northern mythology, the thunder- 
bolt was represented as a hammer, or 
something like one, ^. It was the 
holy sign with heathens, correspond- 
ing to the Christian cross. As such, it 
occurs on a few of the earliest llunic 
stones (Thorsen, pp. 17, 329). It 



is the mystic symbol known all over 
the East. Found at Troy and Mycenae. 
The Buddhist fylfot or svastika, from, 
a Sanskrit word signifying ' so be it,' 
is called by others a fire-wheel ; by 
others said to represent solar power. 
Here, then, we have a point of con- 
nection Ijetween the Edda gods and 
the East. 



( 2S4 



CHAPTER IX. 

THE MYTHIC WORDS IN " BEOWULFy 

So mucli for the mythic and heroic Eddas, with their gods 
and demigods, wliich for couvenience sake we discussed 
consecutively. Now where in the whole field of Saxon 
literature will you find such an account of the fabled Pan- 
theon of our ancestors ; where learn their notions of this 
earth's starting into being or the end of it ? Will it be in 
the Chronicle, that most accurate annual register, which 
does at times carry up the genealogy of our kings to Odin ? 
Nought of the gods of Asgard is to be found, of course, in 
the Christian poem of " Csedmon," albeit running on for 
some 9000 lines ; a work, be it said, conceived at times in 
so lofty a strain that its author, the Northern monk, has 
been called the Anglo-Saxon Milton, though, sooth be said, 
this picture of creation savours strongly of what we find in 
the Northern " Yoluspa." Will it be in the writings of 
churchmen and divines, who revelled in coarse material 
fancies of most corporeal demons and devils reeking with 
sulphur, instead of the more ideal pictures of the grand 
old gods ? There is, however, one Saxon work which 
tells us of the Northern mythology, and which we have 
therefore reserved for further discussion here — " Beowulf," 
the oldest heroic, or some will have it mythic — perhaps it 
will be best to call it mytho-heroic — poem in any German 
language, and which has been pronounced to be older than 
Homer. 

It is, as we have already shown, the metrical paraphrase 
of a poem composed, as is generally supposed, in Sweden, 



THE MYTHIC WORDS IN '• BEOWULF:' 285 

in the language of tlie ISTorth, and brought to this country 
probably during the Danish dynasty, or, as others conjec- 
ture, it came to ns in its present shape from the mouth of 
the Elbe, which seems less likely, regard being had to its 
Northern tinge. The hero of it is said to have fallen in 
the year 340 of the Christian era. The poetical vocabu- 
lary in England, as in Iceland after its conversion, was for 
a long time strongly impregnated with heathen reminis- 
cences which would be more or less understood by the 
people, just as the Pagan Eddaic songs abound with names 
and allusions not always easy to comprehend. Now this 
poem is heroic throughout. We have the semi-divine 
ancestry of the dramatis personae, the princely hall, the 
feasting and fighting, the warrior adventurers, with little, 
however, of the quiet everyday goings-on of ordinary 
people. But, on the other hand, the poem is full of 
references to Northern mythological stories and mytho- 
logical events ; yet they are references only, and would 
have no meaning for us had there been no Edda, the 
hoarded treasure of distant Iceland, to throw its flood of 
light on the obscure allusions of the Saxon epic.^ Let 
us dwell a while on this mythological element. Odin 
and Thor and Loki are absent, but the subordinate beings 
of the old superstitions are mixed up with the machinery. 
Perhaps some of the Christian clergy who manipulated 
these old mythic poems as devoutly believed in them, ml 
rosd, as their converts, although they did not acknowledge 
it. Would that Augustine and his successors had just 
placed on record a slight account of the heathen system, 
and all would have been plain ! But no ! Those Christian 
chroniclers were not going to soil their pens with such 
anathema maranatha. 

We have here dragon- slayers and nikkrs and jotuns, 
and Jjyrses (the surly, stupid, giants of our fairy tales), 
all Northern mythic words. The earth is called Eor- 

1 Dasent, Introd. I. Dictionary. 



oS6 ICELA NDIC LIT ERA TURE. 

inon;:jruiid/ the former part of which word, which has 
puzzled the editors, occurs again in " lormungandr " 
(the Northern leviathan), and implies something vast 
or superhuman. Our forefathers who dwelt by the sea 
fancied, as they looked on the agitated billows, that 
the motion was due to an invisible creature or creatures 
endowed with life, glimpses of which, few and far be- 
tween, were vouchsafed to the storm-tossed mariner. 
Such a monster w^as that leviathan of whom the patriarch 
Job ejaculates, "Canst thou draw out leviathan with 
a hook, or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest 
down?" The god Thor had an opportunity of solving 
this question himself when out fishing in company with 
the giant Hymer. His bait was a bull's head tempt- 
ingly displayed on the hook. Suddenly he had a run of 
no ordinary kind. Thor held on hard, and succeeded in 
bringing the monster fish alongside. It turned out to be 
the great original Midgardsorm, the veritable earth-ser- 
pent, which in Eastern mythology surrounded this world, 
and locked it in his fast embrace, head and tail forming a 
knot. No sooner did his head show above water than 
Thor applied his hammer vigorously to it, the result of 
which was a rending of rocks and a general convulsion 
of the wliole frame of mother earth, upon which the giant, 
alarmed, cut the line and the monster sank to the bottom. 
In this pleasant apologue those who can read between 
the lines may discern the god of thunder engaged in his 
spring contest with the natural powers, and restoring 
peace to earth, sea, and sky. The hooking of the monster 
and the bringing him to the surface of the water seems 
to allude to some revolution of nature with which we 
are not further acquainted.^ 

But to return from our fishing excursion. There is in 

^ Beowulf, 1722. 

- Cf. Kddse Veteris Lexicon Mythologicum, p. 486, a storehouse of Nor- 
theru lore. 



THE MYTHIC WORDS IN '' BEOWULFT 287 

" Beowulf " a clear reminiscence of the Scandinavian Norns 
in that ""VVyrd" who ordains (5142), and in "the web of 
battle-speed" (1398) there is an allusion to the Valkyrs 
of Brian's battle, those first cousins to Hotspur's " fire- 
eyed maid of smoky war." At times we find these two 
distinct sets of beings, the Norns and the Valkyrs, mixed. 
Again we have in " Beowulf " Eagor = the sea ; but it is 
only from the Edda that we learn it is a mythical word, the 
name of ^gir, the father of the Oceanides. His wife was 
Han, the queen of the ocean, in whose abode dwelt all 
those who perished at sea. It was her daughters nine 
that chased Frithiof's ships in the dire tempest, all the 
accidents of which have been so graphically portrayed 
by Bishop Tegner, rendering the old Norse saga into 
Swedish verse so vivid and lifelike that our breath bates 
and our limbs move in unison as we read of his hair- 
breadth escapes and deeds of daring. In the calm summer 
days Ean is sometimes seen even now reclining on the 
beach, combing her long yellow hair with a golden comb ; 
and on winter days she will visit the huge fires which 
the fishermen light on the shores of the Luffodens, for the 
sake of having a good warm. The Lorelei of the Upper 
Ehine must be a relation who has left the sea for fresh 
water. It is the daughters of ^gir who supply the 
answer to one of the scores of riddles set by Gest the 
inind (alias Odin) to King Heidrek (Hervarar Saga, cap. 

XV.). 

" Name to me the maidens 
Who march, a numerous band, 
At their father's bidding. 
Pale locks have they, 
Those white-hooded ones ; 
They have scant regard to man. 

" Name to me the widows 
Who march, a numerous band, 
At their father's bidding. 
Seldom are they kind 
To the hosts of men. 
They must watch when blows the wind." 



2SS ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

So when the Saxou paraplirast of " Beowulf " calls a swor J 
" Velandswork," the allusion would have been hidden from 
us but for the old lay in the Edda.^ Those good people 
who were debating the other day whether Wayland means 
Smith, let them be aware that Volundr was a hero of 
human origin, with not a little admixture of the super- 
natural about him— a kind of Northern Vulcan, in fact. 
Such was his skill in working metals, especially gold, that 
he was reputed to have served his apprenticeship to the 
underground dwarfs, Dwergar. P. E. Miiller derives the 
name from an Icelandic origin, viz., from ' viV, wile, and 
' Ixindl disposition.^ There are some curious coincidences 
here. Like Vulcan, the Scandinavian hero was maimed 
in his feet. Like Dadalus, he escaped a king's ire by 
wings of his own device ; while their names are similar in 
meaning. To this day a labyrinth, such as the famed one 
of Dffidalus, is called in Icelandic Volundarhus — Way- 
land's house. What a vista of conjecture into the past 
this opens! A Norman chieftain, bearing this name of 
Volundr, Anglice, Wayland, ravaged France, A.D. 86 1 ; and 
some chief of like name ^ was probably killed at the battle 
of Ashdown, in Berkshire, 871, and buried on the spot. 

1 Deor the Scald (Exeter Book, Volund are personified tlie intellec- 

P- 377j Thorpe) also alludes to the tual gifts, prudence, art, cunning 

cruelty practised on the great Smith under opposition and misfortune, and 

by King Nithard. Baldr occurs in their ultimate victory over all the 

" Judith" and " Elene " in the sense machinations of jealousy and malice 

"Princeps." (Nidud). 

- Is not und rather a masc. suflBx? ■* Such is the conjecture of P. E. 
Keyser, " Efterladte Skrifter," 155, Miiller, "Saga Bibliothek," ii. 162. 
says that Volund is a legendary hero Some modern antiqviaries contend 
common to all the Teutonic race. He that the cromlech now known as Way- 
is the Velent, son of the giant Vade land Smith's cave was so named first 
of the Dietrich Saga, c. 57-79. Vade by F. Wise in his letter to Dr. Meade 
is the son of King Vilkinus by a on the antiquities of Berks (Oxford, 
mermaid. Velent's son is Vidga = 1758). The Wayland the Smith's men- 
A.-S. Wudga (Traveller's Song, 250). tioned by the Chronicle of Abingdon 
The same author concludes from the (i. 158), was adjoining to Compton 
world-wide extension of the legend near East Ilsley, and not to Compton 
and the meaning of the name, and Beauchamp. The legend of Wayland 
for other reasons, that it was a tale Smith was first told to Scott by the 
quite independent of the rest of the grandmother of " Tom Hughes," who 
Aser religion. He thinks that in lived at UfiBngton hard by. 



WA YLAND SMITH. 289 

Later, the slumberer under the cairn got mixed up in the 
tradition of the vulgar with his namesake, the ancient 
mythic hero of Scandinavian story,^ whose legend had 
come over with the Northmen ; and the knight Wayland's 
grave became the tomb of Wayland Smith ; only, instead 
of working gold rings, he subsided into the baser art of 
shaping iron horse-shoes. Here, then, we see the origin of 
the invisible Smith who dwelt under ground near the 
White Horse, overlooking Compton Beauchamp.i How 
little were these Berkshire bumpkins aware, when they 
constructed their modern edifice, from what a grand old 
fane their materials came ! With the true assimilating 
instinct of genius, Scott seized upon the legend, penetrated 
into its deeper meaning, and again transformed it into a 
character, about whom are grouped some of the most inte- 
resting features of " Kenilworth," 

But Voluudr had a brother of great renown as an 
archer, Egil by name. King Nithud, hearing of Egil's 
skill with the bow, had an apple put on the head of his 
three-year-old son, and ordered him to shoot it down. 
The father hit the apple plump in the centre witliout 
injuring his son. On being asked by the king what the 
two remaining arrows were meant for, he replied, " For 
thee if I hurt my boy." Here, then, we have the Northern 
prototype of Tell.^ This tale, given by Saxo-Grammaticus 
to Toko, by the Jomsvikinga Saga to Palnatoki, and by 
other authorities to other heroes, from the twelfth to the 
very end of the fifteenth century, was also known in Eng- 
land, and lives in the old ballad of William of Cloudesley. 
Egil would in Anglo-Saxon have borne the form ^gel, and 
accordingly we find places compounded w4th his name, e.y., 

^ King Alfred in bis translation of a personage would not have been for- 

" BoetbiiConsolat. Pbilosopli,"cxix., gottenbere. SoMiiller, Sagabl.ii. 161. 
by a curious misconception, rendered - Cf. Kemble's "Saxons in Eng- 

" Ubi sunt ossa Fabricii " by "Where land," i. 422. Schiern, " Historiske 

are the bones of Veland?" This seems Studien," Copenhagen, 1856, pp. 40, 

to indicate that the legend was not of 109, which discusses the wanderings 

native English descent, else the real of Northern traditions, particularly 

or reputed burial-place of so renowned in reference to the story of Tell. 

T 



290 



ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 



il^.gels-l)urli = Aylesbury. JEglosford = Aylesford. The Ice- 
landic Saga of this Egil is lost, but a tradition of him 
survives in the Didriks Saga.^ It is told at length in the 
national songs of the Faro Islands. Was this one of those 
myths that, according to our deep-searching friends the 
Germans, all nations naturally produce, the germ being 
native to the East ? But then the accessories would have 
differed in centres so remote as Switzerland and the Arctic 
circle. Say rather it was a complete plagiarism, a copy 
taken by whom and when ? 

And here we are reminded of another word, 'regn,' 
which occurs in "Beowulf" in composition expressing 
' immense,' ' intense,' e.g., ' Eegn-heard ' = ' intensely hard.' 
This, too, is a mythological word only to be explained by 
the Edda. In Icelandic it has a derived sense, ' mighty,' 
'great,' ' holy.' Now in the Edda 'regin '= the 'powers,' 
' the gods.' A lofty mountain soaring to heaven, fit abode 
for the deities, is called ' Eegin-fial.' The vast sea, the 
abode of the marine deities, is ' Eegin-haf '= the ' mighty 
main.' Hence it descended into proper names as a 
matter of course. ' Begnar ' Lodbrok, he of the shaggy 
inexpressibles, whose family so long ruled in the North of 
England, is a notable instance. Eagnfridr =: a woman of 
divine beauty. Eonald = Eognvaldr = 'the chief power- 
ful by the grace of the gods.' The town of Eegens- 
burg tells a similar tale ; while reynard ' the sly ' is the 
old Teutonic Eegin-hart = ' the cunning counsellor.' 
Of Begin, the dwarf in the Edda, one of those gnomes so 
skilful in metal-work, he who bamboozled Sigurd and was 
killed by him for his treachery, we have already spoken. 
He and his doings, with the whole story of Sigurd the 
dragon-slayer, have been immortalised in a Eunic picture, 
and inscriptions cut in the rock at Eamsund, and on the 
so-called gowk- stone, or cuckoo- stone, both in Suderman- 
land in Sweden. These have been admirably explained by 
the late Carl Save of Upsala, more than sufficient, alas ! to 

1 Cap. 75, p. 90, ed. Unger. 



RE GIN THE D]VARF. 291 

make 11s regret the death of so enthusiastic a worker in 
the field of old ISTorse philology.^ These rock runes, be it 
said, are reckoned by competent antiquarians as a proof 
that this Edda myth is not of German but Scandina- 
vian origin, coming direct with that people from the East. 
Yet another word which occurs in " Beowulf," and else- 
where in Anglo-Saxon remains, and is only intelligible 
by the old Norse heathen compositions. "We mean ' Mid- 
dan-geard,' literally := ' middle yard,' the ' central en- 
closure ; ' in Anglo-Saxon a name of the earth (from it 
we have our expression 'raid-earth' or 'middle earth'). 
Turn to the old Edda, and light is at once shed on the 
terrestrial darkness. The old Scandinavians fancied that 
mankind lived in a central temperate region in the middle 
of the universe, called by them Midgargr, the ' j\Iianger- 
dun ' of the Persians, which was protected by the gods of 
Asgard (the lofty ' burgh of the gods ') from the evil 
powers. These last had their abode in Utgard = ' out- 
yard,' that distant land bordering on the sea circling 
round this earth, but uninhabited from its excessive cold. 
It was the especial province of the god Thor to be the 
defender of our vale against the besieging deities, the 
gigantic supernatural powers, and a tolerably hard life of 
it he had in consequence. 

^ " Sigurds Ristning," Upsala, 1868. 



( 292 ) 



CHAPTEE X. 

SAGAS OF ICELAND. 

We have talked (p. 170, supra) of the Saxon Chronicle, 
frenerally though not always trustworthy in its dates, and 
identifying beyond dispute the existence of such and such 
individuals, but as signally failing to satisfy our curiosity 
as to their personalities, and, until about Alfred's time, 
when the writer, in describing the king's fights with the 
Danes, manifestly warms up to the occasion and becomes 
less wooden, very deficient in the matter of details.^ Was 
Alfred bald ? If so, why not say so ? If he had hair, of 
what colour ? Was there no speculation in those eyes of 
his ? What was their hue ? Turn to the corresponding 
literature of Iceland and Norway. Here we have some- 
thing pleasant to the taste and easy of digestion. Verily 
it is a cake and not dough. 

But let us say a few words parenthetically about Ice- 
land, for though it and Norway in those days spoke and 
wrote the same tongue, the old Norse, it was in Iceland 
that the most and best specimens of the Northern litera- 
ture were composed and copied down. Wliat were the 

1 There is, however, one remark- tions offered them — are all described 

able exception, the story of the mur- with Icelandic minuteness. Mr. 

der of King Cynewulf (755) when on Earle renders 'gebaeru' by 'cries.' 

a visit to a lady in the country, The corresi)onding Is. 'laeti,' it is 

where the shape of the house, the true, may = either ' cries ' or ' ges- 

way in which it is beset and the king tures ; ' but the German analogue 

slain before his men were aware of ' geberden ' always = ' gestures or 

it; how they at length are alarmed 'bearing,' in which sense 'gebaeru' 

by the frantic gestures of the lady, occurs twice iu the "Exile's Com- 

rush to the spot and fight to the last jjlaiut." 
man, refusing the favourable condi- 



SAGAS OF ICELAND. 293 

moving causes of this literary activity ? A great part of 
the Icelanders were of the very best families of Western 
N'orway, people who for generations had led a life of 
energy and movement, and had been in constant com- 
munication with the best European races, particularly the 
Irish, a people very early pre-eminent among the islands 
of the west in the possession of a higher culture. This 
would prove contagious, and foster among the Icelanders 
a taste for literary production, and help to generate among 
them the historic faculty. Then, again, the very physical 
characteristics of the island had a hand in the matter. 
Their isolation would naturally make the people anxious to 
hear stories of the world outside, especially about the pre- 
sent and past of the mother country. How intensely eager 
our American cousins have always been for a similar treat ! 
In long winter nights, when the frozen breath of the near 
Greenland would drive the people cowering to the fire- 
side, their energetic mind would at once seek for a fillip, 
and an antidote to the tedium of the hour, in story-telling. 
Then again, literary power was not a mere matter of senti- 
mental amusement. The native knew full well that to 
excel in history or poetry would secure for him favour at 
the Scandinavian and English courts ; it would place him 
" high in hall a welcome guest," and fill his pocket with 
gold pieces. Strongly impressed with this fact, they 
would turn their abundant leisure to profitable account 
in the composition, not only of poetry, but of long mythic 
and historic sagas in prose. At an early period this 
literature would be oral and traditional. Runic charac- 
ters, the only existing method of writing, was only a 
clumsy vehicle for the transmission of their literary speci- 
mens, much less handy than their tenacious and nimble 
memories. The introduction of Christianity, a.d. iooo, 
brought with it Latin characters. But it was a century 
and more before these were employed for copying down 
productions in the vernacular. About the middle of tlie 
twelfth century a beginning was made with laws and legends. 



294 ICELANDIC LIJ'ERA TURK. 

religious and genealogical. V>y degrees the movement 
grew. The poetic and historic traditions saw the light, 
and for a couple of centuries vernacular composition was 
in full swing, culminating about the middle of the thir- 
teenth century, and dying out about 1400. Of the original 
Scandinavian MSS. still extant, the greater part belong 
to the fourteenth and latter half of the preceding century, 
and there arc one or two which belong to the beginning 
and end of the twelfth century. 

But it is time we should turn to a book with which 
Europe had no contemporary work in the vernacular to 
compare, the pink and plume and pride of old Norse 
literature — the " Heimskringla," or history of the kings of 
Norway, by Snorri Sturluson. Why, here we have a Macau- 
lay in the thirteenth century, a man to whom all who wish 
to be good story-tellers, to interest the mind and stir the 
heart, may well apprentice themselves — a man in a remote 
valley of Iceland, that sunless land of snow and ice, that 
howling wilderness of lava and cinder heaps, over which 
night broods so many weary hours of the year. Surely 
J. H. Newman had forgotten Snorri when he laid it down 
as an axiom that " science, literature, and art refuse 
to germinate in frost" (Historic Sketches, i. 60). You 
should see the place, the site of his abode, with the bath of 
hewn stone, in that valley of bogs and reek, and you would 
be lost in amazement if you did. See him picking up the 
threads of history, and working them into a tissue pic- 
turesque in the extreme, in his own vernacular too, when 
we English, who had not the wit to throw off the old 
Ptoman influence — dumbfounded, too, with that French 
jargon which the Norman had brought into the land, the 
language of the royal court, the courts of law, and the 
baronial castle — were maundering away in Latin.^ " Oh ! 

' This taste for Latia originated fected our vernacular prose compo- 

probably with the habit we so early sition. Priscian was highly reputed 

indulged iu of translating from that among us. The entry, S28, Chi-o- 

language, which, whatever may be nicle, shows this : "Tunc Priscianus 

said to the contrary, must have af- profunda grammatica rimatus est." 



SNORRI AND THE " HEIMSKRINGLA. 



295 



but Snorri is not at all true. He drew upon his imagination 
for his facts. His history may rather be likened to that 
of Herodotus, which Niebuhr looked on as a work of epic 
rather than of historic value." Indeed ! let us see. In 
his preface he states that he based his work on living tra- 
dition, which had long before received its defined inner 
character, and also its complete outer form, and was now 
passed from the tongue to the pen (Keysir, 15); also on 
old genealogical registers, which were preserved with ex- 
traordinary care, and on ancient poems, the authors of 
which believed what they related was true.^ Among these 
poets were Thiodolfr and Hornklovi, the scalds of King 
Harold Fairhair, and Eyvindr, also a Norwegian, nick- 
named Skalda-spiller,- who celebrated Hacon Jarl. " These 



We are reminded here of an Anglo- 
Saxon fragment on vellum of a gram- 
matical treatise, based on Priscian, in 
All Souls' College Library, and sup- 
posed to belong to the eighth or ninth 
century. The writer, after explain- 
ing that an ox loweth (hlae wj)), a sheep 
bleats (blaet), a pig grunteth (grunaS), 
&c. , facetiously observes that it would 
be very absurd (dysig) if a man were 
to "bark" or "bleat." Some of the 
Anglo-Saxon grammatical terms may 
well reconcile us to the cease of the 
ancient tongue. For " in the indica- 
tive mood" we find " on gebicnigend- 
licum gemette," and so on. 

Priscian penetrated to Iceland. In 
the treatises on grammar and speech 
appended to the prose Edda, pro- 
perly so called, which are marvels of 
literary work in such an age, time, 
and place, constant reference is made 
to the great grammarian, and in prose 
Edda, ii. 7, we have extracts from 
his work " De Partibus Orationis," 
written A.D. 520. The writer of the 
Icelandic grammatical treatise was a 
carpenter, Thorodd, who, while at 
work building Holar church, heard 
the pupils of the cathedral school re- 
citing their Latin exercises, and so 
caught tlie taste for learning. 

^ In the universal darkness that 



preceded the Reformation, Snorri's 
History encountered the fate of many 
more books, and was lost sight of by 
the world of letters. A Danish monk, 
ChristiernPederson, who, in his book 
on Saxo, gave extracts from the 
" Heimskringla, " was the first to re- 
introduce it to literature. About 
1550 appeared a book of extracts, in 
Danish, from the old MS. ' Kringla ' 
in Bergen. But it was not till the 
close of the sixteenth century that the 
Danish translation by Peder Claus- 
sen, priest of Undal in Xorway (born 
1545, died 1614), edited with a pre- 
face by Ole Worm, restored Snorri to 
some extent to his place in literature. 
The MSS. from which he worked are 
lost. Other and better MSS. of the 
original have since been discovered, 
but his work, especially in respect 
to Swerrir's Saga, is very valuable 
(Storm, 216). 

- Skalda-spiller = spoiler of scalds, 
i.e., he took the shine out of all the 
other poets. Others interpret it 
' poetaster,' plagiarist, and say lie was 
so nicknamed because two of his chief 
poems were modelled on the works of 
contemporary poets : the " Haleygja- 
tal" after the " Ynglinga-tal," and 
the "Hakonar-miil" after the "Eriks- 
mal." Of. Fagrskinna, 33. 



296 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

old songs," proceeds Snorri, " live in men's mouths to 
this day." — He lived four centuries after Harfagr. — " They 
were sung before the chieftains whose battles or expedi- 
tions they celebrate, or, at all events, in the presence of 
their sons, and we believe they were true accounts ; for 
scalds would not have dared to proclaim, before the face 
of their patron, exploits of his which not only he but all 
those present knew to be stuff and nonsense. This would 
have been mockery and no praise." 

But besides these old traditionary ballads, the common 
source, be it said, of every nation's history in their earliest 
days, he had, he says, another most reliable source of his- 
tory in Ari Frodi, born 1068, died 1 148, the beginner of 
the " Landnama bok," or " History of the Discovery and 
Settlement of Iceland," and writer of the " Islendif^abok," 
another work of the same character. Ari was a very 
sage person. He lived to a great age, and he was well 
versed in the histories of Norway, and Denmark, and 
England, as well as in all the great events of the day in 
his own island. Hence everything he relates is considered 
by many wise men deserving of the utmost attention. His 
chief informant was Oddr, who got his information direct 
from Thorgeir, a man who was so old that he was living 
when the great Hacon Jarl was murdered. From his 
seventh to his twenty-first year Ari lived with Hallr of 
Hawkdale, a man of good memory and very wise, who 
could remember being baptized at the age of three by 
Priest Thangbrand, the year before Christianity was estab- 
lished in Iceland by law. Hallr travelled about a good 
deal, and was the intimate friend of Saint Olaf. He was 
twelve years old when Bishop Isleifr died, which was 
eighty years after the fall of King Olaf Tryggvason. He 
lived sixty-four years in Hawkdale, and died at the age of 
ninety-four. Under the roof of Hallr, Ari met with his 
foster-son, Teitr, son of Bishop Isleifr, who told him a good 
deal of lore, which he subsequently wrote down. " No 
wonder," continues the great historian, "Ari was truly 



THE GREENLAND CHRONICLE. 297 

informed on distant events, both at home and abroad, 
having thus learned from ancient men and sages, being, 
moreover, himself a man eager to learn and having a reten- 
tive memory. But as for old songs, they are, methinks, of 
all things, least likely to be corrupted, if they are correctly 
sung and sensibly interpreted." ^ That is a plain, unvar- 
nished tale at all events, and a complete set-down to those 
who will have it that Snorri was given to romancing. So 
was Herodotus, imtil modern travellers have been able to 
prove his statements to be true. 

Snorri frankly confesses whence he got his information ; 
and very good sources they were. The best, too, then 
procurable. He makes no mystery about the mine he 
worked in, the hole of the pit whence his history was 
dicrcred. But to know facts is one thing. To be gifted 
with the power of exposition is another ; and that power 
Snorri possessed in a very eminent degree. Besides 
another circumstance corroborates Snorri. The truthful- 
ness of the Greenland Chronicle, most likely by an equally 
ancient hand, has been practically tested by modern 
visitors to that country in the description of localities 
and of the time of sun-rising at certain places, which 
correspond with what they themselves saw. In this, to 
a great extent, we have a guarantee for the truthfulness 
of these chronicles generally.^ In Snorri's chain of evi- 
dence for his History there was liardly then a link 
wanting, while the histories of Paulus Diaconus and 
Jornandes were evidently based on ancient poems of 

1 So thought, too, Snorri's prede- - Cf. " Antiquitates Americ.inas " 
cessors in history-writiug. The au- (Copenhagen, 1837), where the ae- 
ther of " Historia Norwegise " frame.s count of the discovery of America 
his early annals on Thiodolf's " Yng- at the end of the tenth and begin- 
lingatal." Theodoric the monk speaks ning of the eleventh century, viz., 
with approbation of the chronological Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, as well 
poems of the Icelanders. Odd Monk as New Brunswick and Canada, is 
gives several of Halfred's verses about given from the "Flateybok" and 
Olaf. But none of them before Snorri other ancient vellum MSS. obtained 
knew how to turn these old verses to from Iceland, 
the proper account. Storm, ib., p. 
20, sqq. 



29S ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

Avliose authors they knew nothing — such ancient pieces 
as those mentioned by Tacitus.^ 

Neither was there any break here in the continuity, as 
there was at lionie, where the old annals were destroyed 
by the Gauls, and a long space intervened between that 
date and the date of the first annalist, Fabius Pictor, 
<dving time for the old ballads mentioned by Ennius and 
Oato the Censor to be forgotten and become obsolete. 
Snorri quotes from poets almost his contemporaries, the 
lampadephoroi and mantel-bearers of scalds of earlier 
times. While in the whole Anglo-Saxon Chronicle there 
are but three poems, in Snorri there are hundreds. Poetic 
books of Jasher are cited in every page. The sagas, to 
say the least of it, often help us to facts, and to the causes 
and connections of facts, which our own writers leave 
obscure.^ 

Take an instance. The ancient sculptured pillar at 
Forres has always been an enigma to antiquaries, with its 
opposing bands of horse and foot, betokening some fierce 
encounter of olden days. Now it is recorded in the 
"Flateybok" (i. 221) how Earl Sigurd of the Orkneys 
invaded Scotland and slew Earl Melbrigda of the Tusk, 
a kind of Northern " wild boar of the Ardennes," and all 
his men. This done, they rode off in triumph, with the 
heads of their foes fastened to their cruppers. On the 
way. Earl Sigurd, while spurring his horse, struck the calf 
of his leg against the tooth projecting from Melbrigda's 
head. It was only a slight scratch, but tlie leg swelled 
and suppurated, and led to the death of the EarL He was 
buried, says the saga, on the banks of the Oykel (Ekki- 
alsbakki). But the battle may very well have been fought 
at Forres, and the sculptured pillar may be a representa- 
tion of it, for the leader appears with a human head 
hanging at his girdle.^ 

^ Tacitus, Germania, ii. : " Cele- - Freeman's " History of the Nor- 

brant carmiiiibus antiquis quod unum man Conquest," i. 258. 

iipud illos memorise ct annalium genus ^ Skene's " Celtic Scotland," i. 337. 
est." 



THE BIARKAMAL. 299 

Let us cite other examples. At the battle of Hjoruu- 
cfavafT with the Jomvikiniis, Hacon Jarl had five celebrated 
scalds to animate his men (Bartholin, p. 172).^ This 
custom in Northern armies is corroborated by Alfred's 
traditionary visit as a minstrel to the Danish camp, these 
gentry being as privileged as wearers of the Eed Cross in 
our days. At Stikklestad, where St. Olaf fell, he pre- 
viously told Thormodr Kolbrunar scald, " You shall not 
only record what you have heard, but what you have 
seen." The scald was there to animate the soldiers with 
his war-songs as they rushed to the onset, to sing the 
paean of victory or a dirge, as the case might be, and, if he 
lived, to record the deeds of the day thereafter. At early 
dawn Thormodr with lusty voice broke into the Biarka- 
mal, or song of Biarke, a genuine old heathen ditty, telling 
of the fight where Eolfe Krake, wakened from his slum- 
bers, fell with all his men, of which Saxo (lib. ii. 90), who 
makes sad work of the obscure Icelandic words, gives a 
long metrical Latin paraphrase. Borne upon Northern 
ears, it would stir them like the voice of a trumpet. Here 
is Laiug's version, which, though not literal, gives the 
spirit of the original : — ^ 

'• The day is breakin,<:, 
The house-cock shaking 

^ Harald Hardrada sang before the Olafsaga, cap. 220. Three other 
battle of Stamford Bridge. So Tail- stanzas are cited by Snorri in the 
lefer, before the battle of Hastings, Edda, cap. 45. They are a notable in- 
struck up the song of Charlemagne stance of the circumlocution in which 
and Roland, to inspirit the Normans, the best bards revelled. Imagine in 
The Fraukish Emperor's wars with an affair of life and death, while en- 
the neighbouring Saxons had fired gaged in rousing the nien-at-arnis to 
the imagination of the North, and the rescue of their princely beue- 
in Scandinavia he, like Theodoric factor, imagine the scald stopj)ing 
of Bern (Verona), became a sort of his spirited reveille to run through a 
legendary hero. One of the finest double diapason of sixteen mystic 
ancient Norwegian ballads recites the names for gold, e.g., The burden of 
death of Roland (Bugge,"NorskeFol- Grani, the drudge-work of Fenia, 
keviser," xiv. Of. "Worsaae, "Minder the fine for the Otter, the red ore 
om de Nordmsendene i England, of the Rhine, the hair of Siv, the 
168). strife of the Niflungs, ILc. 

- This is all that is given in S. 



300 ICELANDIC LITERATURE, 

His mstliiij; wings ; 

Wliile priest-bell rings — 

Crows up the morn, 

And touting horn 

Wakes thralls to work and weep. 

Ye sons of Adil, cast off sleep ! 

Wake up ! wake up ! "* 

Nor wassail cup 

Nor maiden's jeer 

Awaits you here. 

Hrolf of the bow, 

Hare of the blow, 
Up in your might ! the day is breaking, 
'Tis Hilda's ^ game that bides your waking." 

No bunglers these scalds ; no dabblers in Helicon, who, 
with blue-visaged Hel staring them in the face, would 
pour out sustained dirges, surpassing all the swans that 
ever were. Egil, for instance, and Bragi, the author of 
the famous song of Eagnar Lodbrok — both of whom, be- 
tween night and morning, composed many-stanzaed pane- 
gyrics to put away a king's wrath and save their own 
heads, albeit the first-named was terribly bothered by a 
swallow that would keep twittering against the window. 
It really was a witch, emissary of the blood-thirsty Queen, 
bent on confounding his muse. One thing is to be regret- 
ted, that Icelandic poetry, which could be so simple and 
natural (witness the Voluspa and other specimens of the 
old ballad in the metre called FornyrSalag), indulged very 
early, especially in the DrottkvdeSi, Drapa, and such-like 
court poetry, in an obscure medley of studied artifices. 
Pity that men to whose lips rushed spontaneous poetry in 
accents vigorous and full of fire should have wasted their 
great powers in laborious bombast ; that their originality 
should have been cramped by self-imposed rigid rules, till 
at last public taste ran riot in a chaos of inversions, forced 
metaphors, stilted phrases, and prepense obscurities. 

1 Hildr was the 'fire-eyed maid of without warrant "the priest-bell," 

smoky war ' in Scandinavia. We which is not to be found in the oi'igi- 

have given Laiug's version, which, in nal. P. E. Miiller places this poem 

other respects faithful, introduces at the beginning of the ninth century. 



SXOJ^I^rS YOUTH. 301 

But to return to Snorri. The man who could digest 
these scattered and obscure materials into that admirable 
whole, — whence did he acquire the mental discipline, the 
critical power, necessary for such a purpose ? The answer 
must be that to his own natural genius, rather than to any- 
great educational advantages, Snorri was indebted for his 
writing power. No doubt from a child Snorri had great 
advantages. In his fourth year, 1 182, he became domi- 
ciled in the abode of Jon Loptsson of Odde, grandson of 
Ssemund, one of a very learned family, and he remained 
there till his foster-father's death in 1 197, when Snorri 
was nineteen years old. Some Latin, theology, and geo- 
graphy, much law,^ an awakened interest in history, and 
a deep insight into the theory of poetry, were, roughly 
speaking, the sum of what he took away with him from the 
home of his youth. The occurrence of errors in his work in 
respect to English and French history would indicate that 
he was by no means well posted up in the French and 
English Chronicles.2 Adam of Bremen seems to have been 
unknowm to him. Strictly speaking, his main literary 
studies seem to have been confined to the traditions and 
ballads of his country, which in his case, as in Sir W. 
Scott's, were the substratum, the chief corner-stone, of 
those marvellous compositions which have delighted the 
world. He himself became a very considerable scald ; 
like all the Sturlung race, he had the poetic gift, and 
as such he appeared at the Norwegian court. How 
intimately he was versed in the theory and prac- 
tice of scaldic poetry is abundantly evident from that 
master-work of learning, his prose Edda, the ripe fruit of 
many years of profound study, completed about 1222.-* 



1 It was this which got him the potentate on his arrival in Norway, 

Speakership of the Althing, which he 1218 (Sturl.,ii. 25), is in a metre which, 

often visited attended by nine hun- if skilfully done, is pronounced by 

dred armed followers. fcSnorri the most beautiful, as it is the 

^ See G. Storm, ib., 78. most difficult, in the whole list of 

3 The burden of his poem to Skule scaldic metres. 
Jarl, which he recited before that 



302 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

No doubt when he visited Norway he had the plan 
of his great work floating in his brain, and examined 
many of the localities described, for the sake of identi- 
licatioii. These personal visits were not thrown away 
by liiin, for in Ids battles, e.g., that of Hiorungavag, 
his local knowledge is more accurate than that of other 
contemporary writers, although a recent critic, Storm, 
lias by personal investigation detected mistakes in his 
details. For be it understood that there were several 
history- writers before him.^ But, previous to him, Norse 
history was mere biography. He avoids the faults of his 
predecessors and contemporaries, and makes the history 
of the Norse kings a connected whole. Prudence, verg- 
ing on cunning, love of money, of which he had good 
store, as \vell as of flocks and herds, and an insatiate 
ambition, appear to have been the salient points in the 
character of this extraordinary man. We may add that 
to him Iceland mainly owed her subjection to the yoke 
of Norway, 

Just read such a piece of writing as that battle of 
Svoldr under the isle of Eugen, sung in the first instance 
by Half red Vandrajdaskald. One version is by Snorri, 
the other from the Latin of Odd Munk (died 1200). The 
treacherous Swedes and Danes set upon Olaf Tryggvason 
as he comes careering along eastward in the Long Serpent 
from his visit to Pomerania (Vendland), and behold the 
king at last, when all is over, and nothing can be done to 
retrieve the fortunes of that luckless day, covering him- 
self with his shield and plunging into the blue " Ostsse " 
to rise no more. For many a long day the Northmen 
would not believe that the fiery king, who held the horse- 
eating, blood-bowd-licking Swedes and coward Danes so 

1 Theoiloric the monk's " Historia Ungerland" Fagrskinna" (ed.Unger), 

(1e Antiquitate Rcgum Norwegiae," a which after " Heimskringla" is the 

hititi " Historia Norwegise," now ex- most original composition. The Egil 

jsting in a Scotch MS. of the fifteenth Saga (1190) also supplied Snorri 

century, " Agrip af Noregs Konunga with some of his materials. Storm, 

sog\im," the history of the Orkney " Snorre Sturlason's Historic Skrivn- 

Jarls, " Morkinskinna" (edited by ing," p. 20, Kjobenhavn, 1873. 



THE BATTLE OF SVOLDR. 303 

cheap, was really dead. Like Barbarossa, who in the loving 
imagination of his Germans was not drowned in the 
waters of the Selef, but holds his secret court in the 
marble halls of the Kiffhiiuserberg, surrounded by his 
paladins, he would once more reappear among men. Did 
not popular superstition recognise in the pale-visaged 
monk of Chester the Saxon King Harold Godwinson, 
whom eye-witnesses had avouched to have fallen at Hast- 
ings pierced through the brain by an arrow ? Nay, to go 
a step farther back, did not the vanquished Britons, ac- 
cording to the veracious account of Layamon, imagine 
that Arthur, though " passed," was still alive, dwelling in 
Avalon ? 

" Still look the Britons for the day 
Of Arthur's coming o'er the sea." 

Arthur, the defender of Christianity against the wor- 
shippers of Odin ! Ay ! and to this day he lives on, while 
his competitor, Odin, by a sort of poetic revenge, is non- 
existent in the heart of an Englishman. 

In none of his sagas more than that of Olaf Tryggvason 
does the Icelander give us greater cause to wonder at the 
consummate genius with which he marshals forth and 
groups his incidents, and puts them vividly before our 
very eyes. These sagas may contain accounts of battles 
which a Milton might liken, as he did the internal feuds 
of the Saxons, to the flytings of kites and crows ; but they 
also contain the history of Harold Fairhair, the Egbert of 
Norway, whose idolatry for the sex was the mainspring of 
his martial propensities, and who at the battle of Hafurs- 
fiord smote those scores of kinglets that infested Norway 
no less than they did Anglo-Saxon England.^ They tell 

1 His vow not to submit to the his hair on his shoulders dishevelled 
barber till he had achieved the cou- and red, binding himself by a solemn 
quest of Norvray, and all for a woman, vow not to have it cut till he con- 
finds many parallels in history. Pass- quered. Suetonius tells us that 
ing over Samson, we have Civilis Julius Cassar after the Titurian 
(Tacit. Hist., 61), who when he first slaughter wore liis hair uucut till he 
took arms against the Eomans, wore got his revenge. 



304 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

us of that striking personage Hacou Jarl, who had to take 
the pledge of Christianity perforce from the Emperor 
Otto at the Danevirke ; but no sooner was he on his own 
quarterdeck again, than— just as Bede relates of the con- 
verted Saxons— he relapsed into the old faith. He threw 
his mass-books and all thereto appertaining overboard, 
and died at last the victim of a miserable thrall, wedded 
to a creed which was waning in the light of the new gods. 
But the murder scene is too dramatic to pass over in 
silence. He had fled away from the pursuit of his out- 
raged and revolted subjects, and, with none but Karker to 
bear him company, was hidden in the subterranean crypt 
under the hogstye of Kimol. The future king, Olaf Trygg- 
vason, unaware of his proximity, was holding a thing 
overhead, standing on a great stone. " In his speech, the 
king promised money and honour to the man who would 
slay Hacon. These words were overheard by the Jarl and 
Karker. Said the Jarl, ' Why art thou so pale and then 
swart as mould ? Art thou going to betray me ? ' ' No,' 
said Karker ; ' we were born on the same night.' Said the 
Jarl, ' There will be but a short space between our deaths.' 
Meantime, it drew towards evening, and Olaf left the spot. 
When night came on the Jarl kept watch, but Karker 
slept and was disturbed in his sleep. Then the Jarl woke 
him and asked what he was dreaming of. He said, ' I 
was at Lade, and King Olaf was laying a gold ring round 
my neck.' Says the Jarl, 'It will be a blood-red ring 
the king will lay about thy neck if he catches thee. So 
beware! From me thou shalt have nothing but good, 
as heretofore ; therefore betray me not.' After this they 
both kept awake, as though each one were watching the 
other. But towards day the Jarl dropt asleep, and at 
once became so disturbed in his sleep that he drew up his 
heels under him with neck erect, as if he was about to 
rise, and gave an awful scream. On this, Karker, des- 
perately frightened, seized a great knife from his belt and 
stuck it into the Jarl's throat, and slashed it right across 



HACON JARL. 305 

and caused his death. Then Karker cut off the Jarl's 
head and ran away with it That evening he came to 
Lade and brought it to the king, and told him all that 
had passed between him and Jarl Hacon, as above re- 
recorded, Olaf had him led out and beheaded." ^ 

A man of great power both of body and mind, of un- 
surpassed courage, without his match for sagacity among 
his contemporaries, so bigoted a devotee of Paganism that 
he could even offer up his own son for victory; — such a 
character was just the one to interest Snorri ; but, like a 
shrewd man of the world as lie was, he acquiesced in the 
fait accomjpli, the downfall of his hero, with the remark, 
" The time was now come when idolaters and idolatrous 
worship were to be discarded, and the right faith and 
worship to take its place." ^ And so exit Hacon and 
enter Olaf. Specially ought we to notice here how, in an 
age steeped in the belief of supernatural intervention at 
every turn of existence, Snorri, when writing history, pre- 
ferred giving a natural explanation of life's phenomena, 
rather than clog his pages with the monkish tales about 
trolls and demons, and the way in which St. Olaf over- 
come them. 

These sagas tell us of Eric Bloodyaxe, and his witch 
wife and w' orthy mate, Gunhilda, a Northern Jezebel, who 
tempted her husband, he said, to be grim more than ever 
man did (Egil, 48) ; and how they were packed off out of 
Norway to make room for Hakon, Athelstan's foster-son, 
of whom the people said at the first sight of him, " Here 
is Harold Eairhair come and grown young again." Eric 
subsequently had the good luck to get from the English 
king, as blackmail for not harrying the English coast and 
for resisting the inroads of the Scots and Irish, the rule of 
England north of the Humber. Further, these historians 
tell us, with great individuality of description, with the 
keenest and clearest perception of humour and reality, in 

' Heimskringla, vol. i. p. 236, eJ. Unger, Christiania, i3C8. 
^ Olaf Tryggvason's Saga, p. 192 ; Storm, p. 102. 

U 



3o6 ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

a style racy and idiomatic, of that Harold wlio fell at 
Stamford Bridge ; of a host of other potentates, who in the 
English stories would have had little more life and colour 
in them than tlie long-drawn ghost procession in Macbeth. 
Indeed we cannot sufficiently admire the remarkable 
faculty Snorri possessed for the description of character in 
his dramatis 'personal; so as to keep pace with the develop- 
ment of the story. Dialogue is often the vehicle he uses 
for this purpose, where every sentence brings out some new 
feature in the portrait. 

Or take the Kristni Saga, said to be the work of 
Ari, with the account of the violent doings of that 
unique missionary Thangbrand,^ the envoy of Olaf 
Tryggvason, to Iceland, in the interests of the Christian 
religion. And then compare with this the amiable way in 
which Gregory's missionaries first set about their task ; 
how^ an Anglo-Saxon monarcli like Ethelbert viewed the 
method of embracing the new faith, leaving everything to 
the people's choice, and permitting no compulsion. While 
a Scandinavian king, true to the strong-willed instincts of 
his race, brooked not a shadow of opposition to his behests. 
How, again, the people of England showed none of that 
desperate clinging to the old faith at all hazards, even to 
fire and sword, evinced by the Scandinavian heathendom. 
There is none of that resolute and fiery opposition to the 
missionaries. The reason might be that the Saxon priests 
did not belong to a strong semi-political, semi-religious 
organisation, such as did the Icelandic GoSi, uniting in 
himself priest and chief. It must also be taken into 
account that England was not, like Iceland, virgin soil on 
the arrival of St. Augustine. The Paganism of the Angles 
and Saxons had come in contact previously with British 

1 The first missionaries to Norway and as such had an affection for the 

were nearly all from England. It was Norse tongue, which they used alike 

they who brought Latin characters, in speech and writing, in secular 

ink and parchment, and skill in their matters as well as in theology. Key- 

uae. Most likely they were kin of sir, " Efterladte Skrifter," 14.J 
the Norse families settled in England, 



ENGLAND AND ICELAND CONTRASTED. 307 

and Gallic Christianity, and must have been worn down 
a good deal in consequence. Indeed, Odinism w^as quite 
on the wane. And so it was that within a century of 
Augustine all German England was nominally united 
under a metropolitan, Theodore of Tarsus. 

If much of these sagas is necessarily based on tradition, 
so also some of Bede's History, on which the earliest part 
of our Chronicle is founded, was, as he himself distinctly 
records,^ taken down from the sayings of men. They tell 
us of these men, but they also paint them to the life. 

1 "Es scriptis vel traditione priorum " (Hist. Ecclesiast. preface). 



( 3o8 ) 



CHAPTER XI. 

THANGBRAND, THE MISSIONARY OF ICELAND. 

But the reader will perhaps desire to know something 
more about the envoy of the missionary society of that 
day. Born, like Columba, rather a soldier than a mis- 
sionary, a man of strife and passion and not of peace, son 
of Vilibald, Count of Bremen, Thangbrand in his youth 
became secretary to Albert, Bishop of Aaihus, in Jutland, 
on his translation to that see from the bishopric of Bre- 
men. This Albert had a brother, Bishop of Canterbury ,i 
to whom he on one occasion paid a visit with young Thang- 
brand in his suite. At the usual distribution of presents 
to the visitors on their departure. Bishop Hubert surveyed 
Thangbrand, and said, " You have the look of a knight 
about you, therefore I shall give you a shield with the 
cross and the likeness of our Lord upon it." Shortly after 
our shield-bearer met King Olaf Tryggvason in the land of 
the Wends, who asked what was the figure on the cross 
that the Christians worshipped, and received for answer 
that it was Jesus Christ ; and then in a few heartfelt words 
Thangbrand told the king the story of redemption. On 
this Olaf purchased the shield, paying for it in pure silver, 
and added, ' If thou art ever in need of help, come to me ; 
I will reward thee for the shield.' Shortly after Olaf was 
baptized in Scilly. Meantime, Thangbrand buys a pretty 
Irish girl with the price of the shield, and returned home 
with her to Denmark. But a youth, who had been given as a 
hostage by the Emperor Otto, catching sight of her, tried to 

1 So says the saga. See cap. v., note, Copenhagen ed., 1773. 



THANGBRAND. 



309 



take her from her lawful owner, which he manfully resisted, 
and a duel taking place, he slew his adversary. After this, 
Denmark being no longer a safe residence for him, he fled 
to Olaf Tryggvason, took orders, and became chaplain in 
ordinary to his majesty. This was just the man to aid the 
king in his projects for the conversion of Norway. Thang- 
brand was made priest of the first church at Mostr, with 
a good residence and glebe. But this by no means sufficed 
for the wants of so prodigal and wasteful a man ; and his 
purse being empty, as a means of refilling it he turned rover 
and ravaged among the heathen. Tlie king, who was in 
Russia, on his return home heard of his chaplain's doings, 
ordered him to his presence, and summarily dismissed him 
as a robber from his service. Very penitent, the offender 
begged the king to dispatch him on some dangerous mis- 
sion. " Well," said the king, " I will make it up with you 
if you will go and convert Iceland." So to Iceland he 
went. On learning his business, the Icelanders gave him 
the cold shoulder; but he succeeded in making friends 
with Hall, a chief man of the country, and celebrated his 
first service in a tent on Michaelmas Day, 997, in the 
presence of Hall and his retainers. What specially 
impressed the heathen was the tingling of the bells, 
the odour of the incense, and the velvet and purple vest- 
ments of the priests. But Hall and his people still de- 
clined to be Christians. At last he made this proposal : — 
Before he was himself baptized he should like to test 
its effect on two crones at his house, old, ragged, and 
bedridden. Experimentum fiat in corpore vili ! If these 
feeble creatures, hard at death's door, could endure thrice 
repeated immersion without risking their lives, or rather 
were all the better for it, why then baptism could not be 
such a very unwholesome thing, and he and his would be 
baptized. The old women, on being applied to, expressed 
their readiness to be baptized ; and baptized they were 
forthwith in the river. " And how do you feel ? " inquired 
Hall next day. " Very well," was the reply, "not more 



3 1 o ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

than the usual infirmities of old age ; nay, if anything, they 
felt rather better than usual." After this the conversion 
of Hall and his i:)eople was o^fait accompli, and they were 
all baptized in the Wash river. Such was a very good 
sample of the opus opcratum principle on which many of 
these Pagans were converted to Christianity. It is re- 
corded in Olaf Tryggvason's Saga, that one bard, on being 
baptized, asked the king, " Am I good now ? " " Of course 
you are," replied the king.i The first step in the good 
work had thus been taken. The missionaries soon did the 
rest. The chief Eomish doctrines, purgatory, the autho- 
rity of the Apostolic See in all matters, civil as well as 
ecclesiastical, and especially Papal infallibility, would no 
doubt be inculcated, to judge from the notion which pre- 
sently sprung up that a journey to Ptome on foot would 
secure to the pilgrim perfect I'emission of all sins what- 
ever. Thus about the year 1012 the principal actors in 
the infamous burning of Njal adopted the infallible spe- 
cific. Nay, Plosi had the honour of receiving absolution 
from the Pope's own hands, but he had to pay a large 
sum of money for it (Njal, 159). Persons placed in ex- 
treme danger would vow a pilgrimage to Ptome. Eafu 
the Eed fancied he saw hell, and the devils trying to draw 
him thither, on which he cried out, " Holy Peter ! thy dog 
hath twice run to Ptome, and by thy leave he will run 
thither a third time ; " on which the devils let him go, and 
he got safe over the river. " All roads lead to Piome ! " 

Next summer our bold missionary went to the Althing 
or Great Parliament, preaching there with much boldness, 
and converting several to the new faith. But there were 
some who believed not, and who assailed Thangbrand, 

1 The water was consecrated by ing an infant to be baptized. Eanisli- 

making the sign of the cross over it ment was the penalty. A boy of 

thrice, with the words, " Consecro te twelve could and must, in case of 

aqua in nomine Patris, Filii, et Spiri- need, baptize an infant ; nay, a boy 

tus Sancti." It wsis believed that of seven might by the old ecclesiasti- 

those who died unbaptized were lost, cal law perform the rite, provided he 

AVoe to him who refused horse, ship, could say the Credo and Patev Noster. 

or carriage to those who were carry- Hist. Eccles. Is., i. 151. 



THA NGBRA ND. 3 1 1 

and lie was only saved from death by tlie help of Njal 
and his followers. Others attacked the missionary with 
the favourite national weapon, " nith-song," i.e., mocking, 
spiteful ditty, so attractive and popular an institution in 
the country, that to this very day the Eskimo in Green- 
land have both the word and the thing ^ — the enduring 
legacy of Scandinavian colonists who, after living in 
the country for five hundred years, died out or were 
absorbed among the Skraelings. Subsequently, from early 
in the fifteenth century, Greenland vanished for some two 
hundred years out of European ken. 

But to return to Thangbrand. He was not the man to 
brook an insult unavenged, and on his rounds through the 
country, he dropped unawares on his chief lampooners, one 
after another, and made short work of them. The island 
was now getting too hot to hold him and his followers ; 
and the climax was reached when a berserker ^ or bearskin- 
clad warrior, one of those strange champions of that age 
who were subject to fits of foaming frenzy, challenged him 
to single combat. At the same time he intimated that he 
was rather a tough customer, as he could walk over hot 
embers barefoot and fall on a sword-point without taking 
any harm. Thangbrand said God must decide. Where- 
upon he consecrated the fire and made the sign of the 
cross over the sword. The result might be expected. The 
berserker not only burnt his feet, but, metaphorically 
speaking, his fingers also, for the sword-point spitted him 
completely, and he fell dead on the spot. This miracle 
was followed by the conversion of Gest the Wise, who 
with some of his friends was " primsigned " ^ But our mis- 

1 There are many interesting bits and admitted him to certain parts of 

in the Greenland Saga. Copenhagen, the mass. In those heathen days, the 

1838. Northmen, who, as mercenaries or as 

- For account of these people, cf. merchants, were much abroad, found 

Kristni Saga, p. 142. Copenhagen, this rite, as being the open sesame 

1770. to social intercourse with Christians, 

' 'Primsigna' = to give the prima of great advantage, and submitted to 
signatio crucis, a religious act prepa- it accordingly. It was the first step 
ratory to christening, which made the towards a full espousal of Christian- 
person a Bort of proselyte of the gate, ity. Egil and his brother, flying from 



3 1 2 ICE LA NDIC LIT ERA TURE. 

sioiiary had had cnong]i of it, and that summer, 999, he 
sailed from Trondjem with a report to the king, his patron, 
of what he had achieved during his three years' residence 
on the island. The leaven he had left speedily began to 
work. At the meeting of the Icelandic Parliament in 
that summer there were two parties present — the heathen, 
who blasphemed Christ, and the Christians, who jeered at 
the old gods. Foremost among the latter was a leading 
man, Hiallti, who seems to have given vent to his scorn 
of the exploded Pantheon in the utterance of barking 
sounds, interspersed with verse — 

" These gods I will greet with a howl and a yelp. 
Why, Frey at the best is only a whelp. 
I say it again, no harm thence foreboding, 
Frey's a dog, or leastways a dog is old Odin." 

This doggrel, however, led to the poetaster's outlawry. 
He repaired with others to King Olaf. The king was des- 
perately incensed at the Icelanders for their stubbornness 
and bad treatment of his envoy, who, with that taste for 
slight embellishments inseparable, it is said, from the 
reports of missionaries in foreign parts, had told him the 
people were such experts in magic that they could make 
the earth open at his feet, ready to swallow up himself and 
his horse quick. A native of Bremen would, of course, be 
at a loss to account, except by necromancy, for the volcanic 

the vengeance of EricBloody-axe (Egil paving the way for the missionaries 

Saga, 50) received the rite at the re- of Olaf, who would never have 

quest of our King Athelstan, whom effected the conversion of Iceland so 

the Norsemen nicknamed 'True-fast.' soon but for this small end of the 

The author of the saga explains : wedge preceding the larger effort ; so 

" Primesigned men had full inter- that trade, in fact, was the first and 

course with both Christians and best spreader of Christianity. To 

heathens, but held to that faith be primesigned jumped with men's 

whichthey liked best." Gisli, theout- material interests. A low ground, 

law, who was primesigned A. D. 960 at people may think, for the cross to 

Viborg, the holy city in Jutland, left be planted in. But such is human 

off all heathen sacrifices (see Gisli nature. " The true way," said Dr. 

Sursson'sSaga.cap. 27, 35). ^Vftertliis, Livingstone to the present author, 

heandothers would in due time revisit "to evangelize Africa is to establish 

their Pagan home, and introduce there a trade with the natives. Commerce 

the first notions of Christianity, thus first, then Christianity." 



THE ALTHING. 313 

chasms that would so commonly open on a sudden and 
engulf the inhabitants. Egged on by Thangbrand, Olaf 
was bent on massacring and maiming all the Icelanders 
in Trondjem ; not the least prominent among whom 
was Kiartan, who in an impromptu swimming match 
had, without knowing him, ducked and almost drowned 
in the bay that great swimmer, his august majesty of 
Norway. Milder counsels, however, prevailed, and the 
king listened to reason, on the chief men telling him they 
would undertake to evangelise the island if he would let 
them go. To this he agreed, taking the precaution, neverthe- 
less, to impound as hostages the above Kiartan and others. 
The next spring, Hiallti and his friend Gizur take ship 
for Iceland, and in the summer of the year of Grace 1000 
we meet once more the Christian party and the heathen 
face to face at the Althing, both of them sworn to decide 
the great controversy between the fast waning gods 
of Scandinavia and the Day Star from on high. The 
scene is strikingly interesting in itself^ — we never saw 
one more so — from the deep marked features which Nature 

1 The following description of the disappears and escapes l)y subter- 

spot is from the author's " Oxonian in raneau ducts into the adjoining lake 

Iceland." "A rough walk of a few of Thingvalla. Atone spot the sides 

score yards brings us to the justly of this giddy cleft contract to within 

celebrated Lijgberg (Law Hill), the nine ells of each other; and over this 

site for a thousand years of the open- yawning chasm once sprang for his 

air parliament. The rdigio loci is life, like Morton, in ' Old Mortality ' 

well calculated to work strongly on over the Black Linn of Linkwater, a 

the mind of the spectator, but its criminal named Flosi ! . . , About 

natural features are such as to make the centre of the enclosure is the 

an impression never to be obliterated, jjlace where the president sat in a 

Fancy yourself on a tolerably even, booth (the ruins of which were visible 

grass-grown plateau, on the edge of a forty years ago) ; and around him, on 

plain of dark, rugged, moss-dappled banks of earth, which are still to be 

lava ; and then fancy that all along traced, the forty-eight diimmer or 

the edges of this plateau, which is in doomsmen. A few paces to the north 

the shape of a rude irregular lozenge, of this is an eminence, from whicli 

yawning rifts open out, perpendicular another functionary recited the old 

and very many fathoms deep. The laws and promulgated new ones, 

bottom of the abyss is filled with Without, were the people of the 

deepsapphire-tinted water, which has country crowding round to the edge 

flowed down from the mountains by of the abyss, and barred by it from 

concealed channels, and again speedily entering the sacred precincts." 



3 1 4 ICELA NDIC LITER A TURE. 

in her most terrific mood liad indelibly impressed on it ; 
and doubly striking must it have been at that moment 
when Odin and Christ met, so to say, with their respective 
adherents eager for the fray. 

It was an adjourned meeting from the day before, and 
Thorgeir, the speaker of the law, was himself a heathen. 
On the close of yesterday's debate he had gone to his tent, 
laid himself down, and covered his face with his fell, and 
lay all that afternoon and all the night without speaking 
a word. In the morning he got up, and sent word for men 
to go to the Law Hill. There he delivered his verdict, and 
a most sage one it was, though that stupid chronicler of 
the " Njal Saga " has tried to disenchant us about his up- 
rightness and wisdom, by statiug that he received half a 
pound of silver from Hall of the Side, a kind of ' reward 
of divination ' to quicken his decision. Well, his fiat was, 
that they must not let the opposing parties carry matters 
out to tlie bitter end. We must mediate between them, 
so that both of them shall have their own way to a certain 
extent. His compromise was agreed to. Cliristianity was 
to be the law of the land. Bygones were to be bygones. 
Nothing was said about the present condition of deceased 
ancestors. Three hundred years before King Eathbod of 
the Frisians was within an ace of being lost to Christianity, 
with one foot already in the baptismal bath, through the 
blundering remark of the over-zealous missionary, to wit, 
that the king's ancestors were all in hell. That was a bit 
of history which had become philosophy, so no allusion 
was made to this delicate subject. Everybody was to 
receive baptism, but to be free, if he liked, to expose his 
infant children ^ (but before the child had tasted food or 
been sprinkled with water), and to eat horse-flesh ; nay, 
even to keep private teraphin at home to worship, but 
at the risk of a money fine if found out. Not worse this 

1 In Plato's model state infanti- by law 130 winters after the murder 
cide in certain cases was jjermitted. of Edmund, and 1000 after Christ. 
Christianity was received in Iceland "Islendingabok," 13. 



A COMPROMISE. 315 

than, for instance, the habitual toleration by the Jesuit 
missionaries of Pagan practices in China, But the event 
proved Thorgeir's wisdom. His compromise succeeded, 
where any violent measures would have been sure to work 
an effect the opposite of what was intended. " In a few 
winters (years)," says the " Islendigabok," '• these last traces 
of heathenism, like many others, fell into disuse." 

In fact, though Thangbrand's violence stirred the Scan- 
dinavian blood, the island did not exhibit many martyrs. 
Originally the colonists, passing as many of them did 
through Ireland and England, had to some extent got 
acquainted with the new creed. The aristocratic GoSi, 
moreover, was sharp enough to bury the hatchet while 
Christianity was yet in its infancy, and, by an easy transi- 
tion, got metamorj)hosed into a Christian clergyman, thus 
saving his order along with the temporalities and old poli- 
tical influence. 



( 3i6 ) 



CHAPTER XII. 

THE EG/l!s saga. 

One of the most interesting Icelandic sagas is Egil's Saga,i 
written by an unknown author about the middle of the 
twelfth century, or at the same time as the Saga of Njal. 
Snorri in his Edda cites Egil's verses. Here we are let into 
the secret of Harfager's influence. If a chief proved refrac- 
tory, he had a way of swooping down upon him and burn- 
ing him alive, like Changarnier did the Arabs in the cave. 
It recounts the remarkable incidents in the life of one of 
Iceland's greatest scalds, her national hero, the progenitor 
of tlie famous ' Moor-men,' with whom the Sturlung family 
were connected on the female side. Unlike most of the 
Icelandic scalds, he did not seek the Norwegian court for 
fame or profit. Harald Harfager was the family hite-noire. 
The poet's father had avenged himself on the king by 
slaying two of his cousins, composing on the occasion a 
rhyming song, the oldest known. With a power of pen 
no less felicitous than Snorri's, the author depicts the 
character of Egil, his courage and sagacity, his portentous 
strength, his tender love for his children, and constant 
affection for his friend Arinbjorn, contrasting strangely 
with his brutal ferocity — " the rage of the vulture and love 
of the turtle combined " — and, to cap all, his intense love 
of lucre, along with the warm poetic inspiration rising ever 
unpremeditated to his lips. These very contradictions in 
the man's character, portrayed with the boldest simplicity, 
without any toning down, extenuation, or embellishment, 

^ Copenhagen, 1809. 



THE SPECTRE BIRD. 317 

stamp the history with an air of truth which, had the hero 
been faultless, it would not have exhibited. 

One incident described is (62) Egil being wrecked on 
the English coast, and falling into the hands of King Eric, 
who kept court at York. The queen, Gunhilda, was the 
poet's sworn foe, and, of course, he is condemned to death. 
'• Women's counsels are ever cruel," said the proverb. A 
terrible moment it must have been when the scald stood 
before the king in his hall. He describes the situation 

afterwards : — 

" The moiiardi sat 
With awful eye, 
In song renownetl, 
The country's lord. 
Full grim of mood, 
He fiercely glared. 
With his bloody sword drawn, 
In Jorvik's town." 

But there is one chance for him. If he can only compose 
a " Drapa," heroic poem, in honour of Eric before dawn.^ 
His friend Arinbjorn visits him in his prison to see how he 
is getting on with the composition. To his consternation 
he finds the Muse is not propitious. The scald has not 
composed a line. He had been disturbed by that swallow 
twittering till midnight at the window of the loft. His 
friend looks out and sees the dusky visitor disappearing in 
the gloom. Our ^Ifric would have compared it to that 
" black throstle " which came flickering about the face of 
St. Benedict ; such being for the nonce one of the protean 
shapes of the Evil One.^ It was a witch (hamhleypa) sent 
by the sorceress Queen Gunhilda to hinder the compo- 
sition and presage the poet's death. But the opportune 
arrival of his friend scares away the spectre. May we not 
have here the origin of the strange bird who fluttered and 
tapped at the window of Lord Eyttelton at Pitt Place, and 

^ other instances occur of this kind of alternative, death or a diapa. 
Keysir, 274. 

^ Homily ou St. Benedict. 



3i8 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

impressed him with the jfixed idea that his end was at 
hand ? This ancient superstition, viz., that a person about 
to die is forewarned by a bird, is hardly yet extinct in this 
country. Sometimes the visitor was a raven, sometimes a 
dove. But Egil was superior to all such auguries. 

In Icelandic poetry we often see the fowls of the air 
and the beasts of the field, Nature herself, brought, as it 
were, into rapport with the mood of the human agents ; 
a highly poetic exercise of this gift of the imagination, 
bringing home to us the interdependence of man and 
nature. The Greek mind had fastened on the idea cen- 
turies before the Christian era in that strange legend, 
when the conscience-stricken slayers of Ibycus, in the 
cry of the clamorous cranes wheeling overhead, hear 
themselves denounced as the murderers. It is a cue 
which Shakespeare often takes, whencesoever he obtained 
it. With him. the cheerv confidence of the martlet, o-uest 
of summer, consorting with men and selecting his coign of 
vantage right under the eaves, is quite in keeping with 
the calm equanimity of the unsuspecting Banquo ; while 
the raven grows hoarse croaking the fatal entrance of 
Duncan under Macbeth's castle. When the lady is waiting 
to hear that the deed is done, she hears " the owl shriek, 
that fatal bellman, which gives the sternest good-night." 
Again, when withered Murder is abroad, moving like a 
ghost to his design, the wolf is his sentinel. Compare 
the use made of the brute creation by the Englishman 
and the Icelander with the sorry stuff vamped up by the 
Anglo-Saxon author of the Life of St. Guthlac. He could 
turn the two swallows that visited the hermit to no better 
account than to make them sit on his shoulders, breast, 
and knees with " shocking tameness," and strike up a song. 
The good man being quite equal to the occasion, shows 
from Holy Writ that the saints of old were privileged to 
be familiar with wild animals. 

It has been said that the sagas often illustrate the 
Chronicle. They do more. Take, for instance, that great 



BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH. 319 

event in King Athelstan's reign, his victory at Brunanburh, 
recorded in the Saxon Chronicle in a stirring piece of 
poetry, a version of which is given on p. 122. 

That is all tlie jjarticulars given by the Saxon writer. 
A very meagre affair indeed. Kow look at Egil Saga. 
A most minute account is here given of the events 
preceding the engagement of the battlefield, fringed on 
either side by woods, the river flowing between, and the 
two old castles, the respective headquarters of King 
Athelstan and of the son-in-law of the Irish Constantine, 
King Olaf Kvaran.^ 

We follow with great interest the preceding negotiations 
between the two kings, and the way in which Olaf kept 
increasing his demands, and Athelstan kept submitting to 
them until his powers of endurance were exhausted. The 
extreme pitch of ignominy was reached when, bursting 
indignantly from the snare, the English king stood forth 
in bold defiance of the aggressor. " Bear these my words 
to your master. King Olaf. I will give him leave to fare 
home to Scotland (the name of Ireland till the eleventh 
century), but he must first restore the goods of which he 
has wrongly possessed himself in this land. We will then 
make a treaty between our peoples, and neither shall war 
upon the other ; but with this promise, that Olaf shall be 
my vassal, and hold Scotland of me as my viceroy. Xow 
fare ye back again, and tell him my decision." Kot a 
word of this is in our Chronicle. We next behold Athel- 
stan's right-hand man, Thorolf, and his brother Egil, two 
redoubtable Icelandic Vikings, in the very armour they 
wore, swinging lustily their respective swords, ' Mail- 
piercer ' and ' Serpent,' in a triumphant resistance to the 
nocturnal surprise of the Scots. We see the Scots advanc- 

1 A Celtic word sisnifying 'sock,' Cf. Eevue Celtique, p. 186, vol. iii. 

perhaps in allusion to the encasings J. W. Stokes on the "Celtic Names 

.of his lower limbs, as in the well- in Landnamabok and Runic Inscrip- 

known instance of Magnus Barefoot tions." Hereinlight is thrown on the 

(see note, p. 320). Gaelic forms pronunciation of Irish consonants in 

abound in early Icelandic literature, those days. 



320 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

ing to tlic onset "in open line according to tlieir wont;" 
tlie fall of Tliorolf by an ambuscade of Olaf's British 
auxiliaries from the forest ; how Egil, thirsting, for revenge, 
charged with irresistible might into the heart of the foe 
and slew Adils, the British leader. The varying sway of 
the battle is vividly painted. Then comes the disorder in 
Olaf's ranks, which soon becomes a route ; the final charge 
of Athelstan, the death of Olaf (this is a mistake of the 
Icelander) amid a great host of slain ; winding up with 
" Athelstan gained an immense victory." ^ 

But we prefer giving the following scene verbatim, as a 
sample of simple lifelike description. " Egil went after- 
wards to visit the king, as he sat drinking in loud merri- 
ment. When the king saw Egil come in, he called out 
to make room for him on the second high seat just 
opposite to him. Egil sat down, placing his shield at his 
feet. He wore his helmet, and setting his sword upon his 
knees, he drew it every now and then half way out of the 
sheath and then slammed it back again. He sat quite 
upright, scowling fiercely. Egil's face was large, his fore- 
head broad, with mickle eyebrows. His nose not long, 
but excessively thick ; his upper lip wide and long ; 
while his chin and jawbones were enormously broad. 
He was thick necked, and his shoulders of superhuman 
breadth. Hard featured, and grim when angered. In 
shape he was well built, and taller than other men. The 
hair thick and of a wolf-grey, but the crown prematurely 
bald. As he sat thus, as aforesaid, he kept jerking one 
brow downwards to his cheek, and the other up to the 
roots of his hair. His eyes were black and eyebrows 
swarthy. He would not drink, though the cup was offered 
him, and he kept working his brows up and down. King 

^ "We are bound to mention that kilt was a national costume in the 

Professor Munch doubts the accuracy West of Scotland as early as 1098, 

of this account. Chronicon Man- when King Magnus of Norway, win- 

niae, p. 39 ; of. ibid., 67, where tering there, adojjted it, and was 

attention is called to the fact, in- called ' Barelegs ' in consequence by 

teresting to Highlanders, that the his subjects on his return home. 



EGIL. 321 

Athelstan sat in his high seat ; he also had laid his 
sword on his knees. When they had sat for a time, the 
king drew his sword from the sheath, and took from his 
arm a gold ring, large and goodly, which he placed on the 
point of his sword. He then rose up and reached it 
across the fire to Egil. Egil stood up, drew his sword, 
stepped upon the floor, stuck his sword-point through the 
ring, drew it towards him, and returned to his place, 
while the king resumed his high seat. After sitting 
down, Egil pulled the ring on to his arm. His brows 
unknitted ; he put off his sword and helmet, took the 
horn offered to him, and drank. He then improvises a 
stanza expressive of his satisfaction at the honour con- 
ferred on him. Egil then took his share in the drinking and 
mixed in the conversation. Hereupon the king had two 
chests full of silver brought in, each by two men. These 
he gave to Egil, and told him when he returned to Iceland 
he was to give them to his father as a compensation for the 
loss of his son Thorolf ; adding that if Egil would like to 
stay in England, he would reward him with broad lands 
or money, and with any honour or dignity he liked." AVe 
see from the above of what stuff tlie freemen of Scan- 
dinavia were made, and what kittle cattle they were to 
deal with. But Athelstan knew the breed well, and their 
great value when rightly guided. It was not for nothing 
that Fairhair's son had been nurtured at his court. But 
the man of iron could melt. Behold him in love, melan- 
choly as Jacques, making a wof ul ballad to his mistress's 
eyebrow, and afraid even to mention her name. He might 
have been one of those bashful dreamers of the thirteenth 
century, the Minnesingers of Germany, whose diffidence 
was such that they hardly dared to look up and meet the 
glance of their fair enslaver. Neither did he, like the 
lioman father, triumph o'er his tears of parental sorrow 
" and call that valour." 

To the tale of Gudrun in the Old Edda, and her revulsion 
of feeling, we find a prose counterpart in the Egil Saga, 

X 



322 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

cliapter Ixxx. The old man has a son, young Bodvar, as 
handsome a fellow as ever stepped, tall and strong, the 
darling of his father. One summer's day the youth is 
drowned with a whole boat's crew in the White Eiver, the 
wind and outrush of the water being contrary, and getting 
up a sudden sea. Egil rode off to the shore, found his 
son's body, placed it on his knees, and then carried it to 
the family grave-mound, where he laid it by the side of 
Skalagrim. It may seem an exaggeration when we are told 
that during the interment the frame of the agonised father 
so swelled with emotion that his red, tight-fitting tunic 
was rent. But if so, a very great writer was guilty of equal 
extravagance when he tells us how the leathern coat of the 
wounded stag " stretched almost to bursting." After this 
Egil went straight home, betook himself to his sleeping- 
berth (lokreckia), fastened the door inside, and refused 
all manner of meat. ISTobody dared to approach him. So 
matters went on till the third day, and he would have died 
of starvation but for the marvellous ready wit and cool- 
ness of his favourite daughter, Thorgerda, the wife of the 
celebrated Olaf the Peacock, the ^reat-grandson of an Irish 
king, Myrkiartan. She was sent for from Hiardarholt, 
and at once started off, riding all night. On her arrival 
she would have no refreshment — not she. If father starved 
himself she would starve too. She would sup that night 
with Freyja. Besides, if Egil died thus, who would " wake " 
the dead boy, and who sing his requiem, when the only 
otie able to do it befittingly was gone ? And so the old 
scald mastered his tears for a while and composed his 
famous ' Sonar torrek,' a coronach for the deceased son, his 
daughter the while scratching it down in runes on a piece 
of wood (rista a kefli). The poem is a very long one, of 
twenty-four stanzas of eight lines each, and,, owing either 
to the perturbation of his mind or the faults of transcribers, 
is very obscure. It is steeped in sorrow — 

" For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime, 
Young Lycidas, and liaih not left his peer. 



EGIL. 323 

Sunk beneath the watery floor ; 

Oh, the heavy change, now thou art gone, 

Now thou art gone and never must return." 

" Oh, the dire gap in my household and in my heart, never 
to be filled up. Ean hath vexed me sore. The sea has 
snapped asunder those ties so dear ; has robbed me of my 
mainstay, the support of my age and of my roof-tree, the 
upholder of my might, my right hand in the day of battle." 
But the ruse of the daughter succeeded. She had broken 
his dread resolve. The old man's spirit revived under the 
awakening fire of his own muse. He sat up and took 
meat, and lived on, though a sad and solitary man. 

Before quitting this saga we may just mention that 
from it we learn that England in those days was the great 
market for the sable, beaver, and askrakkr (marten or 
squirrel) skins of Finmark (p. 57), — See Ohthere's Narra- 
tive in Orosius; also that Dublin was a celebrated mart 
for merchandise (p. 157). 



( 324 ) 



CHAPTEE XIII. 

OTHER ICELANDIC SAGAS. 

Again, what lias England from Saxon times 'to compare 
with other private sagas of Iceland, e.g., Yasdaela, Eyr- 
byggia, Laxdcela, Vigaglum, or that finished little idyl the 
Saga of Hrafukel, the priest of Frey, or, to omit a score of 
others, Njal Saga, the finest of them all ? ^ I shall never 
forget what I felt when, after a long and hurried trot with 
the priest from Odde Eectory, we jumped off our horses on 
the very spot where that sage old counsellor — in a rude 
age the very pink of courtesy and gentleness, the staunch 
friend of the chivalrous Gunnar — was, with his wife and 
his sons, ruthlessly burnt, house and all. You have the 
saga in English, thanks to Mr. Dasent. In these histories 
the men are not always the fierce and cruel depredators 
that used to swoop down on terrified England, cryino- 
havoc. We have the Northmen at home, in undress, under 
the influence of the family and the social ties. He who 
perhaps had carried the Eaven banner on an Eno-lish 
battle-field rushes off, like the old Cornish wreckers, on the 
news of a whale ashore ; or he is busy spearing seals or sal- 
mon, or in the pursuit of game to improve the larder ; or we 
find him, like the old Eoman dictator, following the plough- 
tail ; or perhaps we see him taking a prominent part in the 
haymaking. Sometimes the noble owner visits the stables, 
and whiles an hour away clipping the mane of " Old White- 
face," or " Young Whiteface," or " Silver Top," or " Eaven," 

1 There are some 150 sagas extant. Miiller, "Saga Bibliothek. " The best 
of them are published. 



THE CUSTOMS OF THE NORTHMEN. 325 

or fondling liis pet oxen " Dapple " or " Intrepid ; " ^ or he 
goes up the mountains to have a look at his stud-horse 
"Freyfaxi," whom he has so called after his favourite 
god, rreyr.2 Or perhaps it is Yule-tide. Behold the Scan- 
dinavian noble surrounded by hosts of friends, whom 
he is lodging and boarding for the week, horses and all, 
drinking potations pottle-deep, and then making most 
sumptuous presents to each friend in succession on his 
departure : something foreign most likely ; for instance, a 
long flowing silk cloak with gold buttons from neck to 
toe, after the manner say of the cassock of the future ; or 
an English suit of many colours of the newest cut, such 
as that presented by Arinbjorn, the courtier of Eric 
Bloody-axe, to Egil (cf. Egil, p. 516). When he lacks 
mental excitement he journeys to the Althing (the Am- 
phictyonic Council of Iceland), and joins there in wordy 
contests, striking his shield after a speech in token of 
applause. If physical excitement is wanted, then there 
is the horse-fight (hesta])ing), where the backers often get 
to fighting as well as the horses ; an amusement quite as 
absorbing as our horse-racing, and, like it, popular with 
all classes from the king to the clown. Then there was 
that favourite national sport, the wrestling-match (gli'ma), 
which was the invariable accompaniment of every meeting 
and festival. Here, as in almost every Icelandic custom, 
we are transported to a very remote antiquity. In the 
Prose Edda (i. 159), which throws so much light on 
ancient customs, these games are in full vigour. Flat 
race and wrestling, each have their turn. The wrestling- 
match, however, has a special interest, for the combatants 
are Thor himself and a great carlin, Elli. They grapple, 
but the harder Thor tightened his hold, the firmer stood 
she, and the end of it was that Thor fell down on one 
knee, when Loki interposed. But it was all a mocking 
show of that demon Loki, for Thor had been wrestling 
with Eld (Elli), and who can ever hope to give her a 

1 Prose Edda, i. 480. 2 Hrafnkel Saga. 



326 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

throw ? Olafsen and rovelsen, in their travels through the 
country one hundred and twenty years ago, describe the 
game of wrestling as still practised and very interesting 
to witness, and there were regular names for the various 
tricks. One kind of wrestling they mention as just the 
same as that in Cornwall (sec. ^j and sec. 517). In 
Soetersdal, that part of Norway where, as Mr. Ivar Aasen 
has shown us, the old Icelandic tongue may even now be 
recognised embedded in the country talk — wrestling still 
prevails. The Saetersdal ' throw ' no uninitiated wrestler 
can withstand. In the Vale of the Whitehorse, by the 
by, this manly exercise has quite fallen into disuse since 
the days of ' Tom Brown.' But to return to our Northern 
friends. When winter had bridged the lakes and brought 
friends, at other times too remote, within the compass of a 
day's visit, off they would dash in their sledges, drawn by 
those splendid little horses, straight across to their destina- 
tion. But let them beware of the fatal vok (hole in the 
ice), which often brought to an untimely end some gay 
young Bonder, and was the death of more than one 
king, scudding merrily along to his Christmas rendezvous. 
Ball-playing, too, on the ice was a favourite exercise, 
apparently a cross between hockey and football ; the ball 
being struck with a sort of bat, as well as hurled with 
the hand (see " Vigaglum's Saga "). In Egil Saga, cap. 
40, " Grimr caught the ball and cut off with it, pursued 
by the rest of the lads." This game ended in a quarrel 
which was the death of seven men. 

Nor must we omit to present the Icelander to our 
readers in another favourite character — as a skilful black- 
smith. Tliis huge, bald-headed fellow of sinister look, 
who has risen so early on the winter morning, and is 
busy with the " rauda-blastr," i.e., forging hsematite on 
the stone anvil at the seaside hut, and poking fun mean- 
wdiile, in the shape of a ditty, at the sulky, laggard 
bellows-blower, was one of the proudest and noblest 
stock in Norway. He was not going to be one of Harold 



PICTURES OF WOMEN. 327 

Fairhair's courtiers — not he. All the king's offers of 
broad acres and titles did not move liim. Better start 
for the new country ; and here he is, no other than 
Skalagrim or Grim the Bald, lord of Borgarfiord and 
father of Egil, described above (Egil Saga, 141), whose 
memory as a deft worker in metals will never be for- 
gotten, any more than that of another striking personage, 
a frequenter of royal courts, the Englishman Dunstan 
(died 988). 

In these sagas we have also pictures of Korthern 
women, such as they were in those days, as well as of the 
sterner sex. They are human nature all over. Deeply 
imbued with the influences of those rough times and the 
colour of their company ; big-framed and strong in body 
as in mind, and equal to any emergency. Independent, 
open, frank, and noble, brave alike in heart and in char- 
acter, appearance, and manner — for that is the meaning 
of that expressive word ' skorungr/ so often applied to 
them — tender, and true, and loyal to their husbands and 
their duties when fitly mated. But crafty withal and 
false, when they had got a twist, and by that means 
alone could compass their ends.^ Look at Gudrun, the 
victim of conflicting passions, love and hatred to Kjartan, 
and confessing at last, like many of her sex, that 'she 
treated him worst whom she loved best.' Look at the 
girl Helga the Fair, who was cheated out of her promised 
spouse by the treachery of Ptafn. Unable to survive the 
death of her lover, she asks them to bring her the gold- 
embroidered mantle which King Ethelred of England 
had presented to him in reward for his lay (drapa) ; and 
so she passed away, musingly gazing at this memento of 
her lover. Had such a character been only due to the 
imagination of the writer, this alone would have been 
sufficiently remarkable. 

1 For specimens of your strong- Saga, expanding into the ' megin- 

minded females, we have Droplaug, ekkia,' the awful widow who could 

in the saga of tliat name, and the cow a man of blood and iron and 

loving maiden Thurida, in the Fwro craft like Thraud. 



328 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

Admire, again, the minute descrij)tions of dress and 
personal appearance of these people, while Beowulf wears 
nothing apparently from head to foot but a coat of ring- 
mail, which always shone and sang. Why, it is as if a 
Walter Scott, or a greater than he in the portraiture of 
bygone days, had arisen in the twelfth century and made 
the men and the women of an earlier generation — with 
all their passions and their foibles, their good and evil 
qualities — play their parts over again before us as they 
played them of yore ; such is the individuality and pre- 
cision with which their characters, and all they thought, 
and said, and did, their likes and dislikes, their tastes and 
habits, their notions and modes of looking at things, are 
brought out. To a friend meditating a history of the 
Crusades Southey wrote : " Omit none of those little 
circumstances which give life to the narration, and bring 
old manners, old customs, old feelings, and old times 
before our eyes." The writers of these histories, both of 
kings and families, knew this by intuition; gifted with 
the true historical instinct, and adepts in an art which 
they had learned in no school. 

Historical recitals, without personal characteristics, 
without realistic pictures of the dramatis personce — " Sic 
oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat" — they felt to be 
a thing of nought. Thackeray thought so too. While 
engaged in writing the " Virginians," he went into the 
London Library and asked for a book about " Wolfe." " I 
do not," said he, " want to know about his battles ; I can 
learn about them from the histories. I want something 
that will tell me the colour of the breeches he wore." 
Dr. Todd suggests that the Icelandic saga literature was 
an imitation, on the part of the Northmen, of the histori- 
cal tales and bardic poems which they found in Ireland. 
The reader has in this volume specimens of the Icelandic 
sagas. Side by side with these we will place specimens of 
the Irish. The following is a description by an eye-wit- 
ness of the Northmen opposed to King Brian at the battle 



IRISH BOMBAST. 329 

of Clontarf (23d April 1014), when the king was slain.^ 
" Now on one side of that battle were the shouting, hateful, 
powerful, wrestling, valiant, active, fierce moving, dan- 
gerous, nimble, violent, furious, unscrupulous, untameable, 
inexorable, unsteady, cruel, barbarous, frightful, sharp, 
ready, huge, prepared, cunning, warlike, poisonous, mur- 
derous, hostile Danars ; bold, hardhearted Danmarkians, 
surly, piratical, foreigners, blue - green pagans ; without 
reverence, without veneration, without honour, without 
mercy for God or for man. These had for the purposes 
of battle and combat, and for their defence, sharp, swift, 
bloody, crimsoned, bounding, barbed, keen, bitter wound- 
ing, terrible, piercing, fatal, murderous, poisoned arrows, 
which had been anointed and browned in the blood of 
dragons and toads, and water-snakes of hell, and of scor- 
pions and others, and wonderful venomous snakes of all 
kinds, to be cast and shot at active and warlike and vali- 
ant chieftains. They had with them hideous, barbarous 
quivers, and polished, yellow-shining bows ; and strong, 
broad, green, sharp, rough, dark spears, in the stout, bold, 
hard hands of freebooters. They had also with them 
polished, pliable, triple-plaited, heavy, stout corslets of 
double-refined iron and of cool uncorroding brass for the 
protection of their bodies, and skin, and skulls, from 
sharp, terrible arms, and from all sorts of fearful weapons. 
They had also with them valorous, heroic, heavy, hard- 
striking, strong, powerful, stout swords" (ibid., c. 91). 

It is only fair to state that the editor pronounces the 
above chapter not autlientic (p. xxviii. note). But chapter 
cii., the genuineness of which is not impugned, is hardly 
less bombastic : — 

" Then the fearful, murderous, hard - hearted, terrific, 
vehement, impetuous battalion of the Danmarkians, and 
the vehement, irresistible, unanswerable phalanx, and the 
fine, intelligent, acute, fierce, valorous, mighty, royal, gifted, 
renowned champions of the Dal Cais and all the descen- 

1 " W^ar of Gaedhill with the Gaill," edited by Dr. Todd. 



330 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

dants of Oilioll Olum met in one place ; and there was 
fought between them a battle, furious, bloody, repulsive, 
crimson, gory, boisterous, manly, rough, fierce, unmerciful, 
hostile, on both sides ; and they began to hew and cleave, 
and stab, and cut, to slaughter, to annihilate each other, 
and they maimed, and they cut comely, graceful, mailed 
bodies of noble, pleasant, courteous, affable, accomplished 
men on both sides there. That was the slashing of two 
bodies of equal hardness, and of two bodies moving in 
contrary directions in one place. And it is not easy to 
imagine what to liken it to ; but to nothing small could be 
likened the firm, stern, sudden, thunder motion, and the 
stout, valiant, haughty, billow-roll of these people on both 
sides. I could compare it only to the variegated, bound- 
less, wonderful firmament, that had cast a heavy sparkling 
shower of flaming stars over the surface of the earth ; or 
to the startling, fire-darting roar of the clouds and the 
heavenly orbs, confounded and crushed by all winds in 
contention against each other ; or to the summit of heaven, 
or to the rapid, awfully great sea, and the fierce conten- 
tious roaring of the four transparent pure burst, directly 
opposing winds, in the act of breaking loose from the order 
of their respective positions ; or to the stern, terrific judg- 
ment-day that had come to confound and break down the 
unity of the four surrounding elements, to crush and finally 
shiver the compact world, and to take vengeance on it. 
To all these could I compare the smashing, powerful, 
strong barbarians, shield-shining, target-bossed, red-spark- 
ling, starry onset of the Clann Ludech, under the stout, 
bright axes of the stern, murderous Danars, mutilating 
and crushing them ; and the gleaming, bright, glassy, hard, 
straight swords of the Dal Cais in hard, powerful clashing 
against the free, sparkling, thrice-riveted steel, powerful 
protective armour of the piratical Danmarkians. ... So 
that the sound of them and the uproar of them were rever- 
berated from the caverns. . . . And it was attested by the 
foreigners and foreign women who were watchins; from the 



DID IRELAND INFLUENCE ICELAND? 331 

battlements of Atli Cliath (Dublin), as they beheld, tliat 
they used to see flashes of fire from them in the expanse 
of air on all sides." 

Now this was written in the vernacular and not in the 
Latin of the monasteries ; so were the Icelandic sagas, and 
so far they are like. But in other respects we fail to dis- 
cover any resemblance between this laboured farrago of 
sesquipidalian bombast and bathos and the curiously feli- 
citous style, the nervous energy, of the prose narratives of 
the sagas. Truly does Dr. Todd say, " The Irish style is 
inflated and bombastic, and dealing largely in alliterative 
epithets." In the above passage in the original Irish 
there are instances of seven words running commencing 
with the same initial letter ! ^ 

A subsequent chapter is a panegyric on the native 
troops, the " Franks and Israelites " of Ireland, which is 
not without traces of the imaginative faculty of the Celt. 

" Woe unto all who shunned not this people, who did 
not yield to them. Woe to those who aroused their anger, 
if it were possible to escape from it. Woe to those who 
attacked them, if they could have avoided attacking them, 
for it was swimming against a stream ; it was pummelling 
an oak with fists ; it was a hedge against the swelling of 
a spring-tide ; it was a string upon sand or a sunbeam ; it 
was the fist against a sunbeam to attempt to give them 
battle or combat, for it is not easy to conceive any horror 
equal to that of arousing the fierce battle and hard con- 
flict of these warriors" (G. and G., c. 93). 

Not less figurative is the description of King Brian's 
conduct on the treacherous murder of Math-gamhain. 
" He was not a stone in the place of an egg, and he was 
not a wisp in the place of a club, but he was a hero in the 
place of a hero, and he was valour after valour " (ibid., p. 
loi). We are bound, however, to confess, that, besides 
Dr. Todd, another recent eloquent writer- refers this power 

1 See Appendix, the " Battle of Ferdiad and Cuchulaind." 

2 Sars, "Den Norske Historic," i. 158 sgr/., 190 ^gry., aiid ii. 266. 



332 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

of minute and felicitous description partly to the Celtic 
culture ^ wliich many of the aristocratic settlers in Iceland 
had imbibed during their residence in Scotland, the West- 
ern Isles, and Ireland — a circumstance that seemed to 
destine Iceland for the focus of that literary development 
begun in Norway and its older colonies in Britain. 

Then, again, as your modern New Englander is very 
keen to trace his descent from some notable in the old 
country, so the Landnama chieftain felt that his station in 
Iceland would depend very much on his proved position 
in Norway. The family pedigree, therefore, was a vital 
affair. If noble, it was the passport to influence and 
nobility in Iceland. It was of the last moment to keep it 
clear, and to make out his ancestors to be men of mark. 
And so every old scrap of family or popular tradition was 
treasured up, and how his forbears acquitted themselves 
on critical occasions, their sayings and doings. Habits 
and dress were in their eyes of the last importance. And 
thus were laid the foundations of the historic faculty 
which distinguished the islanders. 

1 Celtic culture does not shine conspicuously in books like the " Gaedhill 
and the Gaill ; " yet in ornamental art no doubt it bore the palm over all 
Northern Europe. See O'Curry's "Manners and Customs of the Ancient 
Irish," and his "Lectures on Irish History." 



( 323 ) 



CHAPTEK XIV. 

G UN LA Ug' S SAGA. 

But perhaps the reader would like to have a sketch in 
detail of the simply told tragic story of Gunlaug and Helga 
(980 to 1008).^ Gunlaug, while quite a youth, was a noted 
scald, and with a sharp tongue of his own ; whence his 
nickname. Serpent-tongue. He was broad in the shoulders 
and narrow in the waist, tall and muscular, his eyes black, 
his hair light brown, with a handsome face, but for one 
feature, his nose, which was ugly. No sooner did he and 
Helga meet than they fell in love with each other, and the 
games at draughts they played together did not diminish 
their affection. She had good blood in her veins, being 
grand-daughter of the famous Egil, who had fought on 
the side of Athelstan at Brunanburh. 

With the proverbial fairness of her race, her hair, which 
was as bright as a gold head-band, was so abundant that it 
could cover her whole person. In short, there was no 
such match as Helga through all Castlefiord and in the 
whole country-side. Her father, Thorstein, was appealed 
to, but said no. He was proud of his family, and Gunlaug 
was very young and comparatively uuknown ; besides 
which, he was just on the point of sailing to foreign ports. 
Without this his education would have been incomplete, 
true to the old proverb, " Heimskt er heimalit barn " — 
" Home-keeping youths have ever homely wits." But 
Illugi, his father, backed him up strenuously, and at last 
Helga's father consented to her being the promised spouse 
(heitkona), but not the betrothed (festarkona), of Gunlaug. 

1 Copeuhagen, 1847 and 1775. 



334 ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

She was to bide three years, and if Gunlaiig did not " come 
out " {i.e., return) in that time, the engagement was to be 
off. Our suitor now commences the grand tour, and arrives 
at Nidaros, the court of Eric, son of the great Hacon Jarl. 
" What ails thy foot, Icelander ? " asked Eric of the stalwart 
youth, who entered the presence in a plain grey tunic with 
long white trousers. " I have a boil on it, sire." " But 
you don't go halt." " No, one don't go halt if both feet 
are of the same length." On this one of the courtiers 
begins to twit our hero, but he immediately silences him 
with a lampooning quatrain. " How old art thou, Ice- 
lander?" asks the Jarl. "Eighteen!" " I forebode you will 
never live another eighteen years." " Bode me no bodings," 
muttered the youth ; " more fitting were it for thee to pray 
for thyself that thou mayst not die such a death as Hacon 
thy father." ^ The Jarl turned as red as blood and bade 
them seize the fool. But by the intercession of the cour- 
tiers he was allowed to go aboard ship and sail to England. 
The saga here states that "at this time (a.d. iooi) there 
was one tongue in England, Norway, and Denmark; but 
the language changed when William the Bastard conquered 
England ; ^ from which period Welsh (French) became 
the prevailing tongue of the country." ^ This very plain 
assertion is conjectured by modern critics not to have 
stood in the original text of the saga. It is said that at 

^ Murdered by a thrall in a vault old Northern English of the Gospels 

below a pig-sty ; see above. now editing by Skeat. 

2 This is a locus classicus of no or- Not less curious and archaic is the 
dinary interest. In wliat sense are language in "Leifar" by Th. Bj;ir- 
we to understand it? Professor Ste- nason, Copenhagen, 1878, from A. 
phens asserts that the furtlier we go Mag. MS., No. 677, 4to. 
back the more do tlie tongues of Eng- Stephens further contends that the 
land and the North approximate, specimens of Icelandic generally are 
always allowing for dialectic differ- in a literary language, and not in that 
ences. In the oldest Runic stones dialect of the country which resem- 
this is especially the case. Again, bled Anglo-Saxon, and was known 
the Icelandic Homilies, which are all over the North of England. So 
about the oldest specimens of Ice- the polished conventional language of 
landic extant (about 1200), publislied the " Times" is a very different affair 
by Wisen (Lund, 1872), especially the from the dialects of Dorset and York- 
texts cited in a still older Scandina- shire. 
viau language, strongly resemble the ^ This latter part is not true. 



GUNLAUG IN LONDON. 335 

that time the tongue of England was Anglo-Saxon and that 
of Scandinavia old ISTorse, two nearly allied but very different 
languages ; and that if King Ethelred knew old Norse, his 
subjects generally could not speak it ; though, no doubt, 
the conquests of the ISTorthmen for two centuries past 
had rendered many people familiar with the Northern 
speech.^ This criticism, we observe, attributes the Danish 
(iSTorthern) element in England to later inroads only. 
Most likely, however, from the very earliest period there 
was a language talked in England, a dialect lamjuage, 
savouring strongly of Scandinavia, the Scando-Gothic of 
the oldest Eunic stones. 

We must return to our young scald. He was soon at 
court. King Ethelred the Unready listened to the lay he 
had composed in his honour, no mere brief poem (flokkr), 
but a regular drapa of the heroic cast, consisting of many 
stanzas with burdens interspersed. The reward soon 
followed. The Icelander was presented by the king with 
a scarlet tunic, lined with the most costly furs, and edged 
with lace down to the skirt; and he was appointed one 
of the king's bodyguard. One day, in the streets of 
London, he encountered a Berserker, or professional bully, 
that veritable scourge of the times, who picked a quarrel 
with him, but whom he managed to slay and got great 
fame in consequence. But Gunlaug's uneasy spirit soon 
tired of the English court, and by the king's permission 
he sailed next spring for Dublin,^ where reigned Sigtryggr 
Silkbeard, whose father was Olaf Curan or Kvaran, and 
his mother the Irish princess Cormlada = Gormlaith. 
The king of Dublin was quite as open-handed as his 
cousin of England. Gunlaug sang his praises, and the 
king proposed to his treasurer to reward him with two 
merchant sliips. But the treasurer was of a thrifty turn. 
" That is too much," said he. " Other kings give as a 

^ Egil Saga, 50. Ireland, wliicli the Northmen estab- 

- The capital of that Scandinavian lished about 800 A. D., and which last- 
kingdom cnibraciDg a large portion of cd more than three hundred years. 



336 ICELANDIC LITERA TURE. 

reward for poems a good sword or a gold ring." So the 
king's generosity dwindled down to tlic conventional 
tunic and mantle, and a gold ring, but it weighed eio-ht 
ounces.^ Gunlaug soon left the Irish court, and visited 
that of Sigurd, Earl of the Orkneys, " who was a good friend 
to Icelanders." Thence he sailed for Konuug's hella, an 
important commercial city then existing on the west bank 
of the river Gota, near which is the present flourishing 
town of Gottenburg. In due time he reaches Upsala, a 
city celebrated in the days of heathendom, then not long 
passed away, for its great temple dedicated to Frey ; the 
seat, moreover, of the parliament and the residence of the 
king. The reigning monarch was Olaf, son of Eric the 
Victorious. The scald soon made his way to the king's 
hall as he sat at meat. " Who are you ? " asked the king. 
" An Icelander," was the answer. " Hrafn," said the king, 
"what position does he hold in Iceland?" On this, a 
big man of determined look rose from the southern 
bench,2 opposite the king, and said, " Sire, he is of the 
best family in Iceland, and a man of great valour." The 
two Icelanders, both of them scalds, soon became great 
friends. But one unlucky day the king asked them to 
recite the songs they had composed in his honour, and 
thereafter to pass judgment on each other's effusions. 
The mutual criticisms lead to a quarrel. Hrafn considers 
himself insulted by the disparaging remarks of his rival, 
and they part enemies. Gunlaug's sharp tongue had done 
its work, and the beginning of that end which Jarl Eric 
had foretold was dimly looming in the distance. Hrafn 
goes coastward to Trondjem and thence sails for Iceland. 
The following summer he goes to the Althing, and to the 
great astonishment of his relative, Skapti, the speaker of 

1 Giinl. Orm. Saga, cap. 8. The them up. Tlie Danish 'gold-diggings ' 

frequent finds in the mosses of Den- are in her bogs, and professors are 

mark show that there was no exag- often the diggers, 

geration here and elsewhere. Vikings - The chosen seat of distinguished 

often buried such ornaments for se- guests, 
curity, and never returned to take 



G UN LA UG A GA IN IN L ONDON. 337 

tlie assembly, asks him for his good offices in demanding 
Helga to wife. " But," said Skapti, " isn't she promised 
to Gunlaug ? " " Ay, but are not the three years expired ? 
Besides, Gunlaug is grown much too grand to trouble 
himself about such things." In the end Skapti, quite in 
accordance with the custom in Iceland, which left to the 
seniors the duty of making such proposals, agrees to be his 
advocate, and goes to the booth of Helga's father, Thor- 
stein. " True," replied the father to him, " the three years 
are expired, but the summer is not out, and he may return 
before its end." "But if he does not return during the 
summer, what then ? " " Oh, we shall meet at the Althing 
next summer, and then we can discuss what is best to be 
done. But now it boots not to talk more about it." The 
great news soon got wind that Hrafn had applied for 
Helga's hand. The summer passed, but no Gunlaug made 
his appearance. Next summer the elders met at the Hill 
of Laws ; and Thorstein consulted Illugi, the father of 
Gunlaug, who said he would relieve him, if he desired, 
from the promise, " though he could not say how Gunlaug 
would take it." On this a compact was made that if Gun- 
laug did not return meanwhile, on the 24th of October 
(or the beginning of winter) Helga and Hrafn should be 
married, though Helga was greatly against the arrange- 
ment. 

The saga now shifts to the truant lover. From 
Sweden he had gone, in the summer of 1003, on a second 
visit to King Ethelred. For two years did the king de- 
tain him at his court, pleading the necessity of his help 
against Sweyn, who was threatening an invasion of Eng- 
land. At length he got leave of absence from the English 
court, and sailed for Trondjem. Luckily, though it was 
late in the season, the last ship bound for Iceland, com- 
manded by the famous Halfred Vandrajgaskald, had 
not yet left the fjord, and Gunlaug secures a passage on 
])oard. " Have you heard," inquired the master, " about 
Hrafn's wooing of Helga the Fair ? " 111 news travels fast. 

Y 



338 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

(UuiloAig -svas not unaware of the state of matters, but he 
hoped to arrive at home in time to balk the plans of his 
rival. A fortnight before the day fixed for the nuptials, the 
good ship reached Iceland, but at a spot far distant from his 
liome. In a wrestling match with one Thord, who came 
down to the ship, Gunlaug throws his antagonist, but has 
the misfortune to dislocate his ankle, and is detained in 
consequence some days ; so that it is not till the very 
evening of the marriage that he and his retinue alight 
from their journey at his father's house. The lover is for 
riding down to Borg on the instant, but his friends are 
unanimous in saying that it is too late. 

Helga was very downcast at the ceremony, for that old 
saying is very true, " One minds long what one learns 
young." 

The following winter the rivals met at a wedding-feast. 
The ladies sat on the dais, at the end of the hall, and 
among them Helga, next to the bride. " Often did her eye 
light upon Gunlaug, and so the old proverb came true, 
tliat ' the eyes cannot hide it if a woman loves a man ! ' " 
Next day the lovers have a long talk just before the party 
breaks up, when he presents her with the costly mantle, 
the gift of King Ethelred. The minstrel gives vent to his 
bitter feelings in a song, the burden of which is that he 
has never passed one happy day since Helga became 
Ilrafn's wife. Her parents thought more of Hrafn's 
wealth than of Gunlaug's poetical fame. Hrafn retorts in 
chaffing verse. " Why quarrel about one woman ? Many 
such can be found southward over the sea. I've seen 
them myself." " There may be many as fair," replied the 
other, " but I don't think so ; " and he then again breaks 
out into verse, lamenting his detention by Ethelred, which 
lost him his bride. But though a Christian, the Viking 
spirit within him was not going to evaporate in mere 
lyric^iamentations. At the summer Althing Gunlaug 
avails himself of the old law^ still in force, and challenges 
the man who had so cruelly and basely injured him to 



HOLMGANG. 339 

single combat, three days later, on the island in the neigh- 
bouring stream, the Oxara, The duel came off in the pre- 
sence and with the sanction of all the great functionaries of 
the Parliament. " But," says the writer, " this was the last 
duel (holmganga) that took place in Iceland, for the very 
next day a statute was unanimously passed, making such 
hostile meetincrs illegal. The battle now began, and at the 
side of each combatant stood his second, shield in hand, to 
ward off the blows aimed at his friend. The terms of the 
battle were, that he who got the first wound, lost, and had 
to pay a fine of 24 oz. of silver. Hrafn, as being the person 
challenged, had the first blow, but it was jjarried by the 
second's shield, and being dealt with all his might, the 
weapon snapped off short at the hilt. The blade flew into 
the air, and the point slightly grazed Gunlaug's cheek. 
Hrafn claimed the victory in consequence, while Gunlaug 
pooh-poohed the claim. " Hrafn," he said, " was defeated, 
for he was weaponless (slyppr)." The friends now inter- 
fered, and the battle was drawn. On his return from the 
island, Gunlaug encountered his lost bride, who had been 
watching the contest. They have another talk together, 
and he sings another dirge of regret, and then they part ; 
"but Helga stood in the same spot, and long gazed on 
him as he went." 

But though Hrafn had won the fair lady's hand, he 
found she w^ould have nothing to do with him, nor stay in 
her new home. At last, in a fury of jealousy, he journeyed 
one day to the residence of Gunlaug, and challenged him 
to a battle in Norway, which he joyfully accepted. Soon 
after Hrafn sailed for Trondjem, and waited the winter over, 
chafing for the arrival of his antagonist. Gunlaug and his 
firm friend, Halfreed the Scald, also set sail for Norway, 
but were driven westward to the Orkneys, where they 
arrived too late to think of prosecuting their voyage that 
year. 

The following spring Gunlaug arrived in Trondjem, and 
found Hrafn had none to Levanter at the end of the 



340 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

fjord. Eric was still on the tlirone, that Jarl whom he 
had ouce in his hot inexperienced youth answered so cava- 
lierly. But the great man's anger had been propitiated 
by a neatly-turned poem in his praise, composed by Gun- 
laug, and he received him graciously. The tidings of the 
feud had, however, already reached the royal ears, and 
Eric interdicted them from fighting in his dominions. One 
day Gunlaug and a friend, while walking in the neigh- 
bourhood of Trondjem, espy a crowd of men standing in a 
riuCT inside of which were two men fencing ; one was called 
" Gunlaug " and the other " Hrafn," The bystanders 
shouted out that Icelanders were poor craven fellows, and 
were slow to remember their words. Our hero at once 
perceived that this was a bit of malicious jeering levelled 
at himself. He told the Jarl he could endure it no longer ; 
and begged that he and his friends might follow Hrafn, 
who was, in fact, over the frontier and on Swedish ground. 
The Jarl gave him permission and an escort, Hrafn, hear- 
ing nothing of his foe, was journeying eastward. At last, 
after a long pursuit, Gunlaug comes up with him, and they 
eagerly begin the fray, on a flat meadow, called Gleipnis- 
vellir. Hrafn's foot is sliced off by Gunlaug's sword, the 
gift of Athelstan, and he supports himself on a tree-stump. 
" I'll not fight with a disabled man," says Gunlaug. " Luck," 
exclaims the other, " has gone against me ; but would 
Gunlaug do one favour to a dying man : fetch him a drop 
of water to drink in his helmet ? " His foe generously 
consents, and, when he is handing him the water, Hrafn 
treacherously smites him on the head, and inflicts a 
desperate blow. " Wretch, thus to betray me ! " exclaimed 
Gunlaug. " Quite true," retorted the other ; " but I grudged 
you the embraces of Helga." The death-struggle is re- 
newed, and Hrafn receives his quietus. The head of the 
wounded survivor is bound up, and he is carried down to 
Levanger by the king's escort, who, by previous agree- 
ment, sat by and watched the engagement. He dies three 
days later, after having received the consolations of reli- 



" TALES OF TRUE LOVE,'' ETC. 341 

gion. Helga was subsequently given by her father in mar- 
riage to Thorkell of Lava Dale. " But she loved him little, 
for she never could forget Gunlaug, though he was dead. 
And yet Thorkell was a brave man and a wealthy, and a 
good scald ; and she had several children by him. It was 
Helga's great delight to spread out before her the mantle, 
Gunlaug's gift ; and she would gaze at it for long. Once 
on a time a grievous sickness fell on their family, and 
many of them lay ill of it for a long time. Helga also 
sickened, but did not take to her bed. On Saturday even- 
ing she sat in the parlour, and leant her head on the good 
man Thorkell's knee, and sent for Gunlaufr's sift. And 
when the mantle came, she raised herself up, and spread 
it out before her, and gazed at it for a while; and after 
that she sank back into her husband's arms and breathed 
her last. Thorkell composed a dirge to her memory." . . . 
" And so ends the saga." And whoever wrote this tale 
of woe — whether it was Ari Frodi or some one else — we 
must needs allow that it is told with a pathos and simpli- 
city not a whit inferior to the somewhat similar story of 
Enoch Arden. We see there were tales of true love which 
came to a mournful ending long before the days of Auld 
Eobin Gray. Ari, the reputed author, Iceland's earliest 
historian, was born only fifty-nine years after the death of 
Serpent tongue (1008). Every incident of the story would 
be flying about in men's mouths. This thing was not 
done in a corner. Helga was the granddaughter of Egil, a 
mighty Scandinavian lord ; the compeer of Norwegian 
kings. Her lover was the singer of songs " that kings had 
loved to hear;" he had been supplanted by the help of 
Skapti, the Lawgiver. His first duel had been fought in 
the presence of all that was great and noble in Iceland, 
and was also memorable for being the last of lawful duels. 
Gunlaug's death was a deed of unparalleled baseness. 
Helga's love, enduring to the end, and her tranquil passing 
away — all this would stick l)arl)like in the memories of 
the people. Then, again, Gunlaug had for his constant 



343 



ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 



fiiond and companion one of the most classic poets of the 
North, HallfrffiSr Vandroegaskakl, often cited by Snorri ; 
and he woukl be sure to have composed many verses in 
mcmoriam ; while lines of Thord Kolbeinson, another con- 
temporary of Gunlaug, who composed poems in honour 
of Jarl Eric Ilaconson and St. Olaf, are quoted in the 
saga as the authority for some of the incidents. All the 
facts, then, were fresh in the memory of the people ; passing 
from mouth to moutli in prose or verse, when Ari seized 
on them, and moulded them into the shape they at present 
^- ^ As wx read these books, let us think for a moment 



wear.^ 

1 The death of Earl Ronald, "the 
most accomplished and best beloved 
of all the Orkney earls," A.D. 1046, is 
thus told in the Orkney Saga :— * 

"Earl Ronald lay at Kirkwall and 
collected thither all sorts of supplies 
for the winter, having with him a 
large followiug whom he entertained 
regardless of cost. A little before 
Jule the earl started with a nume- 
rous retinue for the Lesser Papa to 
fetch malt. In the evening, as they 
sat a long time baking their limbs at 
the fire, the man who kept it up said 
the fuel was getting short. Ou which 
the Jarl made a slip of the tongue 
He said, ' We shall be old enough 
when this fire is burnt out.' But he 
meant to have said, ' We shall be 
warm enough.' And when he per- 
ceived it, he said, ' I made a slip of 
the tongue (mis-spoke) ; I never did 
so before that I can mind. This re- 
minds me of what King Olaf, my 
foster-father, said at >Stiklestad, 
when I observed his slip of the 
tongue. He said that if ever I 
made a slip of the tongue, I must 
make up my mind to have a short 
time left to live. Maybe my kinsman 
Thorfinn is alive.' At this moment 
they heard people all round the house. 
Earl Thorfinn was come, and they set 
fire to the buildings and heaped up a 



great pile before the doors. Thorfinn 
permitted all but the earl's men to 
go out. And when most of the people 
had come out, a man came into the 
doorway, dressed in linen clothes 
only, and begged Thorfinn to give 
the deacon a helping hand. At the 
same moment he placed his hand on 
the balk of wood (across the door), 
sprang right over it and beyond the 
ring of men, and fled away in the 
darkness of the night. Earl Thorfinn 
bade them follow after him, and said, 
' There fared the earl ; it was one of 
his feats of strength and nobody's 
else.' The men set off in search, 
separating into knots. Thorkell 
Foster searched along the shore, 
when they heard a dog bark among 
the rocks. Earl Ronald had his lap- 
dog with him. The earl was captured, 
and Thorkell bade his men kill him, 
offering them money. But all the 
same they refused. So Thorkell him- 
self slew him, for he knew that one 
or the other of them would have to 
do it. Earl Thorfinn now came uja, 
and blamed not the deed. They spent 
the night on the island slaughtering 
the whole of Ronald's followers. 
Next morning they laded the mer- 
chant ship with malt, then went 
aboard, placing in the prow and stern 
the shields which. Ronald and his men 



See Flateyjarbok, ii. p. 417. 



DEATH OF EARL RONALD. 343 

Avliat the reading or reciting of them did for the indwellers 
of that remote isle. How it would fire their imagination, 
how it ennobled the life of the rustic, was a penny read- 
ing, a homily, a newspaper all in one, and much more ; a 
whole Mudie's Library, in fact, to the more cultivated 
intellects, 

had, and no more men upon her than Thorfinn seized and killed thirty, 

had come with the earl, and then most of them being King Magnus's 

rowed to Kirkwall. As Ronald's men and friends of his. One retainer 

men supposed that it must be the earl of the king's he let go, bidding him 

and his followers coming back, they fare to Norw.iy and tell King Magnus 

went to meet them unarmed. Earl the news.' 



( 344 ) 



CHAPTEE XV. 

THE S W E R R I S SAGA. 

Let us now shift the scene from this old-world love-story, 
one of the most interesting and best written of the smaller 
sagas, to another of far higher pretensions, alike in a lite- 
rary point of view and in the exalted position of the man 
whose deeds it narrates. 

King Swerrir was brought up in youth for the priestly 
office, under his uncle the Bishop of Faro ; and with no 
very well-founded pretensions to the throne — his royal 
blood being little better than a myth — this man at length 
surmounted all obstacles, and ascended the throne of 
Norway a.d. i i 84. Like all monarchs who chose to think 
for themselves, he was speedily at loggerheads with the 
Pope, and like our King John, his friend and contem- 
jjorary,^ he was placed under an interdict, and all the 
bishops fled out of the land. Many were the battles he 
fought, and many his hairbreadth escapes. His most for- 
midable foes were Jarl Erling, and his son, King Magnus, 
but they both fell before him. 

Sw^errir was a man of many striking qualities, partly 
good, partly bad, " virtutibus et vitiis asque insignis." In 
1dm we see a combination of astuteness and fanaticism, 
never-failing resource, vigilance, unshaken courage, forti- 
tude in adversity, kindliness and severity, an insight into 
character, and power of moving men by a nervous, natural 

^ "John, the English king, sent afoot as deer, skilful in the use of the 
King Swerrir two hundred soldiers bow, and who wrought ill enough," 
called ribalds, who were as quick c. 174 (194). 



THE WRITER OF IT. 345 

eloquence. Taking him all in all, he was perhaps Nor- 
way's greatest if not best king ; ^ at least he is so con- 
sidered by the people themselves, who may be supposed 
to be the best judges. It was not, however, in this light 
that Swerrir presented himself to a large section of his 
contemporaries. Hoveden describes him, in fact, as a 
usurper and a murderer, and no doubt the Papal party 
of the day endorsed that verdict to a man.^ 

What is most wonderful in this vernacular composition 
is, that it is by a monk, brought up, doubtless, in all the 
odour of monkish Latinity, who, emancipating himself 
from the sententious pedantry of his tribe, has in living 
words, sharp-cut sentences, in a style strong and energetic, 
described the stirring incidents, reproduced the impas- 
sioned and pithy speeches of the Norwegian king.^ The 
first part, according to the preface, but, to judge from the 
style, most likely the w^hole of it, was written down by 
Karl Jonsson, the Benedictine Abbot of the monastery of 
Thingore,* in the north of Iceland.^ He came to Norway 
for this purpose in 1185, and had the king constantly at 
his elbow in his composition. Here then we have written 
down an account from the mouth of an eye-witness and 
chief actor in the scene. 

But let us in a few words refer to the state of Norway 
at that time. To say that the lawful popular voice and 
hereditary claims were in abeyance, that the land, crown 
and all, were at the feet of the Pope, and that the 
monarch dared not stir a finger, could not even be law- 

1 See Werlauf, Anecdoton Swer- tinus or Eustachius), Archbishop 
riri (xviii. ), Hafnise, 1815, a defence of Nidaros, who left Norway for 
of the king. The author must have England, where he resided three 
been a contemporary cleric, and years, partly at Bury St. Edmunds. 
known at the time (p. 92). If not William of Newburg(i. 271) calls him 
the king himself, it was probably " Diaboli vas proprium ; " "prcedo," 
Martin, an Englishman, and chaplain &c. 

to his majesty (ib. Ixxi.) 3 Sverri's Saga, ed. Christiania, 1873. 

2 Hoveden (Roll's Series), ed.Stubbs, "* Oxonian in Iceland, p. 221, 
ii. 214, iii. 270, &c. The English "Nothing remains except grass- 
chroniclers, doubtless, were inspired grown hillocks." 

by Eystein (in Hoveden, Angus- ^ gge P. E. Sliiller, iii. 419. 



346 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

fully proclaimed or crowned without the sanction of the 
Archbishop of Nidaros, will probably explain much that 
was untoward in the national affairs. The nobles were 
brave, but sunk deep in pampered luxury, curatio cutis. 
Anything for an easy life, quiet, and possession of their 
privileges was their motto. All this stirred the bile or 
the ambition of the young priest in Faro. Was it to be 
tolerated that King Magnus should make concordats with 
Eome, and thus barter away the independence of the 
country and the kingly supremacy ! So he left the island 
refuge where his mother had carried him as a child, and 
set foot in Norway (1176) to spy out how the land lay. 
All the following he could get at first were the mere 
residuum of the country — the Birch-legs — though subse- 
quently he made fast friends of the people of Trondjem. 
The most influential of the nobility would have nothing 
to do with a disturber of their rights and influence at 
court. The mass of the lower classes loved the easy-going 
popular King Magnus, and ignored a stranger of doubtful 
origin who sang hymns and quoted Scripture. The clergy, 
who took their cue from the Pope, and interpreted " the 
powers that be are ordained of God" to mean "King 
by the will and grace of his Holiness," their state of 
mind can be well imagined. The renegade priest ! the 
impostor who claimed to be of royal lineage ! the wizard in 
league with the devil 1 Perdition awaited him, while his 
rival. King Magnus, would be in Abraham's bosom before 
the breath was well out of him. But Swerrir was of the 
sort of stuff to defy the whole pack of them. His stern 
discipline drilled the ragged squad into men of iron whom 
nothing could quell. They caught his spirit, and nobody 
could stand against them. That was his instrument, 
formed and shaped by himself, for winning victories in 
the teeth of all probability and against untold odds, and 
finally carrying everything before him. His opponent, 
Magnus's father Erling, might be prudent and a real 
soldier, but in sublety and military prowess he found 



PORTRAITS OF SIVERRIR AND MAGNUS. 347 

Swerrir more than his match. The popular qualities of 
King Magnus might bind fast to him the people of the 
South, but Swerrir could set off against this the fidelity 
of his Birch-legs and the devotion of the Trondjemers. 

But the reader will perhaps like to have a ])ost obit por- 
trait of Swerrir as drawn by his biographer (c. 181). " He 
was low of stature, broad and muscular ; when seated he 
looked tall, but his legs were short. His skin was of the 
fairest ; the face was broad and well-favoured, the eyes of 
a reddish (? hazel) tinge, steady and noble in expression, 
while there was an air of calm and attention about the 
countenance. Very eloquent in speech, there was such a 
ring in his voice, that though he did not appear to speak 
loudly, everybody, even those at a distance, could hear 
him. When he sat in his high seat in goodly apparel, he 
looked every inch a king. He sat down to table only once a 
day, and he never let strong drink mar his wits.^ In weari- 
ness, wet, and watching he was a man of great endurance. 
Ambitious he was, and equal to great deeds. Unlike his 
father, Sigurd, who was changeable and explosive, Swerrir 
was steadfast and sedate, and while Swerrir was cautious, 
the other was easily taken in. He was sparing of words 
and crafty in counsel. Father and son were both of them 
magnanimous, sociable, loving to their friends, fierce to their 
foes, ready to help those in need, faithful and constant ; 
and even his enemies said the like of him was never seen 
in their day." Set side by side with this, as showing the 
generosity and fairness of the man, his description of his 
fallen rival. King Magnus (ibid., cap. 98) : " Magnus was 
popular and beloved by the peasantry ; a proof of this was 
that he never lacked followers as long as he lived, in spite 
of the danger it involved. And a further proof was, that 
anybody who claimed to be of his stock could always get 
a following. We believe the chief cause of this popularity 
was, on the one hand, the love all the people bore for 
descendants of King Sigurd the Crusader, and on the 
other their hatred to Harald Gille. King Magnus was 

^ See bis unique temperance speech, c. 956. 



348 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

free and merry with the common people, just as young 
men are wont to be. He was very fond of drink and of 
the fair sex. He took a pride in being a proficient in 
all manly sports, generous and magnificent, and a ready 
speaker, all which qualities were liked by the people. He 
was very skilful in the use of his weapons, fond of display, 
and a dandy in dress ; tall and brawny, slender in the 
waist, with well-made limbs. His face was handsome, all 
but his mouth." The portrait, in fact, of the cavalier of 
the period, whom it was part of Swerrir's mission to abo- 
lish. Tliere are many points in Swerrir's character which 
remind us of Cromwell. His elaborate manufacture of a 
powerful military machine to work out his ends, his 
intense faith in his mission, his strongly religious feeling,^ 
which would make him lay aside his arms and kneel down 
on the deck when a battle at sea hung in the balance, and 
sing a Latin hymn, his constant quotation of Scripture 
(120), all this smacks of the Protector. He, too, had his 
dreams and his visions to compare with Cromwell's super- 
naturalism. He, too, might talk of his providences, dis- 
pensations, deliverances. " The Lord's hand did it all," 
he might say ; but he never went the length of telling his 
auditors, when the jarl and the king were lying dead, that 
he " besought the Lord to slay him rather than he should 
do this work." The specious cant of the Lord-General 
is clearly absent. Instead of the hesitating hint, the 
half- veiled sign, rather than express words, in which the 
former would put a cheat on his own conscience while 
debauching the conscience of another, Swerrir is generally 
open and above-board, although he can be reticent when 
needful about his ancestry, or the charge of having tam- 
pered with the Pope's Bull, and made away with a stray 
cardinal. Of dark, grim solemnity there is not a vestige. 
He has been branded as a sheer hypocrite, pure and 

1 An arrow struck in the stern of knees. " A perilous shot," exclaimed 
his boat, just over his he.ad, and an- somebody. Said he, " It will come 
other in the wainscot, close by his nearer, if God wills it. " 



SWERRIR'S SPEECHES. 349 

simple, by liis enemies ; but who shall presume to say- 
how far Swerrir was playing the hypocrite in his repeated 
asseverations of the justice of his case and confidence in 
the Almighty ? or how far out of the fulness of conviction 
he maintained that he was fighting the battles of the Lord ? 
Anyhow he was a chosen instrument in the hands of Provi- 
dence to set straight what was out of joint and cried loudly 
for reform, especially to hurl from its bad pre-eminence a 
hierarchy which threatened to ruin the country.^ 

Here is the king's speech before the battle of Ilevold, 
1 1 80. 

" Here is a great host come together and a fine, and it 
looks as if we shall have to fight against great odds, so 
many are their ranks standing in all the fields with gilded 
weapons and costly clothes. It were well if you brought 
both the one and the other back to the town to-night. 
See, my friends, you have a choice of two things, either 
to Win the victory or die sword in hand. Bandying blows 
with King Magnus's barons is quite another thing from 
hewing timber in the forest. To give and receive big 
blows, that is no shame. This is just what the old scald 
sang — 

' Mucli difference is there between tlie Carl 
Who firewood cleaves, and who fights with a Jarl.' 

This is just what a peasant said to his son when he 
accompanied him to the warships. ' Quit thyself valiantly, 
boy,' said he. ' Fair fame lives longer than ought else. 
But now, my boy, how would you do if you went into a 
battle and knew you must fall ? ' The son answered, 
' Why, hew away with both hands at once.' ' But,' re- 
joined the peasant, ' if you were told you would not 
survive, what then ? ' ' Why, fight with both hands and 
go ahead.' The father answered, ' In every battle one 
of two things must happen, you must live or die, so be 
thou bold, because everything is ordained beforehand ; 
the man who is not " fey" won't go to Hcl, and the " fey " 

1 Keyser, Xorske Kiikes Historic, p. 253. 



350 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

man can't escape. It is worst of all to fall in flight. 
It will be bad sueing for peace of those Heklungs,i my 
Birkibeins,- so your only cliance is to bar the way and 
plunge your swords in their mead-paunches.=^ They are 
so thick on the ground that they can't make use of all 
their force. A vast deal of them were better fitted to be 
bridesmen than men of war. They have been more used 
to mead than fighting. March on, then, good lads, and 
may God preserve us." 

Swerrir's speech over the grave of Jarl Erling at Nidaros, 
1 179, is a iine specimen of simple and incisive irony. 
" It is not meet to be silent at the grave of so worshipful 
a man as this. Times have greatly changed. Here is one 
man instead of three, the king, the Jarl and the arch- 
bishop, and that man am I. Here is much to see and to 
hear, and to be thankful for. Many corpses of King 
Magnus's followers are here being borne along. It is well 
known to many how Archbishop Eystein and many other 
clergy have often said, that the souls of all who fought on 
the side of King Magnus, and defended his land and fell 
in the attempt, would be in paradise before their blood 
was cold on the earth. What a many saints, tlien, have 
we to rejoice in.* We can fancy, too, how holy Jarl 
Erling must have become, who was at the bottom of 
Magnus being proclaimed king, and has helped and sup- 

1 Literally, "frockmen," from the stockings. Magnus Erlingson Saga, 

peculiar liood they wore = Hekla, the c. xxxv. 

very name of the Icelandic volcano, ^ An allusion to the gross hahits of 
witli its "hood of snow." Here, the luxury and sloth of his opponents. 
Middle Ages fancied, was the place * Listen to another king in arms 
of punishment for the damned. The for his throne. But, like the arch- 
Scotch " John Hacklehirnie's house " bishop, he reckoned without his 
recalls this superstition. The fly- host — 

fisherwillthinkhereof the "hackle" "For every man that Bolingbroke 

feathers from the neck of the cock. hath press'd 

- "Birch-legs." These Vikings of To lift shrewd steel against cur 

the forest were originally poor pea- golden crown, 

sants whom Swerrir disciplined into God for his Richard hath in hea- 

invincible Ironsides. They were so venly pay 

called from the pieces of birch bark A glorious angel." 

which served them for shoes and — A'mr; iSic/iarcZ //. , act iii. sc. 2. 



SIVEKRIR'S SPEECHES. 351 

ported his throne from that day to this. His intercessions 
must surely mightily prevail with God, unless perchance 
the archbishop was a little partial in what he said. 
Things have so come about that we are now standing 
over those who have long overawed ^ us and others. I 
see many a man standing rueful here who would be right 
merry if he stood so over my grave, even if it were not 
quite so splendid an affair. But this seems both short- 
sighted and unkind, considering the prophecies so often 
uttered about what we and they had to reckon on here- 
after. Meseems we ought both of us to rejoice greatly 
that our several fates have been settled as they are. We, 
at all events, may be glad that our lot is bettered, and 
that we can live in less fear than heretofore ; for we need 
not fear people at whose graves we stand. Now, bear in 
mind the archbishop's promise. By this time the blood 
of the dead must be cold, and though we cannot as yet 
rejoice in any miracles of theirs, yet at least we have by this 
time a fine stock of new saints in the city. You, too, won't 
have lost them ; on the contrary, they will do you great 
good, if you worship them as saints as you were minded 
to do. But if things are so bad that, as my mind fore- 
bodes, all the fair promises about them have broken down, 
then they must have long since paid the penalty for the 
lies and the nonsense told to them, as well as all others 
who believed them. Now my rede is, that you shift 
matters ; to wit, that you should rather pray for them 
dead, and for Jarl Erling, M'ho, being a mere vassal, dared 
to give the name of king to his son, and killed all the 
king's sons, and all of royal race, and broke therein the 
laws of King Olaf. We must also pray for the souls of 
all those men who have fallen in these battles, now and 
heretofore ; pray God to forgive their sins and save their 
souls. I will forgive them, for God's sake, for all their 
misdeeds to me. Now let each one do as seems best to 
him for himself and for the departed. Bear in mind, too, 

1 Properly, "held tlie helmet of terror over us,"— mythological allusion. 



3 5 2 ICELA NDIC LITER A TURE. 

those Avho have so suddenly been severed from this workl, 
unhouseled, and with less preparation and in fiercer mood 
than they would now like. This much will I answer for, 
that, far from your not standing in need of prayers, any 
good you do their souls will he in great help in getting 
mercy for yourselves." 

The king now, as usual, turned aside to other matters. 
He first thanked the clergy for their funeral chants and 
orations, and all the people for their hearty joining 
in tlie prayers for the dead. And he bade each one 
pay the last offices to his friend with as mnch cere- 
mony as he chose, promising himself to provide for the 
burial of those who had no friends at hand. He ended 
his speech to the satisfaction of all, and many people 
cheered it. 

Let us see the end of this man, 9th March 1202. He 
has fallen sick, and the clergy of Bergen are summoned to 
administer extreme unction to the dying king ; and, all 
honour to these spirited ecclesiastics, they do so, although 
he was under the Church's ban. At this moment he ex- 
claimed, " Here will I wait for recovery or death. If I die 
on my high seat, surrounded by my friends, it will have 
chanced otherwise than Bishop Arneson prophesied, that I 
should be cut down as food for dogs and ravens." There- 
upon he was anointed, his last request being that they 
should leave his face bare, so that friends and unfriends 
might see whether it showed any traces of the Church's 
ban and interdict.^ 

^ Pope Alexander III. had excom- Archbishop Eric of Nidaros, have re- 

municated all the bishops who had leased his son Hacon and others from 

a hand in his coronation. They were the interdict ; after the manner of an 

"liars and iniquitous." Innocent ape whicli imitates human actions, you 

III., whose thunders he had defied, have pretended to do what you could 

on hearing of his death, becomes not do, and had no right to do. On 

jubilant. " Exultavit cor nostrum in condition that you publicly proclaim 

Domino, etlajtatisumusgaudioraagno that your dissolving of the ban was a 

valde. That usurper, who turned figment and a folly, we isermit you to 

things upside down, that worker of absolve them in due ecclesiastical 

dire calamities, we hear that you, form." Aiiecdot, Ixiv. 



( 353 ) 



CHAPTEE XVI. 

THE '"KlNG^S MIRROR." 

The following is from the " Speculum Eegale," " King's 
Mirror," ^ the work, as has been supposed, though incor- 
rectly, of the above King Swerrir, more probably written 
about 1240, in the reign of Hacon Haconson. The " Spe- 
culum Eegale " must be always a book of great interest to 
an Englishman, if only — not to mention its graphic account 
of early Arctic discovery — from its political significance. 
It was a blow after the manner of Swerrir at the over- 
weening assumption of the clergy. Throughout it is based 
on the principle that the king is God's visible representa- 
tive on earth, while the clergy have their place assigned 
to them among the other classes of the community, the 
courtiers, the merchants, and the agricultural class. ^ Here 
is a bit of advice given by a high-born noble, the Chester- 
field of the day, to his son, who is about to enter tlie 
king's service : — 

" Consider that foreign envoys of high breeding may 
visit the court, who will look very sharply at the manners 
of the king and his entourage, and criticise them all the 
more keenly, the more polished they are themselves ; and 
when they return home they will report all that they have 
seen and heard. Their reports of foreign courts are sure 
to be strongly featured, full of scorn or full of approbation. 
Only think, if at some great levee, wdiere archbishops and 
earls, and bishops and prefects, and knights and hirdmen 

1 Konungs-Skuggsja. Christiania, 1848. Sorij, 1768. 
- Karl (leu iStore og Didrik of Ueni, p. 2 ; of G. Storm, Cliristi;inia, 1874. 

Z 



354 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

are present, one of these great dignitaries made a hole in 
his manners! What a butt for ridicule he would be! 
Or if one of tlie liirdmen were to be guilty of a breach of 
politeness, straightway the king would get the blame ; for 
folks would say that it was from him the manners of the 
court took their colour. What are life and limb worth 
when a man by his vulgarity has disgraced his sovereign ? " 
In tlie same book, in an account of Irish wonders, we have 
the following : — " There was a certain jester in that land 
a long while ago ; he was a Christian, and his name was 
Klepsan. It was said that nobody could help laughing 
at his jokes, lies though they were ; not even a mourner 
could contain himself. But he fell sick and died, and was 
buried in the churchyard like other folks. He had lain 
loner in the earth, so long that the tiesh had all rotted off 
the bones, nay, many of his bones also were decayed ; 
when it came to pass that somebody, while burying a 
corpse in the same part of the churchyard, dug so near the 
spot where Klepsan lay that he turned up his skull. This 
he placed on a tall stone close oy, and it has stood there 
ever since. And whoever comes by and looks at the skull, 
and sees the spot where the mouth and tongue were, he 
must fain laugh, even though he chanced to be in heavy 
mood. So that the antic moves not fewer people to 
laughter with his dead bones than he did when alive." 
Here we have clearly the first hint of that Yorick " who 
was wont to set the table in a roar." ^ 

Then there is by the hand of the Icelander, Sturla 
Thordason, the Saga of Hacon Haconson, who ascended to 
the throne of Norway 1223. It was to him that Pope 
Innocent IV. offered the Hohenstaufen throne by the hands 
of his legate. Cardinal Sabina ; an offer which the shrewd 
Northman declined, he would not be a tool to gratify his 
holiness's spite. His reign was the Augustan age of 
Norse literature. Well would it have been for Hacon had 

1 See Heliquiae Antiquse, ii. 103. St. Patrick's poems, " Irish "Wonders." 



DEA TH OF KING HA CON HA CONS ON. 35 5 

he kept out of broils with Scotland. The fatal fight of 
Largs, the day after Michaelmas 1 263, was the result — 

" That glorious plain 
Where still gigantic bones remain, 
Memorial of the Danish war." 

— Marmion^ iii. 24. 

So sings our national poet. But had it not been for " the stars 
in their courses," the fearful tempest that fought against 
the Northman and wrecked his ships, the Scotch glory 
would have been small.^ The king retired to Kirkwall, 
his proud and sensitive spirit smarting under his disaster, 
and died there of fever, as it was given out, but more 
likely of chagrin. " During the summer the king had 
had much watching and great anxieties. He was often 
called up by his men and had little rest. When he came 
to Kirkwall, he soon took to his bed from sickness, but at 
first the progress of the disease was not rapid. After lying 
three weeks, he mended a little, and he was then afoot 
for three days. The first day he went about the house, 
the next day to service in the bishop's chapel The third 
day he went to St. Magnus's Church, and about the shrine 
of Jarl Magnus. That day he had a tub-bath and was 
shaved. The same night he became much worse, and 
again took to his bed. In his sickness he first had Latin 
books read to him. But it seemed to weary him so much 
to follow the meaning, that he had Norse books read to 
him ; first sagas of saints,^ and when these were done, 
the chronicle of the kings from Halfdan the Black, and 

1 Professor Munch, Chronicle of far as to assign the cairn and cromlech 
Man, p. 123, shows in pungent style around the battlefield to the slain 
that King Hacon, instead of being Norsemen, when in fact he had 
"the last of the Vikings," as said bishops and clergy with him to inter 
Lord Hailes- a sentiment re-echoedby if necessary his men. But even the 
"VV. Scott— was by no means a war- "Melrose Chronicle " (a.d. 1263) re- 
like monarch. His merits consisted lates, the dead were carried on board 
chiefiy in pursuits of peace, e.g., ship ("cum vulneratis et mortuis 
legislative improvements, founding suis naves suas repetuut "). 
of cities, promoting of trade, diffus- ^ Heilagra Manna Sogur, now 
ii)g literature and useful knowledge, edited by linger, Christiania, 1877. 
Tlie British hallucination went so 



356 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

so on of all the kings one after another. When King 
Hacon found that his sickness was on the increase, he 
took counsel about the pay of his bodyguard ; and he 
ordered that to every king's-man should be given a mark 
of pure silver, and half a mark to the guests,^ pages, and 
other attendants. He then had all his table-plate, that 
was not gilt, weighed ; and gave orders that if there was a 
lack of pure silver, the plate should be given, so that all 
mi<Tht have their due. Letters were also written to his 
son, KincT Magnus, with directions about such matters 
as seemed of most moment. King Hacon received the 
last unction the day before the anniversary of St. Lucia. 
There were present Tliorgils, Bishop of Stavanger ; Gilli- 
bert. Bishop of Hammer ; Henry, Bishop of the Orkneys ; 
Thorleif, the abbot ; and many other clerks. Before the 
king was anointed, those present kissed him. The king 
was able to speak. During his sickness his councillors 
asked him whether, in case he ^r his son Magnus should 
unfortunately die, he had any other son, or whether per- 
chance he had any other descendants living ; but he averred 
that he had no son but Magnus, and no daughter. When 
the chronicle of the kings had been read down to Swerrir, 
he then had Swerrir's saga read to him, and it was read 
to him both by night and by day, when he was awake. 
St. Lucia's day was on the fifth day (Thursday). On the 
Saturday after, late in the evening, the king grew so bad 
that he lost his speech. About the middle of the night 
the reading of Swerrir's saga was finished. Just after 
this Almighty God called King Hacon from this life." ^ 

Of the Faroese Saga, Professor Peter Erasmus Miiller 
said, " It bears every internal mark of genuineness." It 
must have been committed to writing not later than the 
twelfth century, and in it we possess an authentic picture 
of the history of the people from 825 to 1035 a.d. The 

' The gestir were in the king's " Konunga Stgur, ed. Unger, Chris- 
pay about court, but not so highly tiania, 1873. Cf. Munch, Chronicon 
phvcud as the guardsmen. See "King's Manniae, p. 127. 
Mirror " about these officers. 



SICMUND BRESTESON. 357 

hero is Sigmund Bresteson. We are introduced to some of the 
greatest people of the day. We have the renowned Hacon 
Jarl, the theme of the Oehlenschlager poem, going with 
Sigmund to the temple of his favourite goddess, Thorgerda 
Holgabrud,^ a deity of by no means universal acceptance. 
From the finger of the gorgeouslv-attired female idol the 
Jarl gets a ring which he gives to the youth, bidding him 
never part with it, which he promises. This ring, on 
which heathen runes were most likely inscribed, is preg- 
nant with Sigmund's destiny. After the fall of his patron 
he accepts Christianity by the persuasion of Olaf Trygg- 
vason. " I long foresaw," said the young convert, " that 
this religion (Paganism) was useless, although I knew no 
better." Once on a time, Olaf was drinking and entertaining 
his men. Sigmund, who was high in favour, and sat only 
two from the king, laid his hand on the board. The king 
saw that he wore a big gold ring. " Let me see that ring, 
Sigmund ? " said he. Sigmund took the ring off his finger 
and handed it to him. " Wilt thou give me this ring, 
Sigmund ? " said the king. Sigmund answered, " I have 
promised never to part with it." " I'll give thee another 
instead, and it shall not be smaller nor less." "No, I 
must not part with it, for so I promised faithfully to Hacon 
Jarl when he gave it me. Neither will I, for the giver 
was a good man, metliought, and treated me well in many 
things." Then said the king, " Thou mayest think him as 
good as thou likest, both the ring and the giver of it, but 
thou wilt have little luck now, for the ring will be thy 
bane ; that I know as surely as I know how you got it 
and whence it came. When I begged it of thee, it was 
more to keep my friend from harm than that I coveted 
the ring." Then the king turned as red as blood in the 
face, and the conversation broke of. But he was never so 
cordial with Sigmund as he had been before. Soon after 
Sigmund fared to the Faroes. They parted friends, and 
never saw each other after. Here is another scene from 

1 Prose EJda, i. 45. 



35S ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

the close of tliis strange eventful history. Sigraund was 
swimming for his life. There was a surf running on the 
shore. Si^niund was so worn out that he floated about with 
the w\aves, now from, now to the laud. At last he scrambled 
ashore, so faint that he could not stand, so he crept along 
and lay down under a heap of tang. It was then dawning. 
There was a little homestead a little way off called Sand- 
vick. Hei'e abode a man hight Thorgrim the Bad, a strong 
man and a stour. In the morning Thorgrim goes to the 
strand with a wood axe in his hand. There he saw a red 
cloth sticking out of the tang. He pulled off the tang, 
and, lo ! there is a man lying there. He speers wdio he is. 
Sigmund tells him. Thorgrim whispers to his sons, who 
had now come up. " Methinks Sigmund has more money 
about him than we have ever owned in our lives, and his 
•Told riu" is so very big. I counsel that we kill him and 
then hide his body. It won't ever be known." The time 
and opportunity were too much for the trio to resist. Sig- 
mund is murdered. He was ' fey ' from the first, the holder 
of that gold ring. He was not the first of his name who 
became possessed of a treasure fraught with his own doom. 
The new owner, Thorgrim, had cause in his own person to 
become acquainted with the doom of the ring. 

In none of the sagas do w^e gain a correcter insight than 
here into the strange jumble ^ of ideas which men, suddenly 
made Christians out of heathens, by the hey-presto argu- 
ment of an axe uplifted over their heads, had about their 
new religion. Old Thraud, the evil genius of the hero 
Sigmund, had been converted in this summary manner by 
the emissary to the Faroes of the fiery zealot Olaf Trygg- 
vason. By stress of circumstances Sigmund, the grandson 
of Bresteson, became his foster-child. Once on a time his 
mother, Thora, goes to see him. 

" He was then nine, and seemed a very sharp lad. His 

1 Such was the creed of Helgi the Lean. It was much jumbled ; he be- 
lieved iu Christ, but in a pinch he would pray to Thor. Flateyjarbf^k, i. 
267. 



TH RAND'S CREED. 359 

mother asked him what Thrand had taught him. He 
replied that he had taught him liow to set on foot suits, 
and the various ways of proceeding at law, in his own and 
others' behalf. In this he w^as quite at home. Then she 
asked him what teaching his foster-father had given him 
in Holy Writ. Sigmund said he had learned his pater- 
noster and creed. Quoth she, ' I would like to hear it.' On 
which he sang his paternoster, as she thought, pretty well. 
But Thrand's creed ran thus — 

* Given to us are angels' good, 
Without 'em gang I ne'er a foot : 
Where'er I am, where'er I fare, 
Five angels follow everywhere ; 
Pattering prayer, if so I be, 
To Christ they bear them presently ; 
Psalms, too, seven can I sing — 
Have mercy on me, God, my King ! ' 

" At this moment Thrand came into the room, and asks 
what they are talking about. Thora answers, and says her 
son has been rehearsing the Christian knowledge he had 
tauo-ht him. ' But the creed seems to be wrong.' ' Ah ! ' 
said Thrand, ' Christ, you know, had twelve disciples, or 
more, and each of them had his own credo. Now I have 
my credo, and you have the credo you have been taught ; 
there are many credos, and they may be right without 
being exactly the same ! ' And with that the conversation 
ended." 



( 36o ) 



cnArTER XVI r. 

HAROLD HARDRADA AND THE SCALDS. 

The following gives us farther insight into the relation of 
the Icelandic scald and his Maecenas on the throne of 
Norway at the time, whoever that might be. The king 
liere is one who in our boyish days we used to think was 
a terrible Pagan ogre, seven feet high, who, when hungry, 
ground the bones of Englishmen to make his bread. And 
yet this man had been chief of the army of the Greek 
Emperor, had won battles innumerable from the Paynim 
Saracens in Africa, had fought against the Pagans in 
Sicily, had bathed in Jordan with other pilgrims, had 
given great gifts to the grave of our Lord, and had cleared 
the road from Jerusalem to Jordan of robbers. Besides 
this, he was a devoted squire of dames, nay, it is said, had 
raised a tender passion in the breast of no less a person 
than the Greek Empress, Zoe, who put him in a dungeon 
when she learned that he purposed returning to his native 
country. Eeleased by anotlier lady, he had subsequently 
escaped from the East, and married Elisof, the daughter 
of King Jarisleif of Novgorod. Half-brother to Olaf the 
Saint, he sat on the throne of Norway. But in an evil 
liour he invaded England, and fell at Stamford Bridge 
before our victorious Harold. Our readers will perceive 
we are talking of Harold Hardrada, or the Stern. Him- 
self a poet of distinction, he was also a generous patron of 
the Icelanders. 

One summer, a smart young Icelander came to the 
king and begged his protection. The king asked if 



THE SAGA-TELLER. 361 

he knew any lore. He said he knew some songs. 
Then the king promised to take to him on condition 
that he siiould recite whenever he was asked to do so. 
This he does, and gets into the good graces of the cour- 
tiers, M-ho make him presents of clothes, while the king 
gives him arms. And so the time runs on to Yule. The 
Icelander now grows sad, and the king asked how this 
was. He replied that it was his uncertain temper. 
" That isn't it," said the king. " Now I'll guess the cause. 
All your stories are exhausted. You have been amusing- 
people with them whenever they asked all the winter, 
and now, when Yule is at hand, they are all done, and 
that makes you sad." " It is pretty nigh as you say," 
replied the youth. " I have one saga still, but I dare not 
recite it here, for it is the story of your out-journey " (to 
Palestine). Said the king, " That saga is one I desire to 
hear above all others. You shall not recite it till Yule ; 
but on Yule-day you shall take to this saga and recite a 
bit of it ; and I will so manage it with you that the saga 
shall last out all the days of Yule. There will be some 
heavy drinking, and people won't sit long to hear recita- 
tions, and you won't perceive while you are reciting 
whether I like it or not." On Yule-day the Icelander 
begins the saga) but he recites too rapidly, and the king 
bids him stop suddenly. The drinking goes on, and some 
men say it was a bold thing of the Icelander to recite 
this saga. How would the king like it ? Some thought 
he told the story well ; others did not trouble much about 
it. The king was particular that the story should be 
well listened to, and by his management the saga finishes 
at the same time that Yule does. And on the thirteenth 
evening, when it was already finished, the king said, 
" Aren't you curious, Icelander, to know how I like the 
saga ? " "I am fearful about it, sire," replied he. The 
king said, " I like it very well, and it was quite equal to 
the subject. Now who taught you the saga ? " Ho 
answered, " It was my wont at home to go every summer 



362 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

to the Althing, aud each summer I learnt a bit of the 
sDga from Halldor, son of Snorri" (Godi). " Then it was 
not strange that you knew it well, and it will be the 
luck of you. I bid you welcome. You shall have every 
facility of trade anywhere." The king got him a good 
cargo and he became a thriving man.^ 

In this characteristic anecdote we learn the secret of 
the saga-writing. Halldor, we know, was a comrade of 
King Harold's in the East, and from this eyewitness did 
this youth learn each year a faithful story of the king's 
exploits, which Halldor would no less long to tell than 
the other to hear. And then, remember, that this opera- 
tion would be going on all over the ground during the 
session of parliament. Crowds of listeners would there 
be with memories in which everything stuck fast — " wax 
to receive and marble to retain." And then we see how 
the facts of history were laid upon a secure basis. A 
check too on their truthfulness would be this recitation 
before the actors in the drama. They could and would 
set the storyteller right if he went wrong. 

Snorri Sturleson relates (Preface to " Heimskringla "), 
how at King Harold Fairhair's court were scalds whose 
poems, and the poems of later poets about all the later 
kings, were remembered to this day. No wonder Snorri 
could quote such scores of ditties in confirmation of his 
narrative. No wonder that by this constant process the 
memory of the natives was sharpened to a prodigious 
extent. Take the case of Stump the blind scald, son of 
Thord, nicknamed the Cat. One day King Harold Hard- 
rada unexpectedly paid a visit to a peasant in the 
interior. " Pray, don't put yourself out," said the king to 
the goodman of the house, who was making all sorts of 
excuses about the indifferent pot-luck. " My own people 
will see to the horses and harness. Meanwhile, I will 
step inside, while you go and attend to your own affairs." 

' Morkinskinna, 72, ed. Unger ; a vellum written in Iceland early in the 
thirteenth century. It begins 1135 and ends 1157. 



sruMP. 363 

Inside the king saw a big man sitting lower down the 
bench, and speered who he was. " Stump, at your ser- 
vice." Said the king, '"Tis an ill-sounding name. And. 
whose son are you ? " "I am the son of Cat," said he. 
" All of a piece," said the king. " Sit a little nearer me, 
and let us have a talk." He did so. The king found 
that he was a stranger, and was pleased to converse with 
him. The bonder (' goodman ' of the house) now came 
in, and said it must be dull for the king. " Not at all," 
said the king, " for this winter-guest of yours amuses me 
well, and he shall sit over against me as my cup-mate 
to-night." And so it came to pass. The king talked 
much with Stump, and he gave shrewd answers. And 
when men went to repose, the king begged that Stump 
should be in the same chamber that he slept in. 

Stump complied. When the king was got to bed. 
Stump recited a short poem^ to amuse the king. And 
when it was finished the king bade him recite anotlier. 
The king kept long awake while Stump went on reciting. 
" How many of these ditties have you recited ? " "I 
thought you were counting." " I have so," said the king ; 
" there are now thirty. But don't you know any drapas ? " 
" I know as many drapas as flokkrs, and none of them 
have been yet recited." " Then you must be a notable 
historian. But who will you recite your long poems to, 
as you recite to me only short ones ? " " To you," replied 
Stump. Next morning Stump asks the king to grant him 
a favour, but will not say what beforehand. The king 
consents, so pleased is he with the recitations. Stump was 
journeying south to call in a loan, and he wanted a letter 
from the king with his seal as a recommendation. This the 
king readily granted. But there was another favour which 
Stump asked for, which he said he would not reveal till 
the king gave his consent ; but eventually he said that it 

1 "Flokkr," opposed to " drapa," East. The modern Brahmin, as in 

a long heroic composition of several duty bound, has the thousand and 

stanzas. Stump approached some- odd poems of the Veda by heart, 

what to his Aryan ancestors in the , 



364 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

was this — he wished to be one of the king's men. On 
taking counsel with his courtiers, Harold granted the re- 
quest, and he was invited north to the court at Nidaros, 
where he was well received. He was the author of the 
dirge on King Harold. His poems are often quoted by 
Snorri. But " non cuivis homini contingit adire Corin- 
thum." It was not every one who advanced poetical pre- 
tensions that could gain admission to the magic circle of 
Harold's court. He was much too good a judge and re- 
fined a critic to tolerate anything second-rate about him in 
tliat line— a condition of things which has been compared 
to that of the courtly troubadours, with their exquisite 
idiom and highly cultivated style. Their diction was no 
more the dialect of the country folks of Languedoc than 
were the flowery effusions and recondite phraseology of 
the scalds the simple language of the Norse peasantry. 
A recent writer, Sars, will not allow the Edda poems to be 
a genuine expression of popular sentiment and belief, and 
does not scruple to attribute them to a court circle. 

Let us dip into the celebrated Njal Saga, from which we 
get so much insight into the goings on of the great chiefs 
in Iceland. 

Hauskuld had a daughter named Hallgerda, who was 
playing on the floor. " What dost thou think of this maiden, 
Hrut?" said her father to his maternal brother. Hrut 
held his peace, but on being asked a second time replied, 
" Fair is this maid, and many will smart for it ; but this I 
know not, whence thief's eyes have come into our race." 
Many years had elapsed since the child was playing on 
the floor, when it chanced one day that the noble Gun- 
nar at the Althing saw a woman coming to meet him in 
goodly attire. When they met she spoke to Gunnar at 
once. He took her greeting well, and asked what woman 
she might be. She told him her name was Hallgerda, 
Hauskuld's daughter. She spoke up boldly to him, and 
Ijade him tell her of his voyages ; and he said he would not 
gainsay her a talk. Then they sat them down and talked. 



MARRIED IN HASTE. 365 

She liad on a red kirtle, aud on lier shoulders a scarlet 
cloak trimmed with needlework down to the waist. Her 
hair came down to her bosom, and was both fair and full. 
Gunnar was clad in the scarlet robes which King Harold 
Gormson had given him ; he also had the gold ring on 
his hand which Hacon Jarl had given him. They talked 
loner, and at last he asked whether she was unmarried. 
She said so it was, and there were not many who would 
run the risk of that. " Thinkest thou none good enough 
for thee ? " " Kot that," says she, " but I am said to be 
hard to please in husbands." " How wouldest thou 
answer were I to ask for thee ? " " That cannot be in 
thy mind," she says. " It is, though," says he. " If thou 
hast any mind that way, go and see my father." After 
that they broke off their talk. 

Gunnar went straight to Hauskuld's booth, and asked 
if he were inside. The man said he was. Hauskuld and 
his brother Hrut bade him welcome, and he sat down be- 
tween them. They had been great foes, but no one would 
have found out from their talk that they had any mis- 
understanding. At last Gunnar asked how they would 
answer if he asked for Hallgerda. " Well," said Haus- 
kuld, " if you really mean it." Gunnar says that he is in 
earnest. " How thinkest thou, kinsman Hrut ? " says 
Hauskuld, Hrut answered, " Methinks this is no even 
match." " How dost thou make that out ? " says Gunnar. 
Hrut spoke, " I will answer thee the very truth. Thou 
art a brisk, brave man, well-to-do and unblemished, but 
she is much mixed up with ill report, and I will not cheat 
thee in anything." "Good go with thee for tliy words," 
says Gunnar ; " nevertheless I shall say that the old feud 
still weighs with ye, if ye will not let me make this 
match. I have talked to her about it, and it is not far from 
her mind." Hrut says, " I know you have both set your 
hearts on this match, and besides ye two are those who run 
the most risk as to how it turns out." So the bargain was 
struck. Hallgerda had already been the death of two lius- 



366 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

bands, and was five years Gunnar's senior, being thirty-five. 
But he could not help himself. He was smitten to the 
core. In their natures and their fortunes there is a strong 
resemblance between this couple and that fated pair in 
the old Edda, Brynhilda and Sigurd. When the sage 
Njal heard of the match from Gunnar's lips he augured 
nothing but ill from it. " Never shall she spoil our friend- 
ship," says Guunar. The wedding took place 974. Six- 
teen years have elapsed, and Gunnar has found Njal's 
prophecy true that his union with Hallgerda would be 
an ill-starred one. She had embroiled him with almost 
everybody, especially with his prenuptial male friends. 
But that is the way of the sirens even in these most Chris- 
tian days, if Charles Lamb and W. M. Thackeray did not 
frightfully calumniate them. Look at yonder aspiring 
leader of society, " so bright, so good, so nice," as some of 
her claque call her. Can it be true that the better-informed 
public are constantly looking with curious interest at those 
faultless kids of her's, feeling nearly certain that if removed 
claws will be revealed ? One wonders whether the 
feline Hallgerda had equally staunch adherents. With 
that w^orthy matron the true and brave-hearted Bergthora, 
Njal's wife — who had at once taken the precise measure of 
her foot — Hallgerda falls out straightway, and the quarrel 
is pursued to the bitter end. 

True, Gunnar and Njal are still friends, but he is an out- 
law, and any man may slay him with impunity. And 
Hallgerda was at the root of it all. Gunnar owned a hound, 
the present of Olaf the Peacock, who had brought it from 
Ireland ; a dog with the wit and courage of a man, who 
could tell by the look of one whether he was friend or foe 
to his master. His name was Sam.-^ One night the dog 

1 "Was this an Irish deerhound, one Olaf Tryggvasson (OLif Trygv. Saga, 1. 

of "the terrible nimble wolf-hounds 35). The characteristics of Gunnar's 

of Ireland," mentioned in " Gaedhill dog are ratlier those of the old 

and Gaill," p. 161 ? Another Irish English mastiff, the breed which the 

dog, Vige by name, possessing almost Romans carried to Rome to fight with 

human intelligence, belonged to King wild beasts in the Amphitheatre, and 



THE DEATH OF GUNXAR. 367 

gave a most unearthly liowl, whicli woke up Gunnar in his 
hall. The Philistines were upon him. By the aid of a 
slave whom they had threatened with death if he refused, 
they enticed the dog to come near and had brained him. 
His foes came on amain, but from the window he pierces 
eight with his arrows. Suddenly one springs on the roof, 
and cuts asunder Gunnar's bowstring. Then said Gunnar 
to Hallgerda, " Give me two locks of thy hair ; and ye 
two, mother, and thou twist them into a bowstring for 
me." " Does much depend upon it ? " she says. " My 
life," he replied ; " they never will come to close quarters 
if I can keep them off with my bow." " Eemember 
that slap in the face that thou gavest me, and I care 
never a whit whether thou boldest out a long while or a 
short." He made a stout defence, but the odds were too 
great, and at last he fell from exhaustion, and they slew 
him. So Njal's forebodings came true, and the " thief's 
eyes " which Hrut had detected in her girlhood did not 
belie their looks. 

In this saga (c. 158) occurs the " Spaedom of the Norns," 
doubtless the composition of a poet living at the time 
A.D. 1014, based on the vision of some man of Caithness 
gifted with second-sight to foretell the result of the 
great battle of Clontarf. The expression in it, " web of 
spears" (vefrdarragar^), points, however, to some far earlier 
legend : — 

THE WOOF OF WAR. 

" See ! warp is stretched Our warp blood-red, 

For warriors' fall ; Our weft corse-blue. 
Lo ! weft in loom, 

'Tis wet with blood ; This woof is y- woven 

Now, fight foreboding, With entrails of men, 

'Neath friends' swift fingers This warp is hard weighted 

Our grey woof waxetli, With heads of the slain ; 

With war's alarms, Spears blood-besprinkled 

which still survives in England, de- and saved him when wounded from 

scended from the faithful hitch who the murderous hands of marauders. 

was at Agincourt witli her master Sir ^ Cf. Lexicon Mythologicum, p. 

Piers Legh of Lyme llidl, Cheshire, 805, sui<roce " Valkyriar." 



368 



ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 



For spi miles we use, 
Our loom iron-bound, 
And arrows our reels. 
With swords for our shuttles 
This war-woof we work ; 
So weave we, weird sisters, 
Our war-winning woof. 

Now War-winner walketli 
To weave in her turn, 
Now Sword-swinger steppetb, 
Now Swift-stroke, now Storm ; 
When they speed the shuttle 
How spear-heads shall flash ! 
Shields crash, and helm-gnawer 
On harness bite hard ! ^ 

Wind we, wind swiftlv 
Our war-winning woof. 
Woof erst for king y juthful. 
Foredoomed as his own. 
Forth now we will ride, 
Then, through the ranks rushing 
Be busy where friends 
Blows blithe give and take. 

AVind we, wind swiftly 
Our war-winning woof, 
After that let us steadfastly 
Stand by the brave king ; 
Then men shall mark mournful 
Their shields red with gore, 
How Sword- stroke and Spear- 
thrust, 
Stood stout by the prince. 

Wind Ave, wind swiftly 
Our war-winning woof. 
When sword-bearing rovers 
To banners rush on. 
Mind, maidens, we spare not 
One life in the fray ; 



We corse-choosing sisters 
Have charge of the slain. 

Now new-coming nations 
That island shall rule, 
Who on outlying headlands 
Abode ere the fight ; 
I say that king mighty 
To death now is done, 
Now low before spear-point 
That Earl bows his head. 

Soon over all Ersemen 
Sharp sorrow shall fall. 
That woe to those warriors 
Shall wane nevermore. 
Our woof now is woven. 
Now battlefield waste. 
O'er land and o'er water 
War tidings shall leap. 

Now surely 'tis gruesome 
To gaze all around. 
When blood-red through heaven 
Drives cloud-rack o'erhead ; 
Air soon shall be deep-hued 
With dying men's blood. 
When this our spaedom 
Comes speedy to pass. 

So cheerily chant we 
Charms for the young king ; 
Come, maidens, lift loudly 
His war-winning lay; 
Let him who now listens 
Learn well with his ears, 
And gladden brave swordsmen 
With bursts of war's-song. 

Now mount we our horses. 
Now bare we our brands. 
Now haste we hard, maidens. 
Hence, far, far away." 



Such is the literal translation given by Sir G. Dasent, who 
attempts to retain the alliteration and the rhythm. Gray, 



1 Helm-gnawer — the sword that bites helmets. 



THE SPAEDOM OF THE NORNS. 369 

that consummate master of poetical form, in his " Fatal 
Sisters " presents us with his version of the song. Such 
stanzas as the following give a notion of his method of 
treating the subject. It must be premised that he had 
the poem through the medium of Torheus' Latin. 

" Glittering lances are the loom, 

Where the dusky warp we strain, 
Weaving many a soldier's doom, 
Orkney's woe and Randver's bane. 

" See the grisly texture grow, 

('Tis of human entrails made). 

And the weights that play below 

Each a gasping warrior's head. 

" Shafts for shuttles dipt in gore 

Shoot the trembling chords along, 
Sword that once a monarch bore 
Keeps the tissue close and strong. 



Horror covers all the heath, 

Clouds of carnage blot the sun ; 

Sisters, weave the web of death ; 
Sisters, cease, the work is done." 



2 A 



( 370 ) 



CHAPTEE XVIII. 

ICELANDIC PROSE LITERATURE OF FOREIGN 
EXTRACTION. 

But besides the national Icelandic sagas, the Scandina- 
vians possessed a mass of prose literature of foreign ex- 
traction. Much of it is due to the refined tastes of King 
Hacon Haconson, who endeavoured to make his subjects 
acquainted with aU the best foreign literature. Professor 
Munch 1 conjectures that his great friend, Matthew Paris, 
acted as the king's purveyor of French literature. Such 
was the " Alexander's Saga," ^ adapted from the " Alex- 
andreis" of Philip Gautier; the Saga of Charlemagne,^ 
which, like the other French literature, must have come 
by way of England ; ^ the Saga of Dietrich of Bern,^ &c. 
Then they had the Homilies and Sermons of St. Gregory, 
and Lives of saints in profusion, all of which have been 
published under the auspices of the indefatigable Professor 
Unger, Such, too, are " Barlaam's Saga," ''^ " Legends of 
the Virgin," ^ " Sagas of the Apostles," ^ " Sagas of Holy 
Men," 9 and " Clarus Saga." These often contain matter 
not to be found in the corresponding versions in other 
countries. Very interesting to an Englishman is the Saga 
of Thomas a Becket,^*^ whose assassination, A.D. ii/o, in 
his own metropolitan church must have electrified Chris- 
tendom to its utmost confines. It is based on the well- 
known " Quadrilogus," so called from its being a Latin 

1 Det Norske Folks Historie, iv. i, 57. ^ Keyser og,Unger,Christiania,i85i. 

2 Unger, Christiania, 1845. ' Unger, 1843. 

3 Ibid., i860. 8 Ibid., 1874. 
* Storm, Karlmagnus Saga. ^ Ibid., 1877. 
5 Unger, Christiania, 1853, k* Ibid., 1869. 



" BARLAA M AND JOSAPHA TP 37 1 

adaptation from the four contemporary biographers, John 
of Salisbury, Herbert of Bosham, Alan of Tewksbury, and 
William of Canterbury. But whereas the original is dry 
and frigid, and often in a false and obscure classic style, 
the Norse version exhibits a wealth of diction and preci- 
sion of expression calling to mind the celebrated " King's 
Mirror," mentioned above. It was undoubtedly written 
in Norway and not in Iceland, most likely in the second 
half of the thirteenth century. There is a later recen- 
sion of the saga, supposed by Vigfusson to be the work 
of Abbot Arngrim of Thingore in Iceland, 1362. The 
" Saga of Barlaam and Josaphat " is a version through the 
Latin ^ of the well-known Greek legend of that name, 
written by John of Damascus in the eighth century, and 
brought, it is believed, to Western Europe during the 
Crusades. A Latin translation of it already existed at 
the close of the twelfth century, A mighty king of Ind, 
Avennir, is a great hater and persecutor of Christianity, 
which is gaining ground in the East. After being long 
childless, he was at length blessed with a son. But his 
joy is darkened by a prophecy that this child will here- 
after embrace the new faith. To prevent this catastrophe, 
Avennir has him brought up in a secluded spot, and 
guarded as jealously as the enchanted maiden. But the 
thorn did its work in both instances. His conscience is 
pricked by the words of the anchorite Barlaam, who gains 
access to him in his seclusion, and wins him over to Chris- 
tianity, and ultimately his father also. In this book Chris- 
tian principles are set forth in a highly poetical manner, 
and their ultimate triumph over Paganism described ; and 
a splendid panegyric is bestowed on asceticism and a re- 
cluse life. All this would prove very alluring to the tastes 
of that age, and no wonder the tale had a great run all 
over Europe. It soon caught the attention of King Swer- 

1 There is internal evidence that many Norsemen of culture then serv- 

this was the case. But there was no ing in the army of the Greek Empress 

lack of a knowledge of Greek in Nor- at Constantinople. 
way in the year 1200, for there were 



372 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

rir's son, Ilacon, King of Norway from 1202 to 1204, who 
liimself made a very free and spirited translation of it. 
He must have been no mean proficient in his mother 
tongue to render so successfully the abstract ideas and 
subtleties of the original. The copiousness and power of 
philosophic and dogmatic expression, and the curious feli- 
city of style here exhibited by the Old Norse, again 
reminds us of the " King's Mirror." This story, meant by 
King Hacon for his courtiers' Sunday reading, is said to be 
an old Buddhist legend ^ about the youthful days of the 
earthly founder of that religion, Sakyd Sinka or Sakya 
Muni, born B.C. 623, and descended on the father's side from 
the Solar Race. The author places in the mouth of Bar- 
laam an interesting allegory on human life, which is to be 
found in the preface to the Arabic translation of " Bid- 
par's Fables," made in the middle of the eighth century, 
and is there given to a learned leech, Barznieh. But we 
cannot resist putting it before our readers. 

" I can only liken those who love this world's follies 
and forget God to the man who, in fear and dread, fled 
away from that frightful beast hight unicorn.^ And for 
that he was very much affrighted, and quite beside him- 
self ^ at the roaring and grim looks of the beast, he fled as 
fast as he could to save himself from being swallowed up. 
And because, from excess of fear, he did not heed where 
he was going, before he was aware he flew right over a 
precipice,* very high and steep. In his descent he caught 
hold of a bush, which he held with both hands as tightly 
as he could, while he got foothold in a little rift in the 
rock, and he thought he had made a good escape of it. 
But on looking overhead he saw two mice, one white, the 

1 C. Holmboe, Forhandlinger Viden- an animal more known to Christians. 

skabs-Selskabet, Christiania, 1870, '^ Hamstoli,2^-<Nox(ioi &\v;ie.x&%\i\o\\.'i, 

p. 340. Yule thinks that the San- import, properly " a wizard whose 

greal originated in the "begging bowl" skin has been stolen." 

of S. Muni. ■* Properly a "well," but in the 

^ lu the Arabic, " elephant," for North " cliffs " are the rule, "wells" 

which Barlaam substituted unicorn, the exception. So the translator 

as being, through the Old Testament, altered it accordingly. 



A PARABLE OF LIFE. yj-^ 

other swart, which were gnawing as hard as they could at 
the roots of the tree which he was holding to, and were on 
the point of gnawing it asunder. After that he looked 
below him, and saw a mickle dragon, wondrously grim, 
which spouted forth fire, with furious eyes, and lifting up 
its mouth most hideously, just as if it were going to gulp 
him down if he fell. When he looked at the rift where he 
had fixed his foot, he saw four heads come forth, fell and 
poisonous, of those snakes called aspides in Latin. As 
one might ween, all tliese things alarmed him very much, 
seeing that he was placed in so mickle peril. Then he 
looked up a second time, and saw beautiful drops of honey 
dripping very alluringly from the branches of the little 
tree which he held on by; and his mind being much 
gladdened by this pleasant sight, all his former fear and 
fright vanished, and he forgot everything, both how the 
unicorn. chased him, and how the dragon just beneath was 
ready to swallow him, how the mice had gnawed the shrub 
he held to, as well as how those ill creatures were ready 
with their poisonous tongues to bite his feet. All this 
terror and dread he gave up and forgot, and only heeded 
the tiny sweetness which he saw drop from the tree. 

" These things are parables of those men who con- 
tinually strive after this world. And now I shall tell you 
the interpretation of these things. The unicorn I liken to 
death, which always follows man, and wishes always to 
end the days of man's life. That great deep under the 
man betokens this world, which is full of all ill, and all 
kinds of traps and snares, laid all around man to drag him 
to death. And the bush that he held on by, which two 
mice, one white, the other swart, constantly gnawed at, 
this denotes the days of each man's life, which are wasted 
and pass by, and though it seems long, yet the age of man 
glides on quickly. But the four adders of which we 
spoke betoken the four prime elements, weak and un- 
stable, of which man's body is made, and for which reason 
he is ever weak and unsteadfast, and soon changeful. 



374 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

'Wwxi grim dragon, that fearful one, it signifies hell's deep, 
■which ever wishes to swallow and gulp down those men 
-who love this world's delights and joys, and aim at them 
rather than at heavenly glory, which is not before their 
eyes. And tliat little honey drop, it denotes the sweet- 
ness and lustfulness of this world's pleasures, with which 
the enemy betrays liis friends, and so blinds them that 
they see not their right way of safety." 

Great credit must be given to a Norse king who 
could translate from the Latin into his vernacular after 
this fashion. But this Hacon was not the only Latin 
scholar of his race in the male line on the throne of 
Norway. We have seen how King Hacon, who lost the 
fight at Largs, had Latin books read to him on his death- 
bed. The learning of Magnus Haconson Lawbetterer is well 
known. In the Laurentius Saga, Eric Magnusson criti- 
cises the style of a Latin letter, while Hacon Magnusson 
(ibid.) could converse in Latin. So much for "the eaters 
of stockfische," who, as the English told Cardinal Sabina 
on his arrival in our island on his voyage to Norway, 
1248, w^ere "rude and ferocious, with hardly sufficient 
means to get decent victuals." 

In the Anglo-Saxon portion of this work we have referred 
to Drythelm's visions of purgatory, a subject which would 
not fail to reappear in most of the European literatures. 
Thus King Hacon Haconson, the last male descendant of 
the line of Harold Harfagr (died 13 19), caused to be 
translated from the Latin of Marcus Monachus,^ for court 
reading, the vision of Duggal"^ the Irishman. Therein 
Ireland is described as a most fertile country, abounding 
in all sorts of corn, its lakes and rivers full of fish and 
its woods of game, but not a vestige to be found of snakes, 
vipers, frogs, or toads. The island is too pure and holy 
for them, and the soil and all thereto appertaining so 

^ Brussels, 1682, by Lupus from the "Vatican MS. 

''■ Duggal'a Leizla, i. 329; Heilagra Manna Sogur, C. linger, Christiania, 
18/7. 



THE VISION OF DUGGAL. 375 

strong that they are fairly choked off. This is, of course, 
the old story; but our business is with this Duggal, a very 
worldly youth, who thought more of his good looks and 
high birth than spiritual matters. One day he fell into a 
furious passion at a friend not being able to pay a debt 
on a stipulated day. The defaulter, however, tried to 
soothe him by an invitation to take his chance at the 
family dinner, the hour of which was at hand. This 
Duggal accepted, placed his axe by his side, and sat 
down. Suddenly, while eating, his hand refused its office, 
and he exclaimed, " I am dying." " All the marks of 
death at once fell upon him ; his hair fell over his brow, 
his eyes turned round in his head, his nostrils closed, the 
lips grew pale, the lower jaw fell, and all his limbs became 
cold." He was at once laid out, the passing bell rang, 
and his friends shed tears over him. This was Mid- 
week Day, and on the following Saturday he was to be 
buried, when a slight warmth was discovered about the 
left shoulder-blade, and the burial was delayed in conse- 
quence. Presently the body came to life, and the youth 
gave a narrative of what had occurred. We will give it 
in an abbreviated form : — When my soul separated from 
my body and became aware that it was dead, it was 
greatly alarmed. It tried to re-enter the body, but could 
not. Next it saw a great multitude of unclean spirits, 
which filled every nook and cranny of the house, mobbed 
the miserable soul, and sang taunting songs over him. 
But a good angel, his guardian from his birth upwards, 
was sent, who, as it neared the soul, said, " Hail to thee, 
Duggal ! wherefore art thou here ? " He explains the 
state of affairs. " Follow me," said the angel, which he 
did, by the light which shined from the angel. At last 
they reach a deep valley full of red-hot embers. On these 
embers was a chest, six ells thick, into which miserable 
souls kept falling, and were roasted to a cinder. A sickly 
odour was emitted in consequence. On one side of it 
there welled up the fumes of a brimstone furnace. On 



376 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

the other side was ice and frozen snow ; the hail poured 
down and the winds blew keen. A dense throng of souls 
who toiled along the path did so in fear and trembling, 
for a host of loathsome devils were on the watch, who 
lunged at them with three-pronged spears,^ and pulled 
them back into the fire. Having endured torments in 
this way for a time, they were again pierced by the leisters 
and forked into the ice and hail-storm, and then replunged 
into the brimstone. The soul was horribly alarmed at 
all this which was in store for him, but was bid take 
courage by the angel. After passing through a number 
of scenes of graduated torment, according to the deeds 
done in the body, the angel shows him Lucifer himself. 
The accursed creature was swart as a raven, shaped like a 
man from head to foot, except that he had a very many 
hands, not fewer than a thousand. Each hand was a 
hundred palms-breadths long and ten thick, and the claws 
of his fingers longer than spear shafts and of iron (just 
like Grendels in " Beowulf "). He had a mickle nose, thick 
and long, and a long sharp tail studded with spikes, very 
sharp. This awful beast lay downwards on a gridiron 
with hot embers underneath, which an incredible number 
of devils were blowing with bellows. The enemy of all 
mankind was bound with iron chains, many and thick. 
And he wallowed among the embers ; he raged with fierce 
anger ; he turned from one side to the other, and at the 
same time dashed his hands into a mickle multitude of 
souls, and squeezed them just like a hungry and thirsty 
ploughman crushes the juice of grapes in his mouth, so 
that there was not a single one of those many souls whose 
head or other limbs he did not tear off. But the scene 
shifts at last. Looking round, tlie soul perceives a number 
of landtents of purple stuff, of pell and white silk, inter- 
woven with gold and silver. From these came the sweetest, 
heavenliest sounds of harps, fiddles, symphonies, organs, 
psalteries, pipes. " And whose are these abodes ?" inquired 

1 Ljostr — Scotch "leister," or salmon -spear. 



THE STORY OF THEOPHILUS. 2,77 

the soul. " These," said the angel, " are the abodes of 
monks, and all of pure life, men and women, who kept 
their promise well to God and were obedient to Holy 
Church." They next take a peep into the tents and see a 
crowd of men and women in angels' forms, with the voices 
of angels rather than of men. The musical instruments 
were playing of themselves, but the voices of the souls 
surpassed them. From the roof came a number of gold 
and silver chains, on which hung cups, harps, and fiddles, 
and all sorts of instruments ; and over all fluttered gently 
a number of holy angels, all with gold rings, singing the 
sweetest of songs in the hearing of all. It only remains 
to be told that Duggal gave all his goods to Holy Church 
and the poor, and became a thoroughly altered character. 
Of course all Catholic countries teemed in those days with 
such highly seasoned religious productions. 

Such, again, was the famous story of Theophilus,^ who 
sold himself to the devil to become a bishop, although he 
had once said " Nolo episcopari ; " the original of which 
is by Eutychianus, the disciple of Theophilus. The 
legend, as we have said, ran through Europe in various 
shapes, and was fitted to all people imaginable. It is 
alluded to in one of ^Ifric's homilies (i. 448), while in 
an Icelandic legend Anselm and Theophilus are thus 
blended. Now we know that Eormenric, who died 370, 
Attila, 453, Gundicar of Burgvmdy, 436, and the Ostro- 
gothic king Theodoric or Dietrich, 536, become contem- 
poraries and merge one into another in heroic mythus. 
But one is hardly prepared to find Dietrich of Bern and 
Theophilus of Sicily getting confused into one. But so 
it is. Among the Wends it has become a popular story, 
and is told of Dietrich (Theodoric of Verona), who among 

1 There is no authority for the mny belong to the time of Hacon 

statement that it was turned into Magnusson (1299- 1319), on whose 

Norse by King Hacon. The oldest authority the compilation of Mariu 

recension (Mariusaga, 65-69) was Jartegnir (Mariusaga, 1016, line 18) 

certainly written before 1200 A.D. had taken place. 
The other redaction of this legend 



378 ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

the peasantry is transmuted into the Wild Huntsman. 
It runs thus : — 

" Once on a time there was a well-born gentleman 
named Diter Bernliard, and so pious that he could hang 
his coat on a sunbeam without fear of its falling down. 
He went to church regularly every Sunday. Once he 
spied the devil sitting behind the altar writing down on 
a cowskin the names of all those who were asleep. The 
skin was, however, top full ; so what did the devil do but 
tug at it with his teeth to make more room. In so doins: 
lie let it slip, and back he fell against the wall, knocking 
out one of his teeth.^ On seeing this, Diter Bernhard 
could not forbear laughing. But God Almighty reckoned 
this a grievous sin, Diter Bernhard when he got home 
hung his clothes or. the usual peg, the sunbeam, which 
declined the honour, and down fell the clothes to the 
ground. Incensed at this, he resolved to play a prank on 
tlie Almighty ; so he put some bread crumbs in his boots 
and walked abroad, stamping under foot the gifts of God. 
For this he was borne aloft in a carriage, and to this day 
he is driving about as a punishment for his wickedness." ^ 

In the Bodleian Library is an early Hatton MS. (76) on 
vellum of part of Pope Gregory's dialogues translated from 
the Latin into pure Anglo-Saxon prose. According to 
Hoveden, the translation was executed by Werefrith, 
Bishop of Worcester (consecrated 872), by the command 
of King Alfred.^ An Old Norse translation was also 

' III " Reliquise Antiquse," i. 59, " So sore ruffyn toggyd his rolle 
the tale is repeated in " Narratio St. That he smote with hys cholle 
August! " in a metrical form : — Agen the marbyl ston." 

" He saw a fend sytting therein What the devil was writing down 

With penne, ink, and parchemyn, when his jowl and the marble became 

As God gaf him grace. thus acquainted was the tallc of the 

4 4 TT . 1 i.1 i 1 • 1 , wives while St. Augustine was read- 
He wrot so long that him scliant •.,/-, 1 , ,- , 1 
4 , , . , , . ing the Gospel : whereupon his head 
And his skyn gan to want, , , , , ' , , , , , 

To spekyn he had space. ^.'"^^^ *^ ^^^'''^ '^l^"'! ''^^ ^^^*=^ '^^ 

" He had so mych haste '-' Heilngra Manna Sogur, ed. Un. 

With his naylys faste ger, Christiania, 1877. See vol. i. p. 179. 

His rolle gan he race. s j<f ^te i. 41, ed. Stubbs, Rolls Series. 



GREGORY'S DIALOGUES IN ICELANDIC. 379 

made, certainly not later than the latter part of tlie 
twelfth centuiy. This appeared in print for the first time 
in 1877. 

A comparison of the two translations will prove very 
interesting to the student. "VVe will insert a short speci- 
men of the work in the original Latin, and the An^rlo- 
Saxon, and Old Norse (somewhat free) translations. To 
show what a striking resemblance, especially as far as the 
words are concerned, there is between our modern tongue 
and the Old Norse, we append a literal English rendering 
of the last-mentioned version. 



38o 



ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 






^ >i cS — 2 ^ _ c -^ . , •- ^ — , — -^ =' : rt cs ^ .-. 

^23 3 c r; -e 
■^ 3 o o S 









Mo^B^Mi^ -^:3|.^a :5-t1|". 



c s 



- •f=^T3 o .1:1 — '-' a, . 2 ce rt .-.S'O c 



«.;:i. ^ rt.°'-'o 0^5 j^ ^^5.^-0. 



ceje-a^S Z ^ ■" c o ,q--r3 ^-g^A^ 5? ct a o a <v ^'E,'^ 







?>g l^i^3ps£y3^a.P.2 i g i'i's i;ll'iS 




( 38i ) 



CHAPTER XIX. 

OLD NORSE SCALDS. 

Tkom hints dropped here and tliere throughout this part 
of our work, it is clear there was no lack of the vates 
sacer to sing the deeds and the doings of the bygone 
heroes and ladies of the North. But while the names of 
the great personages thus live, the singer's name is often 
involved in obscurity or lost. With few exceptions, the 
grandest and most characteristic perhaps of the poems, 
living in tradition long before they passed from the tongue 
to the pen, those deepest in feeling and instinct with 
the truest and highest poetic inspiration, are anonymous. 
Notably this is the case with the Edda songs, a proof of 
their great antiquity ; for had Snorri known the names of 
the authors, and seeing that in his Skalda he cites by name 
some seventy old scalds or more, he would doubtless have 
mentioned them. Starkadr is the name of one scald, who 
must have lived not later than 750. His " Vikarsbolk," 
of which Saxo gives a Latin version, is a good deal in the 
lugubrious tone of the Anglo-Saxon singer in the Exeter 
Book. 

Bragi the Old is another renowned poet, died about 830, 
bits of whose poems are cited in Skalda. A very remark- 
able anonymous poem is the "Song of Lodbrog,"^ consisting 
of twenty-nine stanzas, supposed to be sung by him in the 
A^iper dungeon, to which he was consigned by the English 

1 English version by Rev. J. Johnston, Copenhagen, 1782, 



382 ICELA NDIC LI TERA TURE. 

king, Ella. Lodbrog's very existence, be it observed, is 
disputed by recent critics. It ends thus — 

" Home me bid the Valkyrs, 
Who from high Valhalla 
Odin hither sent me. 
Gladly ale with Aser 
Shall I drink in high seat. 
Passed are now life's moments, 
Smiling shall I die." 

But while so little is certain about the scalds before the 
days of Harfagr, afterwards more is known of their names 
and their works. 

The poems whose authors' names survive are authen- 
ticated chiefly in virtue of the distinguished position of 
the singer as a court scald in high favour. Many of them 
are panegyrics on kings or great chiefs, and were esteemed 
in that day as the perfection of art. It was perhaps this, 
with their historic nature, and not their intrinsic poetic 
value, that consecrated them to fame. And yet the times 
were full of stirring incidents, well adapted to inspire the 
Muse. Harold's court was the focus of all the poetic 
talent in the land, and the scald did not lack the very 
highest patronage, sitting, according to tradition, in the 
seat of honour facing the king, who was himself a scald. 
Thus Thiodolf and Hornklofi were less poets than histo- 
rians. Such poems Snorri called historic songs.^ Thiodolf 
of Hvin was the chief of Harfagr's scalds, many of whose 
pieces appear in that king's saga. To judge from what 
remains, e.g., in " Hostlang " and " Ynglingatal," he was well 
up in mythic circumlocution and inversion. Interspersed 
among the sagas there is a vast amount of lyric poetry, 
not only in the historical, but also in the private sagas. 
Many of these lays, as we have said, are so crammed with 
mythological allusions, far-fetched figures, strained epi- 
thets, and inverted constructions, that they frequently 
involve the would-be interpreter in a maze of difhculties. 

1 Storm, Snorri Sturleson, 90. 



BATTLE OF HAFRSFJORD. 383 

All-potent fashion had turned the heads of the scalds. 
Still there are not a few specimens of verse touched with 
lyric fire, full of simplicity and beauty. Such is the 
" Battle of Hafrsfiord," " Ericsmal," &c. We may here 
remark that about the precise method used by the scalds 
in their delivery there rests much obscurity. Most likely 
they would use a kind of singini^ tone, and were occasion- 
ally accompanied, at all events in later times, by the harp. 
The old simple lays (" FornyrSalag ") were, it is conjec- 
tured, sung to a kind of artless melody in monotone ; 
while the drapas were declaimed in recitative, the burden 
being joined in by the chorus. The presence of the king 
and court would add to the solemnity. The author, if 
possible, sang in person, but sometimes it was done by 
deputy. The drapas of the middle of the tenth century, 
alike in form and spirit, stand highest. 

Let us contrast with the » " Battle of Brunanburh " the 
" Battle of Hafrsfjord," which made Harold Fairhair 
supreme sovereign of Norway, The author was the above 
Thiodolf, though others attribute it to Hornklofi. In those 
days it would be the equivalent of " LillebuUero " or " Ye 
Mariners of England." 

" Have you heard of the fight The Wolf-skins howled 

At Hafrsfjord 'Mid the din of iron. 
'Tween a high-born king 

And Kiotni the Rich ? ^hey put to the proof 

Came ships from the east, ^^ ^^1^« t^^^^h^ them to fly, 

All keen for the fray, ^^^^ dauntless King Harold, 

With silver inlaid, The Lord of Utstein. 

And agape were their beaks. ^« launched from the shore 

In view of the stir ; 

" They were manned with Udal- What a thumping of shields 

lers. Ere Haklang 1 fell ! 
And piled with white shields, 

And West Country spears, " He tired right soon 

And Gallic swords. Of facing King Harfagr; 

Bellowed the Bare-sarks To an island fled he, 

In Hilda's train ; The thick-throated ruler. 

1 The son of Kiotni, who laid Lis ship alongside of the king's, as described 
iu the "Heimskringla." 



5S4 



ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 



On their backs tlieir shields, 
Bright roof of Valhalla.^ 
Wild with fear, they fled home 
Around Jadar's shores, 
Ou their mead-bowls intent, 
From Hafrsfjord." 



Under the row-seat 
The wounded they huddled, 
With backs stuck up 
And faces bent down. 
" In the storm of stones, 
As they fled, they cast 

Another favourite poet and man-at-arms of Fairhair's 
was Thorbjorn, nicknamed Hornklofi = ' horn - cleaver.' 
In " Fagrskinna " there is a spirited but perfectly simple 
poem by him, describing the court of the king. A peep 
into the hall of our Alfred's contemporary is interesting. 
The scald relates an imaginary conversation between a 
Valkyr and some ravens, who being the constant compa- 
nions of Harold in his expeditions, were able to gratify the 
lady's curiosity about him. In literal prose it runs — 
" Listen, ye ring-bearers {i.e., Surely you set off by night, 



ye 

nobles). 

While I recount the accomplish- 
ments 

Of King Harold, 

The immensely rich ; 

I must tell of the colloquy 

Which I heard between 

A white fair-haired maid 

And a raven. 

" Wise was the Valkyr ; 
She knew the voice of birds. 
The white-throated one, 
The sharp-sighted one, 
Spoke to the air-cleaver, 
Who sat on a point of the rocks. 

" '■ Why here, ye ravens ? 
Whence are ye come, 
With gory beak. 
At the approach of day ? 
Flesh sticks to your claws. 
The reek of carrion comes from 
your mouth : 



For ye knew that corpses lay on 
the plain.' 

" He of the plumed skull shook 
his feathers ; 
The eagle's sworn brother 
Dried his beak, 
Andbethought him of an answer. 

" 'We've followed Harold, 
Halfdan's son, 
Tlie young noble, 
Ever since the egg we left.' 

" ' I thought you'd know the king, 
He who abides at Hvin, 
The lord of the Northmen, 
Who owns the deep galleys, 
The ruddy rimmed shields, 
The tarred oars, 
The weather-stained awnings. - 

" ' He'll drink his Yule feast atsea, 
If he alone shall decide, 
Tliis courageous chief, 
And play Frey's game.^ 



1 Valhalla was roofed with golden tents or awnings were spread between 

shields instead of shingles. the raised poop and the prow. Bisliop 

^ 'Tjald'= tent, which survives in Tegner in " Frithiof " brings before 

our 'tilted' (i.e., covered) cart. No us the Vikings on shipboard, 

sooner was a vessel in harbour than ^ War. 



HAROLD FAIRH AIR'S COURT. 



3S5 



The youth loathes the fireside 
And sitting at home ; 



The warm ladies' bower, 

And cushions stuffed with down.' ' 



The Valkyr then asks whether Harold is munificent to 
his men — 



Many a present 
His warriors get, 
AVho in Harold's court 
Throw with the dice ; 
They're with money endowed, 
And handsome swords, 
With German armour, 
And Eastern slaves. 



Then are they glad, 
The skilful men-at-arms, 
Agile to jump 
And swing the oars, 
Till they break the loops ' 
And snap the thole-pins ; 
Splash goes the water 
At the word of the king. " 



The condition of the conrt scalds is next described. 



And silver-strapped swords 
And gilt belts. 
And chased helmets 
And armlets good store. 
These servants of Harold." 



" You may see by their trappings 
And their gold rings 
That they're familiar with the 

king; 
They're possessed of red cloaks 
And fair rimmed shields. 

His Berserker champions are next described. 

Wolf-skins they're hight, Who redden the spears 

They who in battle When they gather to the fray, 

Bear the bloody shields, When they rush to the onset." 

The poem concludes with a description of the players 
and jugglers at Harold's court. Some of them indulge in 
unheard-of pranks, to the great amusement of the king. 

The beginning of the " Ericsmal," the dirge which 
Queen Gunhilda caused to be composed on her husband, 
Eric Bloody-axe, when he fell on an English battlefield, 
is all that survives. The author is unknown. Most likely 
one of those scalds who followed the fortunes of this son 
o| Harfagr to Northumberland, he was clearly a poet of 
no ordinary power. Odin is described preparing to receive 
a distinguished ^uest. 



Odin. 
" What ! have I dreamed ? 
Methought, just before day, 
Valhalla I caused 
For slain folk to be cleared ; 
I waked the dead warriors, 



I bade them rise up. 

Strew the benches with fresli 

straw 
And wash out the ale-stoup ; 
Bade the Valkyrs bring wine. 
As a kintr were at hand. 



^ In the mythic Atlamal, 38, a similar result is attained. 

2 B 



386 



ICELANDIC LITERA TURE. 



SiGMUND. 
" Why expect Eric 
Rather than other kings ? 

Odin. 
" Why, because many lands 
Withtlie sword lie has reddened, 
And a bloody blade borne. 

SiGMUND. 
" Then why of victory rob him 
When you deemed him sosnell? 

Odin. 
" 'Cause the future's so doubtful. 
Tliat grey Fenris wolf 
Us gods is greedily eyeing. 

SiGMUND. 
" Then hail to thee, Eric ! • 
Right welcome art here ; 
Come, enter, O sage one. 
The hall ; but just tell me 
What chieftains are with you 
From the clash of the swords. 

Eric. 

" Five kings are here, 
I know their names all : 
Myself am the sixth. " 

Eric's brother, Hacon the Good (925-961), the foster-son 
of our King Athelstan, was also a patron of poets. In his 
saga are some verses of a martial song by him to encou- 
rage his soldiers at the battle of Stord, where he received 
his death-M'ound. The dirge " Haconarmal " on that occa- 
sion was composed by Eyvind Skalda-spiller, in imitation 
of the "Ericsmal;" so says " Fagrskinna," 33.^ It is one 
of the best samples of scaldic poetry extant : — 

HAKONAMAL. 
" Gondul and Skogul^ Of Yngvi's race which 

The god of the Goths sent With Odin should fare 

To choose 'mong the kings And live in Valhalla. 



I from the earth 
Kxjject some guests, 
Alen of renown. 
So my heart is glad. 

Bragi. 

" What noise was that there, 
As though thousands were mov- 
ing, 
Or a host very mickle ? 
The wainscot all groans. 
As if Balder were coming 
Back to Odin's halls. 

Odin. 
" Wise Bragi, quoth Odin, 
'Tis folly you talk. 
Though thyself so wise. 
This crash is for Eric, 
Who's just coming in. 
Brave warrior, to Odin's halls. 
Sinf jotli and Sigmund ^ 
Rise up with all speed. 
And go meet the king ; 
Bid ye him in 
If Eric it be ; 
'Tis for him I was warned. 



^ Those mythic heroes, already ia 
Valhalla. 

- An independent Chronicle of the 
kings, in which alone are " Hafrs- 
fjord" and "Ericsmal." 



^ Two Valkyrs or choosers of the 
slain. The names of all these 
maidens are given in the Prose 
Edda. 



hAkonamAl. 



587 



" Bjom's brother found they 
Faring in mail-coat, 
Marching 'neath gonfalon ; 
Scared were tlie foe, 
The shafts shook, 
The battle began. 

" ' On, Halogalanders ! 
On, ye West Islanders ! ' 
Cried the earl-slayer, 
Hushed to the fray. 
Well did his Northmen 
Follow their noble lord, 
Dread of the Isle Danes, 
Helmed in gold. 

" Flung off his armour 
Down on the plain, 
The chief of the bodyguard, 
Ere he set on. 

Joked with his men-at-arms, 
' We'll keep the land safe ; ' 
Laughed the king gaily, 
Helmed in gold. 

" So sliced his sharp sword 
In the chief's hand 
Right through the mail-coats 
As they were water. 
Crash went the arrows. 
Split were the shields ; 
Rattled the blades 
On the foemen's skulls. 

" Through targets tough, 
Through plates of iron, 
Smashed irresistible 
Tlie Norse king's brand. 
Th' isle pealed with battle-din. 
Crimsoned the kings 
Their glistening shields 
In the blood of the throng. 

" Quivered the flashing swords 
In the wounds gory ; 
Louted the halberds, 
Greedy of life ; 
Soused the red wound-stream 
'Gainst the splashed bucklers ; 



Fell crimson arrow-rain 
On Stord's shore. 

" All blood-bedabbled 
Surged the fierce fray ; 
Thundered the shield-rinis 
'Mid storm of war ; 
Pattered down point-stream 1 
Odin's red showei". 
Many fell fainting 
In their life's blood. 

" Sat were the princes. 
Drawn were their swords, 
Battered their bucklers, 
Armour all gashed ; 
111 at ease felt the 
Monarch, for he was 
Bound to Valhalla. 

" Gondul she spoke. 
Leaning on spear-shaft : 
' Grows the gods' company ; 
They have bid Hacon, 
With a great retinue, 
Home to their hall ! ' 

" Heard the fey chieftain 
What said the Valkyr- 
Maids from their steeds ; 
Thoughtful their faces looked 
As they sat lielmed. 
Sheltered with shields. 

Hacox. 
" Why so the contest 
Dealt'st thou, Geirskcigul ? 
Worthy of victory 
We from the gods ! 

SkogUL. 
" We were the cause 
The battle you won 
And the foes fled. 
Now will we speed. 
Quoth mighty Skiigul, 
To heaven's green glades, 
King Odin to tell 
A great lord is coming. 
Who longs him to see ! 



^ Blood drawn by the sword-poiut. 



388 



ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 



" ' Ilorniod and Bragi,' 

Quoth .aloud Odin, 

' (jJo meet the chieftain ; 

Hither is faring 

A king, and a valiant one, 

Lo ! to my hall.' ^ 
" The captain he cried, 

Just fresh from the fray, 

All dripping with gore : 

' Very hard-hearted 

Truly meseemeth 
Odin to be. ' 

Odin. 

" All of my warriors 

Welcome thee in ! 

Drink of our ale-cups, 

Baue of the Jarls. 
" ' Already you've here 

Eight brothers,' quoth Bragi. 

Hacon. 

" All our war-gear, 
Quoth the good king, 
Ourselves will we hold ; 
Our helmet and mail 



We'll guard them full well ; 
'Tis pleasantto handlethe spear. 

Then straight it appeared 

How the good king had 

Protected the temples,^ 

For Hacon they bade 

Be heartily welcome, 

The assembly of gods. 

On fortunate day 

Was that monarch born. 

With such a mind gifted ; 

His age and day 

Must ever be held 

In kindly remembrance. 

Ere will break his chain 

And rush on mankind 

Fell Fenris wolf,^ 

Ere a man so good 

In his footsteps tread, 

One of royal birth — 

Riches depart, 

And likewise friends, » 

The land is laid waste : ' 

Since Hacon fared 

To the heathen gods. 

Sunk have many to slaves."* 



DEATH OF HJALMAR IN HERVARAE SAGA. 

One Christmas night, at a festival in the hall of King 
Ingve at Upsala, that redoubtable bravo, Angantyr, vowed 
he would have to wife the fair Princess Ingibjorg. Up- 



1 All that bad f.allen in fight from 
the beginning of the world dwelt in 
Valhalla, but these and many more 
would be all too little to cope with 
the wolf when he got loose ; and this 
was why Odin was so glad to get fresh 
auxiliaries. Prose Edda, p. 124. 

- Tlie poet supposes, with or with- 
out reason, the king to have been a 
great tolerationist. The words of 
the saga are, "W^hen King Hacon 
knew that his wound was mortal, 
he called his counsellors, and ex- 
pressed his Borrow for his nianj' sins 
•igainst God and the laws of Chris- 
tian men. Then his friends begged 



that they might remove his corpse to 
England and bury him in a church. 
The king answered, ' I am not worthy 
of this; Hived like heathen men live, 
and I will be buried like them'" 
(Fagrskiuua, p. 26). 

^ At the twiliglit of the gods, the 
wolf, hitherto kept in magic chains 
and gagged with a sword, will get 
loose. The forging of that chain, so 
slender, so strong, is well told in the 
Prose Edda. 

■* This is supposed to allude to the 
tyrannical doings of his successor, 
one of the sous of Eric Bloody- 
axe. 



DEATH OF HJALMAR. 



389 



rose Hjalmar and claimed the maiden for the reward of 
his faithful services. The king left it to his daughter to 
choose, and she chose Hjalmar, whom she knew, and not 
the stranger. The result is a challenge to fight on Samso, 
an island off Jutland, which the favoured lover accepts. 
Great was the peril lie ran, for Angantyr was armed with 
the sword Tyrfing, forged by those cunning smiths, the trolls 
Dvalin and Dulin, which never missed its man, and always 
brought death to the owner. The fateful battle is fought. 
Angantyr and his Berserkers are all slain, but Hjalmar is 
mortally wounded, and found by one of his friends. Odd, 
welterimi in his blood. 



Odd. 
" What ailetli thee, Hjalmar? 
For shifted is thy hue ; 
Surely thou art faint 
With full many wounds. 
Hewn and hacked thy helmet, 
Thy mail-coat all rent ; 
'Tis, methinks, all over 
With thy span of life. 

Hjalmak. 
" Sixteen wounds have I, 
Hewn and hacked my mail ; 
'Tis dark before my sight, 
I cannot see to go. 
The sword of Angantyr 
It smote me to the heart, 
Hardened with adders' poison 
The keenly-whetted point. 

" I owned in my own country 
Five estates in all. 
But with my goodly lot 
Could never be content ; 
Now I perforce must lie 
Bereft of life and breath, 
AVounded of the sword 
In Sam's fatal isle. 

" In the kingly hall 
The men are drinking mead, 
All adorned with jewels, 
At my father's house ; 



Many folks are there, 
Knocked down by the ale ; 
Me the wounds by sword-points 
In this isle constrain. 

' The goddess fair I left 
Of the jewelled brow, 
At Agnafit's green mead, 
Yonder in the North. 

' The tale it must come true 
Which she told to me, 
That I never should 
To my love come back. 

Draw, then, from my hand 
This red ring ; 
Bear it to the young 

Ingibjorg. 
Ever must it be 
To her an inward pain 
That I ne'er return 
To Upsala again. 

I parted from the sweet 
Singing of the maids 
At Sote's rock, far east ; 
Full of hope and joy, 
I hastened my leave-taking. 
And mounted straight on board, 
Began my latest faring, 
Far from faithful friends. 



39° 



ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 



Flies a raven westwards 
From the lofty tree, 
Follows in its wake 
An ea<'le's Avaviny wing : 



To tliat eagle I 
Shall a banquet give ; 
He will on my gore 
Make his greedy feast." ' 



Miiller thinks that this saga in its present shape is of 
the thirteenth century, but the following weird poem in it 
bears so strong an Old Norse impress, that he places its 
composition not later than the tenth or eleventh century. 

Ano-antyr had left a daughter, Hervor, who, when she 
crrew up, went to sea, " daubed her lily-white hands all 
over with the nasty pitch and tar ; " turned Viking, in 
short, and went on the 'war-path,' under the assumed 
name of Herward. Once on a time she anchored at 
Munarvoe in Samso, the very isle where her father, 
Angantyr, lay buried in a liowe, and at sunset she went 
alone on shore, where she meets a shepherd. 



Shephekd. 

Who art all alone 
To this island come ? 
Haste and seek some cot 
For to shelter in. 

Herward. 
I will never go 
Shelter for to seek. 
For I none do know 
Of the island beards. - 
Tell me speedily, 
'Fore yon go from hence, 
Where about's the spot 
Known as Herward's cairn? 

Shepherd. 

Don't about it speer. 
If thon'rt truly wise. 
Thou, the Viking's friend, 
In great peril art. 
Let us speed away, 
Haste witli might and main ; 
All abroad are horrors 
For the sons of men. 



Herward. 
Here a brooch I'll give thee 
If you'll tell me true. 
Vain to try to hinder 
Thus the Viking's friend. 
No ! the brightest treasure, 
All the rings on earth, 
Would not let or hinder 
Me from my intent. 

Shepherd. 

■ Foolish is, methinks. 
He who hither fares. 
All alone and friendless, 
In the murky night. 
Flames are flickering. 
Cairns are opening, 
Burning earth and fen ; 
Let us hurry on. 

Herward. 
' I am not afeard 
At such snorting sounds, 
E'en though all the island 
Bursts out in a blaze. 



1 Hervarar Sag.i, ch. v. 



- i.e., Bearded men of the isle. 



HERVOR AND ANGANTYR. 



391 



Do not let us two 
By the champions dead 
Thus be made to shiver ; 
Let us have discourse. 
Then the herdsman fled 
To the forest near, 



Frightened by the speech 
Of this manly maid. 
Of undaunted mettle 
Fashioned, Hervor's breast 
Swelled within her fiercely 
At the shepherd's fright." 



She now sees the cairns all alight and the howe-dwellers 
standing outside, but is not afraid ; passes through the 
flames as if it were only reek, till she gets to the Berser- 
ker's howe. Then she speaks — 

Herward. Angantyr. 



' ' AVake thee, Angantyr ; 
Hervor waketh thee. 
I'm the only daughter 
Of Tofa and of thee : 
Give me from the howe 
That sword whetted sharp, 
Which for Swarfurlam 
Was forged by the dwarves. 

" Hervard and Hjorvard, 
Hran and Angantyr ! 
I wake you, ye buried 
Under the forest roots, 
With your helm and mail-sark, 
With your whetted sword, 
With your polished shields, 
And your bloody darts. 

" Ye are turned indeed, 
Arngrim's sons so bold. 
Such redoubted champions, 
To poor bits of mould, 
If of Eyfur's sons 
Not one dares with me 
To come and hold discourse 
Here in Munarvoe. 

" Hervard and Hjorvard, 
Hran and Angantyr ! 
May it be to all 
Of you within your hearts 
As if yoii were in anthills, 
With torments dire bested, 
Unless to me tlie sword 
Ye give that Dvalin forged. 
It not beseemetli Draugies 
Such weapons choice to hide. 



"Hervor, my daughter, why 
Dost thou cry out so loud ? 
Thou'rt hastening to destruction, 
Past all redemption, maid ! 
'Tis mad you are become, 
Bereft of sober sense ; 
You must be wandering, surely. 
To wake up men long dead. 

Herward. 
"One thing tell me true, 
So may Odin shield thee : 
In thy ancient cairn, 
Tell me, hast thou there 
The sword Tyrhng hight ? 
Oh, you're very slow 
A small boon to grant 
To your single heir. 

The, cairn ojiens, and it seems 
all ablaze. 

Angantyr. 

" Hell gates have sunk down. 
Opened is the cairn ; 
See the island's shore 
Is all bathed in flame ; 
All abroad are sights 
Fearful to beliold. 
Haste thee, while there's time, 
Maiden, to tliy ships. 

Herward. 

" Were you burning bright. 
Like bale-fire at night, 



392 



ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 



I'd not fear a jot ; 
Your iicrco burning llanic 
Qu.akes not maiden's heart — 
'Tis of sterner stufl" — 
(Jibbering ghosts though she 
In the doorway see, 

Angantyr. 
" Listen, Hervor mine ! 
I'll a tale unfold ; 
Listen, daughter -wise ! 
Ill thy fate foretell. 
Trow my words or not, 
Tyr ting's fate is tin's, 
'Twill to all thy kin 
Nought but mishap bring. 

Herward. 
• ' I will sure bewitch 
All these champions slain ; 
Ye shall fated be 
Ever and aye to lie 
With the Draugies dead, 
Rotting in your graves. 
(Jive me, Angantyr, 
Out your cairn straightway 
Sword to harness dangerous, 
Young Hjalmar's bane. 

Angantyr. 
'' Maiden, I aver you're 
Not of human mould, 
lloaming 'mong the cairns 
In the dead of night. 
With engraved spear. 
With a sword beside, 
With helmet and with hauberk 
My hall-door before. 

Herward. 
" Meseemed I altogether 
Was framed in human mould 
'Fore I visit paid 
To your halls of death. 
Hand me from the cairn 
Straight the byrnie's foe. 
Smithied by the dwarves; 
To hide it won't avail. 



Angantyr. 
" I have 'neath my shoulder 
Young Hjalmar's bane, 
It is all en wrapt 
In a sheet of tlame. 
On the earth I know not 
Any maid so bold 
Tliat shall dare the sword 
By the hand to take. 

Herward. 
' ' Gladly I will take it, 
Gladly keep it too. 
That sharp-edged sword, 
If I have it may. 
I've no fear at all 
Of the burning flame ; 
Straight abates the fire, 
When thereon I gaze. 

Angantyr. 

" Foolish art thou, Hervor, 
Though so stout of heart, 
If with open eyes 
In the fire you dart. 
Rather will I hand thee 
Out the cairn the sword. 
Maiden young, I will not 
Thy request refuse. 

The. sword is cast out of the cairn. 

Herward. 

' ' Well and bravely done, 
Say I, Viking's son ! 
Thou hast me the sword 
Handed out the tomb. 
Better far, methinks. 
King, this ijrecious boon. 
Than the whole of Norway 
Were I to possess. 

Angantyr. 
" Ah ! you do not know. 
All too rash of speech. 
Maiden void of counsel. 
What is good or ill. 



HERVOR AND ANGANTYR. 



393 



This sword Tyrfing will, 
If you me can trow, 
Will thy race hereafter 
Utterly destroy. 

Herward. 

" Off to my sea-horses, 
Off, off, and away ! 
Now the prince's danghter 
Is all blithe of mood. 
Little do I fear. 
Sire of lordly strain, 
AVhat my race hereafter 
Haply shall befall. 

Angantyr. 
' ' Long thou shalt possess it, 
And enjoy it long ; 



Only keep it hidden, 
Young Hjahiiar's bane. 
Touch not e'en its edges, 
They are poisoned botli ; 
Nought exists more baneful 
Than this sword to man. 



Herward. 

■ Dwellers in the cairns ! 
Dwell unscathed on. 
I'm longing to be gone, 
Fast I haste away. 
I myself, methought, 
Hung 'twixt life and death 
When the roaring flame 
Girt me all around." ^ 



1 The series of Norwegian kings cele- 
brated in verse begins with Harold 
Fairhair, whose six court scalds seem 
to have been all Norwegians. Of bis 
two sons, King Hacon was celebrated 
by two very famous Norwegian poets ; 
Eric by two Icelandic ones. After 
Hacon's death, 961, all the court 
scalds named are Icelanders. So that 
from about the year 950 to the death 
of King Eric Magnusson (1299), Ice- 
landic scalds only were the court poets 
of Norway, and celebrated its exploits 
in verse. Of the Danish kings, Sweyn 
Forkbeard (died 1014) is the first men- 
tioned who was commemorated by 
an Icelandic poet, Ottar the Black ; 
and the last was Waldemar II., who 
died 1241. In England, Athelstan 
and Ethelred were commemorated by 
two celebrated scalds, Egil Skalagrim 
and Gunlaug Serpent-tongue, in the 
tenth, and beginning of the eleventh 
century. In England the age of 
Northern poetry may be said to have 
lasted down to the Norman Conquest, 
or about the middle of the eleventh 



century ; in Denmark and Sweden to 
the middle of the thirteenth ; in Nor- 
way to a little over the end of that 
century. After the departure of the 
scalds from tlie royal halls, their 
tongue by degrees became weakened 
and succumbed. It now sought refuge 
in Iceland, where it continued still to 
be loved and cultivated. But instead 
of singing the praises of foreign kings 
and magnates, its themes were the 
Virgin Mary and the Cross, the Apos- 
tles and Martyrs. Jon Sigurdson, p. 
xiii. pref . to Egilsson's ' ' Lexicon Poet. 
Linguae Septentr. ," Copenhagen, i860. 
For an amusing account of an an- 
cient minstrel, as represented in cor- 
rect costume before Queen Elizabeth 
at Killingworth revels, 1575, see 
Percy's "Relics of Ancient Poetry," 
vol. i. p. xxxiv. ed. 1767. They were 
indeed out of date by that time. The 
39th of Elizabeth, towards the end of 
the sixteenth century, includes " min- 
strels wandering abroad" among 
" rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beg- 
gars." 



( 394 



CHAPTEK XX. 

THE LA WS. 

We have talked above of the Saxon laws as a valuable con- 
tribution to our knowledge of the Saxons, but the laws of 
Iceland and ISToi A^ay are no less so. There were the codes 
of the shire-courts of Gula and Frosta and HeiSsoevi in 
Norway, established by Hacon Haroldson, and afterwards 
the common law for all the land {nyere Landslov), settled 
by Magnus Haconson, 'law-mender ;'i and the " Greygoose" 
(iii6) ; and the "Ironside " and " Jonsbook" for Iceland 
proper. But we must say a few words about the " Grey- 
goose," probably so called from the colour of the parch- 
ment on which it was written. It was the work of King 
Magnus, son of St. Olaf, together with tlie wisest men of 
his realm, and upon a very memorable crisis in its history. 
He had commenced his reign with acts of violence and 
confiscation. The free bonders, in whose memory dwelt 
the beneficent reign of Hacon the Good, would not brook 
this, and were rising in arms. At this moment Sigvat the 
Scald, a great friend of the king's father, but who was 
absent on a pilgrimage to Eome at the fatal battle of 
Stikkelstad, addressed to the king his " Bersogiisvisur " = 
"Free-speaking Song," a very good specimen of Norse 
poetry and of that free spirit of liberty that animated 
them. Herein he tells him how discontent and treason are 
abroad ; hoary men are to be seen laying their heads together 
under their cloaks, and that, " if he seizes the bonders'udal 
land, it will shake his throne." The king wisely took the 
plain-spoken advice, and secured his people's rights in this 

^ See " Norges Gamle Love," ed. R. Keyser and P. A. Munch, Cliristiania, 
1846. 



THE GREYCOOSE. 395 

celebrated code. The " Greygoose " ^ embraces subjects not 
dealt with probably by auy other contemporary code of 
Europe — provision for the poor, weights and measures, 
inns for travellers, vagrants, beggars, &c. The game-laws 
are noteworthy. The following will be interesting to our 
Fishery Boards : — " A net must not be laid right across a 
stream, so as to hinder fish from going up ; nor must a 
man set a box or basket in the river, or fence it, so that 
there is no way back again, unless one owns the whole 
river. Nets must be laid along the bank ; any net or 
fence set or laid right across a river may be destroyed 
with impunity (er olieilad), and the man who makes the 
obstruction is liable to a fine of three marks to every one 
of the owners of the fishery above him " (ii. 208). 

The Gulf Stream was quite as willing to do a good 
turn for the people then as it is now.^ On the north- 
west coast we have ourselves seen a great deal of drift- 
wood ashore. The coast- dwellers w^ould doubtless keep 
a sharp look-out for the flotsam and jetsam. Minute 
regulations were therefore necessary. " It is lawful for a 
man to carry off timber which he finds floating farther 
out at sea than one can see from the shore an unsplit 
fish on the boat's side. The fish must be a cod, so bio- 
that when it is split up it is an ell thick across the back. 
Such a fish is called ' gildingr,' It must be seen on that 
side of a boat that is towards the land from tlie lowest 
water-mark" (ib. 211). Whales were constantly ashore 

1 Gragas, Copenhagen, 1829, and af. is Prof. K. Maurer. See his " Bekehr- 

"VV. Finsen, 1852. ung der Norw. Stanimes," &c. 

Before assuming the shnjie of a 2 Nay, centuries before it was de- 
regular code, the law would no doubt monstratively busy at work for the 
be restricted to legal traditionary benefit of the North. Without it, in 
maxims and sayings, couched in tlic fact, mankind generally would have 
form of verse ; and this is the reason been nowhere. For is it not recorded 
of its alliterative formuke— a garb in in the Edda that Odin and his bre- 
which sage life-rules, religious doc- thren, as they went along the sea- 
trine, as well as history and genea- strand, found two stocks, and shaped 
logy, passed on from age to age. — Key- out of them men, and gave them soul, 
ser, Hit. Skr., 11. Cf. J. Arnesen, life, wit, motion, speech, hearing, and 
"Island. Eettergang,"Copenh., 1762. eyesight? And that was the origin 
The best authority on Northern law of our race. 



396 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

in those days, so it was necessary for the law to make 
stringent rules thereon. Several chapters accordingly are 
devoted to this subject. " If a whale drives up on a man's 
foreshore, he may, although it is Sunday, fasten it to his 
land in such a way that he considers it won't break loose, 
whether the fastenings are old ropes or such as he cuts 
from the whale for the purpose. He is entitled to fasten 
it with strips (of skin) cut from the whale bent round 
some stock or stone. He may cut off the blubber. If pieces 
of the blubber or flesh break loose, and go ashore on another 
man's strand farther from the boundary-mark than a bow- 
shot, they belong to the owner of the land. If the whale 
breaks loose with the rope and drives on another man's 
strand, it belongs to the owner of the shore where the 
whale was first fastened, if only a bit of the rope remains 
on the land, and if the verdict pronounce that the whale 
was fastened in such a manner that it would have held if 
the same weather had continued. But if the finding of 
the inquest is that it would not have held, then it is as if 
the whale had never been fastened at all, and he who 
fastened it has no share in it" (ii. 213). The following 
points to a bit of Eome's work : " If a father baptizes his 
sick child, he shall not on that account be divorced from 
his wife {i.e., in spite of the spiritual relationship he has 
thus entered into with her.)i A boy of seven shall baptize 
a bairn if an adult is not to be had. None younger must 
do it unless he knows his Pater Noster and Credo. A 
female shall baptize if a male is not at hand, and tliere is 
the same penalty for a female as for a male if she does 
not know how to do it (namely, outlawry), A child 
must not be baptized again on account of the omission of 

1 When Alfliild's child was born, he knew would be acceptable to his 

1024, and was baptized at once, as master, who had spent a year in 

being not likely to survive, Sigvat Kouen, and who took the Frankish 

the Scald ventured on naming it in emperor as his ideal. Things had im- 

the absence of St. Olaf, the father, proved since Norse Vikings had pluii- 

He called it Magnus, after Charle- dered Charlemagne's grave at Aix, and 

magne, "the best man upon earth" turned the mausoleum into a stable. 

(S. Olaf s Saga, c. 137), a name which Cf. G. Storm, Karlmagnus Saga, p. 12. 



ICELANDIC LAW. 



397 



any words or part of the ceremony, provided the child has 
been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy 
Ghost, and it became somewhat wet" (ii. 215). By sec- 
tion 268 ib. the permission to row out to fish or fowl on 
holydays is withdrawn ! 

But whence do we get the word * law ' ? In Saxon it 
was ' se ' for civil, and ' dom ' for criminal law ; the for- 
mer a most interesting word, signifying permanence.^ But 
JE has been extruded from our tongue, and dom (doom) 
nearly so, by 'law,' a Scandinavian word, which appeared 
first in the laws of Edward the Elder and Guthrum, in the 
word 'lah-slit' (c. 901), and reigns paramount in this land 
from the days of Ethelred the Unready,^ signifying ' some- 
thing laid down and established,' as appears very clearly 
in the line of the old Edda, " J)ser log log-5u," " They (the 
Norns) laid down the laws" (Volsupa, 23). 

How interesting for us Englishmen to find that in the 
early heathen days of Iceland, when the law was oral and 
not written, there was an officer at the great Parliament of 
the Althing, the ' log-sogu-maSr,' the ' law-sayer,' the ' law- 
speaker,' who had to say from the Speaker's chair on the 
Lawhill what the law was in cases of doubt. That great 
meeting, the precincts of which were defined by the vebond 
or ropes fastened to hazel stakes, was inaugurated by 
solemn sacrifices and feasts. And so amoncr our An<?lo- 
Saxon forefathers the Witenagemot would open with 
the celebration of mass ; in the same way as now, before 
all things, ' Mr. Speaker goes to prayers.' Then, again, 
our old institution, trial by jury. To our immortal King 
Alfied, the people's darling, it has been assigned,^ along 
with tithings, hundreds, and a host of other inventions 
and institutions, which, we are persuaded, he would 
have been the first to repudiate. Indeed, he has become 

1 Akin to the German 'ehe'= ^ See inscription on Alfred's Tower, 

' marriage-tie ;' anciently = any civil -which stands on that noble eminence 

sanction or contract. whence the king is said to have recon- 

'^ ^thelred's Laws, vi. 37; Schmidt, noitred the forces of the Northmen at 

s. V. " Lagu." the battle near Zeals in Wilts. 



398 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

a sort of Odin to some antiquaries, on whom everything 
bearing the stamp of remote antiquity was fathered, the 
invention of runes among the rest. Whereas, if the Ice- 
landic antiquaries are to be credited, trial by jury came 
from Iceland, in which country alone it had developed. It 
was used first in the Danelagh, that portion of England in 
which the Northern laws prevailed — about half the island 
— and afterwards proceeded south and pervaded the whole 
country.^ In the lapse of centuries, England has come to 
be the classic land of trial by jury, and John Bull verily 
believes it is autochthonous. Our word ' bar,' now used of 
the railing that encloses the place occupied by counsel in 
courts of justice, carries us back to the vebond above men- 
tioned, by which a parliamentary assembly or law-court 
was surrounded. So our court ' leet ' is a survival of the 
' LeiS ' or provincial meeting in the Icelandic common- 
wealth, where the new laws and licences of the past 
Althing were published.^ Then for ' hustings,' a word 
not to be found in Anglo-Saxon, England's other palla- 
dium, the institution of all others dear to Englishmen, the 
public meeting whence our legislators repair to the great 
council of the realm assembled in Parliament ; it was 
originally a council of Scandinavia where the king pre- 
sided, as we read King Olaf Tryggvason did, standing on 
a great stone, at a momentous crisis of his history.^ 

But to pursue our comparison of the institutions of the 
two peoples. Like the language, they touch or dovetail 
into each other at every turn, and in nothing more strik- 
ingly than in the notion of atonement for injuries. If, as 
Montesquieu says, " The Saxons measured injuries as we 
do figures in geometry, with their fine of twelve ounces for 
a thumb, one ounce for a little finger," &c,, the same can 

1 Both Coke and Spelman thought Epist., p. 40. See Is. Diet, suh voce 

the institution Saxon in origin. But "KviCr." Great authorities, however, 

the twelve men of Spelman were not entirely differ from this view, 

the jury empanelled to try each case, - "Was the 'lathe' in Kent Jutish 

but the permanent curia acting as .as- or Icelandic ? 

sessors to the president. Hickes hit ^ Heimskringla, vol. i. c. 192, ed. 

upon the truth. Thesaurus, Diss. Unger. 



THE THRALL. 399 

be predicated to a great extent of the Nortlimen, So, 
again, thougli the modern word for some ancient English 
institution may not be of Norse origin, the thing signified 
by it is. Take, for instance, the title baron, which origi- 
nally embraced all the nobility as feudatories of the sove- 
reign. True it has been reserved for these advanced days to 
discover that it is blasphemy against the laws of human 
brotherhood to say a noble is as good as another man; but 
there were days in England, say, in the year of grace 12 15, 
when people thought differently. Well, this title, which 
was first brought to England from Normandy, had its 
correlative in those ' hersir ' hereditary chiefs or lords of 
Norway, who existed there in the earliest age, even before 
the days of Harold Fairhair (I. Diet.). 

But before closing this hasty reference to the legal insti- 
tutions of Iceland, a few words may be said about the 
status of their slaves (hrffil). Of the position of these unfor- 
tunate people among the Saxons we have already spoken. 
The origin of the breed is treated mythically in that most 
curious bit of old-manners painting, not surpassed even in 
the Odyssey, in the old Edda (Rigsmal).^ He and she — for 
there were slaves of both sexes — are there pictured to the 
life in the persons of Ai and Edda : their wrinkled skin, 
projecting knuckles, stumpy fingers, long heels, dirty face, 
back bent — a Lap might have sat for the portrait. Then 
there is their food : the knotty loaf, doughy and full of 
bran, and the bowl of soup, with a bit of boiled calf 's flesh 
at times by way of dainty (kras).^ There is an interesting 
passage in St. Olaf's Saga, c. 31, on their treatment (cf. 
Tacitus, " Germania," c. 25). As we see from the " Land- 
nama," or " History of the Early Settlement of Iceland," 

^ To those interested in the origin the origin of the kingly title in the 
of classes, Eigsmal is very interesting. North being doubtless quite accord- 
Next above the slave comes the yeo- ing to the dramatic ideal of the poem, 
man or thane, who works, but is free. It is very likely that Rig is borrowed 
Then comes the Jarl, from which from the Gaelic word " righ," a 
class, by intermarriage with the king. 

daughter of a Hersir (the old heredi- -According to "Salomon," 192, 

tary chief), springs the Kon or prince, they got two loaves daily in England. 



400 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

there were often Irish prisoners taken in w.ar, and even in 
that distant isle the Fenians adhered to their national 
instincts with remarkable fidelity, cattle-stealing, fire-rais- 
ing, &c., wherever they had a chance. A case of this kind 
occurs in " Egil " (cap. 79), and their names still marked 
the spot wdiere they were caught and captured. Upon the 
whole, it may be fairly said of them, that through life 
they had always to yield to the free and go to the wall. 
In death, too, this was literally tlie case ; the fourth part 
of the burial-ground, the portion by law assigned to them, 
being nearest to the wall. 

" He has not the eye of a thrall," said King Athelstan 
of England, looking at the baby Hacon, who had been 
palmed on him by his father, Harold of Norway, referring 
to the usual hangdog looks of these poor creatures.^ Fafner, 
twitting Sigurd about his youth of bondage, says, " Few 
among bondsmen hath heart for the fight." ^ Again, the 
foul-mouthed ferryman tells Thor that Odin has the Jarls 
who fall on the field of battle, while he (Thor) only gets 
the spiritless thralls.^ " Few intercede for a slave " is only 
another version of the proverb, "Hit him hard; he has 
uo friends."* 

Poetry will often throw as much light on national cus- 
toms as prose, and it does so here. Turn to that song 
in the Edda (Grottisongr), which almost reminds one of 
touches in the " Song of the Shirt " by Hood. Here are 
two women grinding in the mill and crooning their chant 
of thraldom, being not allowed to sleep a wink by their 
hard taskmaster. 

" Now are we come " To tlie flour-bin 

To a king's halls. They were led, 

Both second-sighted, Told to set 

Fenia and Menia. Tlie stones agoing ; 

They at Frodi's, Gave he to neither 

Fridleif's son, Rest or qviiet 

The mighty maids Ere he could hear 

Bondswomen are. The bondwomen sing. 



1 Fagrskinna, 13. ^ j-afnismal, 7. ^ jjarbards Ljod, 24. *AtliGr.,6o. 



THE MILL SONG. 



401 



" Hark ! they've set soundiiij 
The groaning quern. 

" Place we the flour-bins, 
Move the stones ; 
Bade he the maidens 
Grind amain. 

" They sung, and they swung 
The whirling stones, 
Till of Frodi's serfs 
Most slumbered and slept. 
Sang next Menia, 
She'd come to the milling. 

" ' Grind we riches 
For King Frodi ; 
Grind him all wealthy, 
Of money great plenty. 
In the mill of joy. 
On his wealth brood he. 
Sleep upon down. 
Wake with delight. 
Ha ! ha ! the good milling ! 

" * Here sliall none 
Another harm, 
Plot any bale 
Nor death devise ; 
No, nor yet hew 
With keen-edged sword. 
Though his brother's bane 
He find bound in chain. 

" ' Was, notwithstanding. 
The first word he uttered : 
Sleep ye no more 
Than a cuckoo pauses, 
Longer than I 
A ditty sing. 

" ' Frodi, thou wast not 
Quite wide awake. 



Excellent friend ! 
Slaves when you bought ; 
Chose us for thews, 
Chose us for sincAvs, 
But of our forebears 
Asked you nought. 

" ' Hrungner was giant-strong,^ 
So was his sire, 
Albeit Thiassi 
Stronger was still ; 
Idi and Ornir, 
They were our ancestry, 
Hill-ogres' brothers, 
Thence were we born. 

Grotti had ne'er come 
Out the grey mountain, 
Nor yonder hard-grit 
Boulder from earth. 
Nor had she ground thus. 
Daughter of Jotun, 
Had folks known 
Who the maid was. 

" ' We winters nine, 
Powerful playmates, 
Were reared up 
Under the earth ; 
Hard toiled the maids 
At tasks tremendous ; 
All unassisted moved 
Kocks from their base. 

' ' Rolled we stones 
Through the giants' homes. 
Till the firm earth 
Trembled and shook : 
Slung we so 
The whirling stones. 
The heavy boulders, 
For men to handle.' " 



Again, in the " Lay of Gudrun," the Princess Herborg is 
taken captive, and becomes tirewoman to her new lord's 
wife, who makes her tie her shoe-Latchets, and beats her 
withal from jealousy, though the husband treated her well. 

After the battle of Glenn Mama (a.d. iooo), in which 

' Ilrungncr, the giant with the stone head in the Edda. 

2 C 



402 ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

King Brian routed the Danes with fearful slaughter, and 
■where Harold, son of Ohaf Cuaran, heir-apparent of the 
foreigners of Ireland, fell, besides immense booty in gold 
and silver, a great number of women and children were 
taken and condemned to slavery. " So that there was not 
a winnowing-sheet from Howth to Tech Duinn (an island 
at the soutli-west point of Kerry) that had not a foreigner 
in bondage on it ; nor was there a quern without a foreign 
w'onian. So that no soldier's son of the Irish deigned to 
put his hand to the flail or any other labour, nor did any 
woman deign to put her hands to the grinding of a quern, 
or to knead a cake, or to wash her clothes, but had a foreign 
man or woman to work for them" (Wars of Gaedhill, 
p. 117). 

With all the truth and courage cowed out of him, the 
])rael would not deny Plutarch's words, " Lying is the vice 
of the slaves ; " and doubtless their name was in the North, 
as elsewhere, synonymous with " scoundrel," " fellow by 
nature quoted and signed to do a deed of shame." And as 
such they were often employed by their owner for that 
purpose ; or, failing this, they would go in for such enter- 
prises on their own account. Thus, in "Landnama," p. 
36, Gufa intrusts his wife and goods during his absence to 
his thrall Skorri, who abuses the confidence reposed in him, 
and makes an attempt on the matron's honour, when she 
threatens to kill herself. On the master's return the 
thrall fled, but is caught and put to death. We have just 
seen how the base Karker murdered the stately Hacon 
Jarl. Grettir, when his foes were drawing the toils closer 
round him, exclaims, " It is ill to have a thrall for your 
bosom friend." On what a slight thread their existence 
hung appears from the story in " Egil." The old half-blind 
man starts off with his treasure-chests and two thralls. 
He himself returns, but neither the thralls nor the coin 
ever came to light. Most likely he had hurled them down 
some deep crevasse. Dead men tell no tales. But how- 
ever a master might bully his slaves, or ill-treat them even 



SLAVERY DIES OUT. 403 

to the death, another person who did this smarted for it 
pretty sharply. According to " Egil " (c. 84), if one slew 
another man's slave, and did not pay the full value of him 
before the third sunset, he was liable to the lesser out- 
lawry; and if he repeated the crime, to the greater outlawry. 
As in England, superstition often came to their aid, and 
in peril or need men would make a vow to manumit a 
slave ; and by the time of Swerrir the institution of slavery 
entirely disappeared. 



( 404 ) 



CHAPTER XXI. 

ICELANDIC CHARTERS, ETC. 

We have spoken of Kemble's " Codex Diplomaticus " and 
Thorpe's kindred work. Compare with it the "Diploma- 
tarium Islandicnm," ^ containing chartularies, diplomas, 
grants, covenants, &c. It is full of interest. 

Here comes the decree of Lewis, son of Charlemagne 
(15th May 834), establishing the Archiepiscopal See of 
Hamburg, whence the preaching of the Word is to go 
forth to the whole North, including Iceland, &c. 

This same matter of the Archbishopric of Hamburg is 
the subject of many bulls (also here) ; e.g., from Popes 
Gregory, 835 ; Hadrian II., 872 ; Leo IX., 6 January 1053. 
One of the most interesting papers in the work is a cata- 
logue of the foreign pilgrims on their way to Rome,^ who 
visited the monastery of Pteichenau, on the Lake of Con- 
stance. It was inserted in an ancient book of the monas- 
tery (Necrologium Augiense), which began with the names 

1 Copenliagen, 1857, sqq. By John foundation thereof: the very letters 

Si"urdson. of the book being most part in gilt." 

- Mone, Kurlsruhe, 1835. Unfor- Surtees Society, 1841. 
tunately when the books of the mona- In iinother volume (xlii.) published 
stery were removed to Karlsruhe in by that Society, Walbran's "Abbey 
1803, the original manuscript of 173 of Fountains," we learn the interest- 
leaves was not to be found, only a ing fact tliat a cell of this Cistercian 
copy. So, according to Bede (iv. 14), foundation was planted at Lyseklos- 
a book of obituaries was kept at the ter, near Bergen, at the prayer of the 
peninsular Abbey of Selsey. But the Bishop of Bergen, who visited the 
most parallel case is the " Liber Vitse abbey 1146. In C. C. C. Library, 
Eccles. Dunelm. necnon obituaria duo Oxford, is a MS. Life of St. Olaf, 
ejusdera Ecclesise," being " an excel- which came from Fountains. Its seal- 
lent fine book, very richly covered skin cover betokens whence it came 
with gold and silver, containing the originally. The work is in Latin : 
names of all the benefactors towards " Passio et miraculo B. Olavi." 
St. Cuthbert's altar from the original 



ICELANDERS VISIT REICH EN A U. 405 

of persons living in 815, and who were alive when their 
names were entered. Among the forty thousand names 
of men and women recorded in this book were thirty- 
nine Icelanders. The writers of the entries were clearly 
not acquainted with the Icelandic tongue. The Germans 
could not j)ronounce the Northern b,^ any more than the 
Normans could our tli ; and so here, " borarinn " becomes 
"jurarin," and "Jjorgr, "jurdr." 

A bull of Anastasius (Lateran, 30th November 11 54) 
establishes the seat of an Archbishopric in Trondjem fifty 
years after that of Lund. Herein is mentioned " the 
glorious mission to Norway, 1152, of Nicholas, Cardinal 
of Albano " (N. Breakspear, the Englishman, afterwards 
Pope Adrian IV.), concerning whom Snorri says, " He in 
many ways improved the manners of the Norwegians." 

Then we have a gift to Guf unes Cliurch of a cross and 
bells, and silver chalice and vestments, by the lay patron. 
For in Iceland, as in England, when a layman founded a 
church, from whatever motive, real piety or sham, for self- 
importance' sake, or in order to " hedge " for past sins, the 
patronage was vested in him (Kemble, " Saxons in Eng- 
land," ii. 420). 

There is a peremptory bull by Pope Celestinus confirm- 
ing the privileges of the Archbishop of Nidaros (Trondjem)^ 
e.g., in the right of toll from vessels trading to Iceland, for 
the purpose of buying cliurch vestments for that island : 
" all gainsayers to be denied Christian burial." 

Pope Innocent III. (Reate, 30 July 1198) permits the 
Bishop of Skalholt to buy falcons as his predecessors did, 
not for their own advantage, but for that of the Church. At 
the same time the Bishops are enjoined to correct the im- 
morality of the Icelanders. Yes, and what was worse, they 

1 The sliarp sound of th, e.g., in not of Old Northern blood, yet from 
"thick," is only to be found in Etig- their close proximity to the North- 
land !ind Icehind. In fact, our pro- men most likely adopted their lingu- 
nunciation generally is very like that istic peculiarities; but, secondly, to 
of Scandinavia : due in the first the arrivals in later centuries from 
place perhaps to the Jutes, who, if the great Northern hive. 



4o6 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

luul presumed to hold communion with Swerrir (a king, as 
we have seen, much cherished in his country's memory), 
" the excommunicate and apostate, the enemy of God and 
His saints." His dear Iceland is very remote, but he 
embraces it with the arms of affection. Its "peccata" 
would fill an immense page, " si ad unguera," &c. But this 
missive is only a foretaste (prffilibatio) of what they would 
get if they did not amend their ways. He intends to 
return to the subject. 

The island lay far from Eome, but not too far, we see, 
for the long arms of the Jupiter on the Seven Hills to 
reach. If England groaned under the discipline of pen- 
ance, Iceland was not in clover. If our island abounded 
in Penitentials, prescribing suitable penance for all sorts 
of offences, civil as well as ecclesiastical, Iceland had, in 
the " Liber Penitentialis " of Bishop Thorlak, a book of 
dread authority in such gear. Bell, book, and candle, 
that brimstone trio, were in full blast, emulating the 
belching sulphur pools of the soil. At a later period, 
the greater excommunication, a form of which, in Anglo- 
Saxon, is still extant (Schmidt, Laws, 422), was, under 
the name of " Bann," current also in Iceland (Historia 
Ecclesiastica Islandica?, i. 115). On a given day, in the 
presence of clergy and laity, the Bishop, clad in full pon- 
tificals, standing at the altar, book in hand, imjDrecated 
the curse upon the head of the offender, there present. 
Both the ears of every one that heard must have tingled, 
their limbs quaked, and their hearts sunk within them, as 
the voice of the Bishop resounded through the edifice. 
Bells kept pealing at intervals, while the culprit was 
cursed, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, 
in all his members, asleep or awake, in his going out and 
coming in, and finally, his soul was bid perish in hell, as 
the light of the candle, plunged into a vessel of water by 
the episcopal hands, was there and then extinguished. A 
dread of the Church's anathema, fulminated by the Bishop, 
often brought additional security to his own private pro- 



MA PES, ARCHDEACON OF OXFORD. 407 

perty. But, like the notice of " ]\Ian-traps and spring-guns 
set here," which once guarded our orchards, those behind 
the scenes would, in process of time, trouble little about it. 
The juggler, says a Chinese proverb, can't deceive the man 
who beats the gong. 

The founder of Norwich Cathedral, early in the twelfth 
century, had a plentiful stock of these weapons to hurl at 
the slayers of his deer. " I interdict them from entrance 
into the church and from the sacrament. May the curse 
and the excommunication rest upon them in their homes ; 
in the ways and in the fields, in the woods and in the 
waters, and in all places wdieresoever they shall be found. 
May the flesh of those who have devoured my stag rot as 
the flesh of Herod rotted; may they have their portion 
with Judas, with Ananias and Sapphira, with Dathan and 
Abiram. Let them have the anathema maranatha, unless 
they shall come to a better mind, and make me some repa- 
ration. Amen. Amen. Amen." One thing, however, the 
Pope was never able to enforce in Scandinavia — the celi- 
bacy of the clergy. Many were the heart-burnings the 
odious yoke caused in England. The witty Archdeacon 
of Oxford, Mapes, tried what ridicule would do — 

" Prisciani regula penitus cassatur, 
Sacerdos per Hie et Hoec olim declinatur ; 
Sed per Hie sohimmodo nunc articulatur, 
Cum per nostrum prsesulem Hcec amoveatur." 

That was a yoke which the Northern ecclesiastics, bishops 
and all, never would stoop to, and the common sense and 
spirit of independence of the laity upheld them in their 
contumacy. The marriage was a sort of Scotch one, with- 
out religious ceremony, and the ladies were called " adju- 
trices." But, apart from this, the Northern populations, 
lay and learned, were most submissive to the Papal stool. 
And no wonder, when we remember that the great ones of 
the earth were quite as voracious of eating humble-pie at 
Ptome as their subjects. Our own Alfred as a child, Canute 
the murderer of Duncan, each in his season repaired thither, 



4oS ICELANDIC LITERA TURE. 

fed the voluptuous cardinals, largessed the lazy beggars,^ and 
got what they wanted, whether it was justice or injustice 
tliey sought, security in the possession of their plain rights, 
or absolution for abominable crimes. Non old, all was 
grist that came to this mill. But why should the Northern 
barbarians complain ? Were they not rescued by Eome 
from the dreary isolation of their woods and forests, their 
mountains and morasses, into the mellow light of Southern 
civilisation; were they not admitted within the pale of 
the great European commonwealth, and made, as it were, 
citizens of no mean city ? If the blood-stained Viking, as 
he stalked about Eome surveying in mute wonder its art 
glories, ever and anon felt his armlet was shorter by several 
links, and his purse much lighter than when he came 
thither, was he not, on the other haijd, much lighter of 
heart, and the burden that w^eighed upon his conscience 
lifted clean off it by the clerical conjurors, just as easily 
as he used himself to lift the pack-saddle off his tired nag 
at the end of the day's journey among his Northern wastes ? 
But we must return to the " Diplomatarium." 

March i, 1206, in answer to a query of the Archbishop 
of Nidaros, whether, if a child is not likely to live and no 
water is at hand, it may be baptized rightly with spittle, 
the Pope's answer is, " One must be baptized with water 
and the Spirit, and there is no doubt that, if both or one 
of these are wanting, the baptism is not right." 

Further light is thrown on the demeanour assumed by 
the Popes to the laity of Iceland in the bull, March 1206 : 
" If the priests shed blood, they are to be deposed from 
their office ; but those who kill such clerks shall sue for 
pardon at the Pope's residence." One document gives the 
names of bishops in Iceland of noble birth. A proof of tlie 

1 1062. Duncan, king of Scotland, Eome. 1079. Macbeth is killed, and 

is killed (19 Calend. Septemb.) by his succeeded by Malcolm, son of Duncan 

general, Macbeth, who succeeded him (Latin Chronicle of Marianus Scotus, 

as king, and reigned seventeen years, from Vatican MS., No. 830 : printed 

1072. Macbeth, king of Scotland, dis- in Pertz, Mon._Germ. v. 556). 
tributed money among the poor at 



BISHOP THORLAK STUDIED AT LINCOLN. 409 

learning of these islanders is afforded in the fact that, in 
the twelfth century, two of the four bishops in Norway- 
were from Iceland (F. B., i. 205). 

There are also several cliartularies, all in the vernacular, 
illustrative of the infant Church in Iceland. 

An order in Latin of our King Henry III., London, 
23d August 1224 (Piolls Series, voL i. pp. 1204 and 1224), 
empowers the governor of Yarmouth to admit free all 
merchant ships from Iceland and all fish ships. There 
are many proofs that, in the eleventh and twelfth centu- 
ries, there was an active intercourse between Iceland and 
England. Thus, from an order of the Althing, circa 1 200, 
■we learn that most of the garment stuffs for Iceland used 
to come from England. It is recorded of Bishop, after- 
wards Saint Thorlak, that he studied " much and usefully 
for himself and others at Lincoln," after he came from 
Paris (Biskupa Sogur, i. 127),^ and that one Audunn (ibid., 
i. 357) had an image of him made and set up at Lynn, 
which he no doubt visited in the course of his tradincj 
voyages. It was most likely a votiva tabula, promised by 
him when he was in danger of shipwreck. This was circa 
1 200-1 220. "One day an English clerk went into the 
Church of Lynn (al. Kynn) in England, and asked whose 
likeness that was. He was told it was tlie image of Thor- 
lak, bishop in Iceland. Then he, with great laughter and 
ridicule, went into a kitchen, took a sausage, came before 
the image, and held out the sausage with his right hand, 
and thus spoke mockingly to the image : ' Will you, suet- 
chap ' (a nickname given by the Norwegians to tlie Ice- 
landers, who lived chiefly by flocks and herds), ' have a bit ? 
You are a suet-bishop.' After this he wished to go away, 
but could not move from the place whereon he stood with 
his hand rigidly clenched to the sausage. A number of 
people drove together to see the miracle, and asked how it 
came to pass ; whereupon ho confessed his folly before 
all the bystanders, showed a true repentance, and begged 

1 Copenhagen, 1858. 



4 1 o ICEL A NDIC LIT ERA TURE. 

iliem to assist him in his prayers, and ultimately he got 
well again." 

One document indicates a source of revenue to the Ice- 
landic priest which had been, as we see from the sagas, a 
fruitful occasion of bloodshed in former days : we mean 
the driving of a whale ashore. In 1250 there is an agree- 
ment about the jetsam whales in the district under Thin- 
gore Monastery, up north. When a whale comes ashore, 
the monastery takes half, the other landholders half. 

In the royal right of quartering themselves and their 
retainers on the landholders, kings v/ere alike in Norway 
and England. The right, which once pertained to them 
also in England, of the use of horses for themselves or 
their messengers, survives only in the compulsory postal 
service of Norway, But enough has been said to show 
that there is much that is attractive for students in the 
" Diplomatarium Islandicum," as well as in the correspond- 
ing Anglo- Saxon collection. 

The " Diplomatarium Norwegicum," Lange and Unger 
(Christiania, 1847), is also most interesting, and proves 
that, in the early days, the language spoken in Norway 
was still as pure as that of Iceland. The entry in it 
perhaps most interesting to an Englishman is that, i. 1 5 : 
A bull of Pope Gregory to the Archbishop of Nidaros 
(Trondjem), dated Viterbo, 1237 A.D., charging him to ex- 
tirpate the abuse (matrimony), and visit the offenders with 
ecclesiastical censure. But they set up in reply uninter- 
rupted custom. Erom mention made in Anglo-Saxon 
documents of the sons of bishops and clergy, Kemble 
argues that there were always secular clergy in England, 
who, braving the Papal rule, did marry and rear families. 
— Saxons in England, ii. 442. 



( 411 ) 



CHAPTER XXII. 

ICELANDIC WIT COMPARED WITH ANGLO-SAXON. 

That our Saxon forefathers could relish wit, though perhaps 
of a somewhat ponderous character, is clear from passages 
in their writings. In " Beowulf," for instance, we have one 
Hunferth, a Northern Thersites, who makes some elaborate 
attempts at ridiculing the hero before the assembled com- 
pany, which he defeats with much dexterity. So again, there 
was a very old Anglo-Saxon version of the jesting German 
legend of " Solomon and Markolfr." ^ Contests of knowledge 
of this kind evidently found favour among our forefathers. 
The riddles in the Exeter Book are very interesting. In 
" Solomon and Markolfr," the latter sets Solomon hard 
questions. The wit of the thing, if wit it can be called, 
seems to have consisted in not being posed, and in having 
an answer ready for every question. Here is a specimen: — 
" Q. Tell me what was Adam's name made of ? A.\ tell 
thee it was made of four stars, Q. Tell me what they 
were called ? A. I tell thee, Arthox, Dux, Arotholem, 
Minsymbrie," a bit of quadruple gibberish which finds its 
interpretation in the Icelandic Elucidarius (Annalar f. 
Nordisk Oldkyndighed, 1878, p. 62). "Adam took his 
name from the four quarters of the world in the Greek 
tongue : — East, West, North, and South, which in Greek are 
Anatole (A), Dysis (D), Arctos (A), Mesembria (M)." We 
further learn that the forbidden fruit of which Adam 

* See Jlr. Kemble's edition, 1848, composition redolent with heathen- 
published by the ^Ifric Society. Tlie ism, and is clearly of long descent, 
poetic "Salomon and Saturn" is a 



4 1 2 ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

tasted ^vas tliat of the fig-tree. It was on a Friday, and 
for his disobedience he was put in hell for 5228 ^'inters. 

Equally facetious or infacetious is the following, a 
passage which derives its main interest from its resem- 
blance to the Edda myth of the world being made out 
of tlie giant Ymer's body : — " Q. Of what material was 
Adam, the first man, made ? A. Of viii. pounds' weight. 
Q. What were they? A. First, there was a pound of 
earth : of tha^ was his flesh wrought ; next there was a 
pound of fire : hence was his blood red and hot ; the third 
was a pound of wind: thence he got breath; the fourth was 
a pound of welkin : thence came his inconstancy of mood ; 
the fifth was a pound of grace : thence he got fat and 
growth ; the sixth was a pound of blossoms : thence 
he got the'variety of his eyes; the seventh was a pound 
of dew : thence he got sweat ; the eighth was a pound 
of salt : thence his tears were salt." This and other 
answers were perfect flies in amber, M'orth preserving for 
all time, and accordingly they appear in " The Maister of 
Oxinford and his Scholar," dating from the reign of Henry 
V. (tide "Eeliquise Antiquae "). With equal wisdom we are 
informed that Adam was 116 inches long, and that the 
wives of Noah, Ham, and Japhet respectively were called 
Dalila, Jaitarecta, and Catafluvia ; each, however, had an 
alias, viz., Olla, Ollina, and Ollibana. The monk, or who- 
ever he was, who gave us this version of " Solomon and 
Markolfr," treats us to fresh facts in natural history, e.g., 
" The reason why stones are barren is that when Cain slew 
his brother with the jawbone of an ass, his blood fell upon a 
stone." Item : " There are 54 kinds of fowls, and 26 kinds 
of fishes ; " and " the sun is red in the evening because 
it faces hell." Lastly, " The sea is salt because Moses 
cast the two tables of stone into it, and also poured his salt 
tears therein." 1 Verily this is poor stuff. Of Attic salt, 
at all events, it is quite destitute. This taste for riddles, 
the amusement of most nations in their early days, crops 

1 Cf. Ilalliwell's " Popular Songs." 



" DEM A UNDES JO YO US:' 4 1 3 

up again later in such delectable scraps as tlie " Demaundes 
Joyous," abridged from a very rare French tract of the 
same title in the British Museum, a copy of which is in 
the Public Library of the University of Cambridge, re- 
printed by Mr. Kemble (ib. p. 2S5), and which we cannot 
resist quoting.^ Here is a sample : — " Demaunde. Which 
is the brodest water, and leest jeopardye to passe over ? 
A. The dewe. Demaunde. What thynge is it that never 
w^as nor never shall be ? A. Never mouse made her 
neste in a catte's ere. Demaunde. Why dooth a dogge 
tourne him thryes aboute or that he lyeth hym doune ? 
A. Bycause he knoweth not his beddes hede from the 
fete." " Tush ! " says Mr. Tyler ; " it is a survival of 
his ancestor, the wild dog, who before lying down went 
round and round first to flatten the grass." "Demaunde. 
Why dryve men dogges out of the chyrche ? A. Because 
they come not up to offre. Demaunde. Wliy come dogges 
often to the chyrche? A. Because whan they see the 
aulter covered, they wene theyr maysters goo thydere 
to dyner.2 Demaunde. Whiche ben the moost profytable 
sayntes in the chyrche ? A. They that stande in the glasse 
wyndowes, for they kepe out the wynde for wastynge of 
the lyghte." One of the straws, this last, that betoken 
which way the wind was setting, soon to increase into a 
tempest, and which burst upon Europe in the shape of the 
Eeformation. The " saints," once a word to conjure with 
in England, a spell wdiicli in its days of ignorance and 
simplicity had enthralled the nation, and now in vulgar 
estimation only fit "to stop a chink to keep tlie wind 
away!" Our specimens shall close with one more riddle, 
also indicative of that decay of reverence which was 
abroad. "Demaunde. What people be tho that getetbe 
theyr lywynge moost merylyest ? A. Tho be prestes and 
fullers, for one syngeth and the other daunceth." 

^ Reliquiae Antiquae, ii. 73. 

* This reminds one of the canine part of a Scotch congregation in Dean 
Eamsay's book. 



4 1 4 ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

" Thus endcth the Domaundes Joyous, imprynted at Lon- 
don in Flete Strete, at the sygnne of the sonne, by me Wyn- 
kyn do Worde. In the yere of our Lorde MCCCCC and xi." ^ 

In Scandinavia also trials of wit and wisdom were, from 
the very earliest times, as popular as feats of strength and 
skill in arms. Capping verses and setting riddles were 
a common amusement. Of this we have evidence in the 
Edda and the sagas. 

The choice dialogue between Solomon and Saturn finds 
its counterpart in the famous flyting between Thor and 
the ferryman in the " Harbard's Ljod " of the Old Edda. 

The mention of this poem calls to mind a subject of 
much interest. Both in the Old and New Edda, which, as 
we have seen, contain our only account of the Scandina- 
vian deities, we have, strange to say, passages, nay, whole 
poems, the object of which can be nought else than to 
hold up these very gods to ridicule. The explanation 
offered by some for this phenomenon is that such poems 
were composed by the first Christians as a weapon against 
Aser-worship and its follies. Others attribute them to 
heathen free-thinkers, whose good sound natural sense, 
without the light of Cliristianity, as had been the case in 
the classic nations, had taught them to perceive the inner 
contradictions of their religion, its confusion of the human 
and divine, and the limited power of those whom they 
worshipped. So they wanted to get rid of the supersti- 
tious elements that had crept in, and to effect this they 
made a joke of its absurdities.^ But, in opposition to 
both these theories, we must remember that though in 
these poems the gods do get placed by their enemies, 
.the giants, in painful and laugliable plights, yet, never- 
theless, they always in the end retrieve their position, 
and get out of the mess with honour. So that these 
poems could hardly have been the work of Christians, and 
of those whose aim it was, not merely to discredit Aser- 
worship, but to abolish it entirely. They would have laid 

1 Reliquiae Antiquse, ii. 72 sqq. 2 Keyser, Efterladte Skrifter, p. 140. 



THE GODS RIDICULED. 415 

the axe at the very root of the tree. Odin, like Moloch, 
would have fled, Thor hidden his diminished head, or 
rather Valhalla would have fallen down flat over the 
heads of its potentates, crushing them utterly and for 
ever ; and this would have been effected, not by the race 
of giants, whom the early Christians regarded as the 
counterparts of devils, i.e., the very co-workers, as they be- 
lieved, and yoke-fellows in evil, of these waning powers, 
but by the Babe of Bethlehem, or some angel of might, or 
canonised saint. One of these would have been chosen to 
annihilate the damned crew. 

Is it not better, then, to look on these poems, so face- 
tious at the expense of the deities, as pure freaks, out- 
breaks of the droll humour of the Northman ; a sudden 
step on his part from the sublime to the ridiculous ; the 
mocking echo of Nature's voice at her grandest; a case 
of "medio de fonte leporum surgit amari aliquid" read 
backwards ; one of those inscrutable contradictions in our 
being which makes misery jeer at itself and death turn 
punster ? Shakespeare once and again touches on tliis 
odd mental phenomenon — 

" How oft when men are at the point of death 
Have they been merry." 

That daring paradox of Jean P. Eichter, that no man 
believes his own creed thoroughly till he can afford to 
jest upon it, may be mentioned here. This quaint juxta- 
position of things naturally lying toto ccelo asunder is to 
be found in many shapes. The mighty master employs it 
with great effect in Caliban, whose brutal grossness and 
unreason enhance the moral worth and kingly dignity of 
Prospero, and the innocence of that type of unspoilt woman- 
hood, Miranda: and again, in the fool in "Lear," whose 
wild babblings amid the storm serve to "gauge the horrors 
of the scene." Again, in your Gothic minster, with its arches 
soaring heavenward, the wliole conceived apparently in 
the highest spirit of Christian reverence, we often stumble 
ujjon some impish form, laughing, as it were, in his sleeve, 



41 6 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

and treatinp; tlie wliole aflliir as a joke.^ " Dulce est desipere 
in loco." True, but surely, some would argue, tins was 
not the locality for it. But they forget the old saying, 
" Extremes meet," and always will. But the most appo- 
site illustration of this tendency is to be found in ancient 
Greece, where, side by side with the august solemnities 
of tragedy, the old comedy indulged in extreme license, 
running a-muck at gods and men alike. A phenomenon 
which has been explained on the principle that gods as 
well as men were subordinate to Nemesis, and wished, by 
such sacrifices of dignity, to appease her awful power. 

" The mighty awful gods, ah ! to be sure ! But how would 
they comport themselves if they got into such straits, a 
fix so inextricable, as sometimes befalls poor me ? Surely 
they would act pretty much as you or I." But no ; the 
gods are omnipotent. By their inherent might they over- 
come all opposition, and emerge from the struggle brighter 
and more glorious than ever. But the question then arises, 
which must be answered in the affirmative. Would not 
these probings of the Asers' weaknesses, this laying bare 
of the limbs of their power, shake and undermine at last 
their influence over men's minds, in the same way as sly 
raps at the foibles of the great, jocular criticism of time- 
honoured institutions, will often effect their downfall, 
although the prime agent, in his wantonness, never dreamt 
of such a catastrophe ? Eegarded in this light, then, these 
poems would, in the order of Providence, have paved the 
way for the reception of Christianity ? 

In the " Harbard's Lay " we have a case in point. The 
mighty god Thor is, as usual, the laughing-stock of the 
nonce : a greater than Samson — whom, by the by, a modern 
writer has elevated into a sun-god — shorn, and as other 

^ Canon Kingsley was once observed doubtless, such carvings had a very 

to start in the middle of Divine ser- real meaning. An old legend of St. 

vice at Chester Cathedral. His eye Cuthbert describes a grotesriue piece 

liad cauglit sight of a monkey in tlie of such ecclesiastical sculpture, viz., 

midst of the crockets of one of tlie a monk turned into a fox for stealing 

canopies! — Lije, ii. 412. Sometimes, cheese. — Hardy, p. xxv. 



THOR AT THE FERRY. 



417 



men. Though usually the god gets well out of the scrape 
with might unscathed, as a god should do, yet here he 
does not. He is baffled, laughed at, thoroughly whipped. 
And why? It is not a giant whom he copes with, but 
Odin himself, who appears under the guise of Harbard = 
' shaggy beard,' which is, in fact, one of Odin's names else- 
where.^ Thor has been " faring east," i.e., against the 
giants, and arrives at a ferry. " Halloo ! Boat ahoy ! " 

" Boatman, do not tarry, 
And I'll give thee a silver pound 
To row me o'er the ferry." 

But being Thor, and not the Highland chieftain, he hailed 
somewhat differently — 

" Who is that slave of slaves 

That stands yon side the Sound ? " 

Harbard answers — 



Who is that churl of churls 
That halloos over the water ? 

Thor. 
Now ferry me over the Sound, 
!For a fee, your morning's meal; 
A basket I've on my back, 
With meat in it of the best. 

Thor asks who is the owner of the boat. 



Harbard. 

You don't seem to me 
To be any great shakes ; 
Barefoot you go, and are clad 

like a tramp ; 
You've not even got your 

breeches. 



Harbard. 
Hildolf is he hight, 
Bade me keep to this side, 
And no cattle-lifters 
Row over, or horse-thieves ; 
Good people alone, 
And those I'm acquaint with. 
Now tell me thy name 
Since you list to fare over. 



Thor. 
I'm Odin's son, 
Brother of Meili, 
And father to Main. 
The gods' doughty defender, 
With Thor you are talk- 
ing, 
This now will I speer, 
What your name might be % 



^ Grimnismal, iv. 9. The mysteri- poetry, the god Odin or Woden. So 

ous skipper in the Anglo-S ixon poem the resuscitation of " Andreas," when 

" Andreas," in reality God Almighty left for dead, is a reminiscence of 

in disguise, indicates that its Christian another Edda myth, the slain Hedin 

author (Grimm suggests that it waa and his men restored to life each 

Aldhelm) had appropriated a leading morning by the enchantress Hilda, 
character of the old heathen ballad 

2 D 



4i8 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

Haurard. For your jeering worrls 

Ilarbai-a am I higlit ; If I get o'er the Sound. 
I ne'er hide my name. 

Thor. Harbard. 

Foul shame it meseems Here I'll take my stand 

To wade over to thee And bide ; never tougher 

And -wet all my dinner ; Have you customer had 

I'll pay you, you bantling, Since Hrungnir fell dead." ^ 

The mention of the giant with a stone head, whom 
Thor slew, leads him to ask what Harbard was doing 
then. They now each in turn boast of their exploits. 
Thor brags of his deeds among the giants and trolls ; 
Harbard of his disreputable adventures among the fair 
sex, and his share in mortal strife of which he himself 
was the stirrer-up. At last the Thunderer gives it up as 
a bad job and retires with a parting shot at his re viler. 
Won't he serve him out the next time they meet ! But 
Harbard gets the last word — 

" Just take yourself off, 

And the trolls take the whole of you." 

The merit of the piece consists in the description and 
contrast of the character of the two gods as conceived by 
the popular imagination — Thor simple-minded and strong, 
and the shrew^d and crafty Odin ; the one the defender of 
earth, and man living on it, from all disturbing and devas- 
tating natural powers — in a word, the patron of peaceful, 
industrious peasant life; the other in the character so 
suitable to the warlike instincts developed among his 
worshippers, as the god of war, ever on the look-out for 
fresh company in Valhalla, for new recruits to his phan- 
tom battalions against the inevitable day when the powers 
of evil will be loose and Fenris Wolf break his chain, 
and as such, no friend of peaceful agricultural pursuits — 

" The Jarls they are Odin's, 
In battle who fall ; 
The Thralls they belong to Thor." 

1 I'rose Edda, 57; see "Lexicon Mythologicum." 



THOR AND ODIN. 



419 



Slain warriors are Odin's fit associates ; Tlior must be 
fobbed off with those who subsist by the sweat of their 
brow. The keynote of the old poem then seems to be 
the opposition between the life of the peasant and the 
warrior. The author was, perhaps, a warlike Viking, and 
worshipper of Odin as his patron deity, whose religious 
susceptibilities were wounded at hearing Thor's name made 
the theme of so many panegyrics, especially in Norway. 



( 420 ) 



CHAPTEE XXIII. 

ICELANDIC WIT CONTINUED. 

But to return to the subject of riddles. In the " Vaf Jjru- 
5nismal," Odin, in the disguise of a traveller, Gangradr, 
visits the wisest and strongest of the race of the giants. 
After an interchange of compliments, the two worthies 
begin posing each other with riddles. The guessing seems 
equally matched on both sides, till at last Odin puts a 
query which he alone was able to solve, and the giant 
submits to the stern penalty of death which awaited defeat. 
In a very ancient poem in the "Hervarar Saga" (cap. 
XV.), one Gest the Blind, otherwise Odin, sets King Heidrek 
no less than thirty-two riddles at a sitting. One of them 

is — 

" Four gang, 
Four hang, 
Two show the way, 
Two ward off dogs, 
One trails behind, 
And is dirty ever and aye." 
Answer, " Cow." 

"Wliich, if not others, is well known in Thelemarken at the 
present day.^ There is a famous Danish ballad, in several 
versions, " Svend Vonwed," - the remote date of which 
comes out most strongly in its pointed resemblance to the 
old Edda, both in incidents and in identical words — the 
last a very important arcliteological clue. In this ballad 

1 See " Oxonian in Thelemarken," ii. 215. 

2 Grundtvig's Danske Volkeviser, 18. 



RIDDLES. 421 

again we have a good illustration of what, from the days 
of the son of Manoah downwards, was always a favourite 
pastime for the folks from those Eastern countries in the 
early stages of their civilisation — the setting and guessing 
of riddles. Witness the " hard questions " with which the 
Queen of Sheba " proved " the Oriental sage. Witness 
Ezekiel's riddle of " the great eagle, long- winged, and full 
of feathers." The Anglo-Saxon learned men, Aldhelm, 
Alcuin, Archbishop Tatwin, and such like, were fond of 
making them. The knight on his travels encounters a 
tall herdsman on a mountain-top, and commences posing 
him as follows : — 

" What is rounder than a wheel ? 
Where is kept the merriest Yule ? 
What wears its beard upon its back ? 
What wears a nose beneath its chin ? 
What is blacker than a sloe % 
What is fleeter than the roe % 
Which of bridges is the broadest ? 
What to mortals is the loathest % " 

The answers to which are — the sun, heaven (Valhalla), 
peewit, troll, sin, mind, ice, toad. Now all this seems a 
very simple and frivolous affair, mere child's-play ; but 
surely nothing is insignificant that contributes to the true 
history of man's culture when just emerging from the 
childhood of his race. There is an archaeology even in the 
playroom. But what more interests an Englishman is to 
find like productions evidently descended from the same 
antique stock in his own country at the present day. Such 
is the Christmas Carol (Jameson, ii. 155) — 

" What is louder than a horn ? 
What is sharper than a thorn ? 
What is broader than the way ? 
What is deeper than the sea ? " 

Such, again, is the " Four Sisters," a North Country 
ballad, partly perhaps of the fourteenth century ^ — 

1 Cf. Halliwell's " Poi^lar Rhymes," &c., 1849, p. 150. 



42 2 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

" I have four sisters beyond the sea, 
And they did send four presents to me. 
The first it was a bird without e'er a bone ; 
The second was a cherry without e'er a stone ; 
The third it was a bhmket without e'er a thread ; 
The fourth it was a book which no man could read." 

Then follow the answers to the above riddles — 

" When the bird's in the shell, there is no bone ; 
When the cherry's in the bud, there is no stone ; 
When the blanket's in the fleece, there is no thread ; 
When the book is in the press, no man can read. 
Para inara dictum Domine." 

The last line at all events points to a later date for its 
composition. Compare with this " Captain Wedderburn's 

Courtship " ^ — 

" Oh, I must have to my supper 
A cherry without a stone ; 
And I must have to my supper 
A chicken without a bone ; 
And I must have to my supper 
A bird without a ga' ; 
Before I lie in your bed, 
Either at stock or wa'," &c. 

Of the same kith and kin is the humorous ballad of 
King John and the Abbot of Canterbury .^ King John 
sends for the abbot, and swears he shall die or solve three 
riddles. Three weeks' respite are allowed, during which 
the abbot takes counsel of the most learned men in Ox- 
ford and Cambridge, but all to no purpose. In this strait 
his herdsman undertakes to go to London in his stead and 
solve the riddles, which he does and succeeds. 

The mere idea of setting riddles referring to everyday 
objects in nature would be so natural a recreation that we 
may well imagine, says Grundtvig, this kind of composition 
to have been at home in many countries at once, without 
the necessity of suggesting that they are due to tradition. 
Sometimes, however, it is clear that tradition must have 

1 Halliwell, ibid, " Percy's Relics, ii. 306, ed. 1767. 



SVEND VONWED RESEMBLES KILHIVCH. 423 

been at work, as in the remarkable likeness in all the inci- 
dents of Svend Vonwed's ballad — liis ride over the moor, 
his talk with the shepherd on the hill, his gift to him of a 
gold ring for guessing the riddles — with those of an old 
Celtic ballad,^ where Kilhwch, King Arthur's relative, 
does duty for Vonwed. If this extraordinary resemblance 
is the result of tradition, says Grundtvig, to explain the 
way in which the tradition passed is a riddle harder of 
solution than any in the ballad. This poem, in fact, is 
heroic-mythic in its origin. The meeting of the shepherd 
on the hill is a frequent feature of the old Edda (cf. " Skir- 
nismal " and " prymskviga "). Again, in " Alvismal," the 
sun is called by the elves ' fair-wheel.' The second an- 
swer above (p. 420), ' heaven,' must originally have been 
' Valhalla,' where mirth could seldom flag, so stinging 
(vafenginn) was the mead at Yule-tide. Indeed, the very 
meaning of Yule^ is mirth and jollity, and Odin himself 
was called ' Joiner,' as the host of the occasion. Then for 
' ice,' the seventh answer, that riddle must appertain to a 
very hoary antiquity, for in the old Eunic alphabet, ' Ice 
is the broad bridge,' is the descriptive jingle appended to 
the Eunic letter | ; pretty much as in our " Tom Thumb's 
Alphabet for Children " — 

" I was an innkeeper, and loved to bouse ; 
J was a joiner, who built a Louse." 

But there are other still more striking coincidences be- 
tween the poem and bits of the " Grimnismal," placing the 
Eddaic source of it beyond all doubt, but which we have 
not space to enter into more at large. Of course, we might 
expect to meet, as we do, with a very similar ballad in 
Norway and the Faroes.^ It occurs in an old German 
poem, full of riddles from end to end, extant in a MS. of 
the fourteenth century, " Trougemundslicd." 

^ Mabinogion, ii. 271. Cf. Skene's "Four Ancient Books of Wales," 
i. 535, lliddle on the Wind. 

^ Grimm derives it from Hjol, a wheel. 

•* Bugge, Norske Volkeviser, p. 369 ; llamarshaimb Fteroiske Kvajder. 



4:4 ICELA NDIC LITER A TURE. 

Above we have seen wliy, according to the Anglo-Saxon 
" Salomon," the sea was salt. Contrast with this the reason 
for the same phenomenon told in the weird old Scandina- 
vian tale of King Prodi's qnern. We have it in the " Lay 
of Grotti," or the " Mill Song," in the old Edda, already 
mentioned ; but it is given wuth a prose preface in Snorri's 
"Skalda" (i. Z7'^)- " There was a king of Denmark descended 
from Odin, Frodi, the son of Fridleif. He was the most 
powerful monarch of the North. In his times nobody 
harmed another ; there was no thief or robber, so that a 
gold ring lay on Jalanger heath for a long time, and none 
meddled with it. King Frodi went to a festival in Sweden, 
to which he was bidden by King Fjolnir. While there he 
bought two female slaves. Tenia and Menia.^ They were 
mickle and strong. At this time there were in Denmark 
two millstones so mickle that nobody was strong enough 
to turn them. These stones had the property of grinding 
anything that the grinder bade them. This hand-mill was 
called Grotti. Hangjaw was his name who gave the king 
the quern. King Frodi had the bondwomen led to the 
quern, and bade them grind gold and peace and prosperity 
for Frodi. He gave them no longer time to rest or sleep 
than the cuckoo was silent or a catch might be sung. 
Then they sang, it is said, the song called the " Mill Song," 
and before they stopped singing they ground an army 
against Frodi ; so that the same night came the sea-king, 
hight Mysing, and slew Frodi and took great booty. Then 
Frodi's peace ended." 

In the early stanzas given on p. 400 they have just arrived 
at Frodi's court and begun to grind. They prolong their 
chant, and afford us glimpses of their early history. 

" Since then we two, Smashed we shields, 

In Sweden's land, Broke through and through 

Both of us fore-wise, The grey-sarked line ; 

Lived among men ; Cast down one king, 

Baited we bears. Set up a second ; 

1 See Lexicon Mythologicum Veteris Eddse, s. v. "Menia." 



THE END OF KING FRODI. 



425 



To good Gutliorra 
INIinistered help ; 
There was no rest 
Till Knui fell. 

" Still we held on 
All those years ; 
Gained in battles 
Mighty renown. 
There we started 
With sharp javelins 
Blood from the wounds, 
Keddened the brand. 

" NoAv are we come 
To a king's halls, 
All unpitied, treated as slaves; 
Mud corrodes our feet. 
Cold are our limbs. 
Whirl we the strife-queller ! 
'Tis a sad life at Frodi's. 

' ' Rest should our hands, 
The stone stand still ; 
Enough and to spare, 
I've my part done ; 
But to my hands 
No repose comes, 
Till Frodi deems enough 
Milling we've done. 

' ' Still must our hands 
Ply the hard twirling pins, 
Bathed in blood. 
Rouse thee, then, Frodi ! 
Rouse thee, then, Frodi ! 
And thou wilt hear 
Our songs. 
Our ancient lore ! 

" Fire I see burning 
East of the burgh. 



Presage of slaughter, 
Beacon, I ween ; 
Come will an army 
Here in a trice. 
And fire the halls 
Of Frodi the king. 

" Shalt thou no longer 
Hold Leidra's throne ; 
Neither red rings nor 
Heaven-high halls ? 
Twirl we the handle,^ 
Sharp, wench, sharper, 
We are unsprinkled with 
Blood of the slain." 

" My father's daughter 
Right gaily ground. 
For she saw many men 
Doomed to die ; 
Huge stones, hooped 
With iron, are flying 
Off from the quern-bed. 
Grind with a Avill ! 
Grind faster, faster ! 

" Ground on the maidens, 
Put forth their might ; 
Maidens ferocious 
With giant strength. 
Quivered the handles, 
Down dropt the quern-props, 
Sundered the heavy 
Millstones in twain. 

" But the mill-ogre's 
Bride, she screech'd out: 
Ground have we, Frodi, 
All that we dare ; 
Ground have the maids. 
Enough and to spare. 



Mysing carried away with him in his ship the mill and 
the two goblin grinders, and bade them grind salt, and at 
midnight they speered whether he was not tired of salt, 
and he bade them grind on. They ground a little longer, 
when down went the Viking's ship, and ever after there 

^ O. N. Mijndul q. mundull, from muiid ^ manus ~ band. 



4 : 6 ICE LA NDIC L I TERA TURE. 

was a whirlpool in the sea, where it is falling into the 
Grotti's eye. That made the sea salt. Eeader, did you 
ever cross the Pentland Firth on the road to " the storm- 
tossed Orcades " ? Then maybe you have seen that whirl- 
pool, so dangerous to the mariner, the Swelkie, in which 
Ilacon lost one of his sliips on his retreat from Largs,^ 
October 29, 1263, where the sea roars and pours down into 
the gurgling gullet. That is the spot where the wonder 
millstones went down, turned by the hand of those maidens. 
In this fable we see an allusion to the stormy ocean, which, 
millstone-like, ground the stones and shells into the fine 
white sand now strewing the beach. So that, in fact, 
those ghostly viragos were a couple of ^gir's nine daugh- 
ters, the god of the sea, who are evermore busy in their 
father's milL In the fragment of Sneebjorn's poem of the 
tenth century cited by Snorri,^ the sea-shore is called 
" the flour-bin of Amlodi," i.e., the flour-bin of the idiot. 
For such a person might very well, when he saw the white 
sea-sand, call it the flour of the sea-mill. Saxo, 250 years 
later, puts words to this effect in the mouth of the sham 
natural, Hamlet, Amlodi (lib. iii.). The courtiers had told 
him that a wolf he met in the forest was a young colt. 
They next bring him to the sea-shore, and tell him that 
the sand is flour. " Quite so," said Amlethus, " ground by 
the stormy sea." Here, then, we are able to trace the 
royal Dane of Shakespeare to an obscure Icelandic poem, 
for Saxo himself tells us that he got his story from the 
oral traditions of the Icelanders. The fact that in Ice- 
landic the words for meal and sand are almost the same, 
may serve to throw some light on this old story. 

There is another tale in the Prose Edda, the incidents 
of which resemble those in a passage in the " Merchant 
of Venice." Loki had made a bet with the dwarf Brokr. 
The Aser had to decide, and they pronounced Loki to have 

^ Munch, Chronicon Mannife, 127. 

- Frose Edda, i. 328, which is more elaborate, and therefore more modern, 
than the tale in the old Edda. Keyser, V. S., 229. 



KVASIR'S FATE A CAUTION. 427 

lost. The stake was his head. He offered a money com- 
pensation, but the dwarf was obdurate. No money w^ould 
he take,^ and prepared to decapitate the god. He will 
have nothing but the prescribed penalty. But the 
astute Loki interposes. " My head, yes, but not my neck, 
is yours. Soft, no haste. He shall have nothing but 
the penalty." ^ 

Clearly your Northman was not deficient in humour. 
Witness Thor's search for the hammer, and his somewhat 
coarse adventures in his journey to the abode of Geirrod. 
Very amusing also is the tale told by Snorri of the dread 
result of over- cramming and the awful end of the sufferer. 
Among their other devices we are told the Asir formed 
a person called Kvasir,^ who became so clever that no 
question could be proposed to him which he was not 
able to solve ; and he traversed the whole world teaching 
wisdom. But merit, then as now, excited envy ; and two 
dwarves, a race always proverbial for spite, set upon him 
unawares and slew him. His blood they caught in a 
vessel, mixed it with honey, and so brewed a liquor which 
renders all who drink of it good poets. Meantime the 
gods, missing their offspring, of whom they were so justly 
proud, inquired of the dwarves what was become of him. 
The assassins boldly replied — and the gods, for aught 
we know to the contrary, accepted the explanation — that 
Kvasir had been suffocated by his own knowledge, be- 
cause he could not meet with persons able to ease and 
disembogue his mind of the wisdom there accumulated, by 
proposing to him such learned questions as were necessary 

^ According to the latest accounts, a jar in token of amity. The result 

Ceneda, a Jew, lost a bet to a Chris- was Kvasir. Here we see the origin 

tian, one Secchi, the stakes being of the North Country practice of spit- 

1000 scudi to a pound of the Jew's ting into your hat for good-luck. The 

flesh. The Christian insisted on hav- crooked sixpence which lurks at the 

ing the flesh. The Jew apjiealed to bottom of many a breeches' pocket, 

the Governor of Venice, and he to the is a remnant of the jiiece of money 

Pope, who sentenced them both to bent over the sick man in Anglo- 

the galleys. Saxon days, and which on liis re- 

- Tlie Aser and Vanir on conclud- covery he carried as an oilcring to 

ing a peace spat simultaneously into the church. 



428 ICELA NDIC LIT ERA TURE. 

to his relief. It is a pity that there was no Vulcanian 
midwife, or Civil Service Examiner, at hand to do for 
Kvasir what was done with Jupiter, to his great comfort 
and speedy recovery, when he was similarly afflicted. "Were 
these two myths descended from some common ancestry ? 
The reader will be happy to learn that this piece of astute 
villany got wind ; the brew aforesaid fell into Odin's 
hands. This was how he became so skilful a poet, and 
this was why poetry came to be called the language of 
the o-ods, and why the Scandinavians, as his descendants, 
were so pre-eminently gifted with the poetic inspiration. 
We may be permitted to add that the fate of Kvasir 
ouo;ht to be a caution to our modern youths against the 
frightful results of over-cramming, a vice so prevalent. 
Let them remember the advice in Havamal, 56, "Let 
every man be wise, not over-wise." 



< 429 ) 



CHAPTER XXIV. 

ICELANDIC PROVERBS. 

Then again for proverbs. Of course Alfred was a great 
adept at proverbs, or reputed to be such ; and there is a 
book of Anglo-Saxon proverbs which some have attributed 
to him. But, as has been well said by Mr. Kemble, Anglo- 
Saxon authors seem to have been more occupied in repro- 
ducing the wisdom of the Latins than in recording the 
deep and humorous philosophy of our own people.^ 

In Alfred's so-called proverbs of the thirteenth century 
(Reliquiae Antiquse, i. 207), we meet with the adage 
referred to by Lady Macbeth,^ "The cat doth love the 
fishe, but she will not wet her foote." Again, in the 
proverbs of the wise Hending, Marcolf's son, in a MS. 
temp, Edward II. (Reliquiae Antiquse, i. 109), " He is fre 
of hors that never hade non," and " oft rap reweth," catch 
our attention. 

But to turn to Scandinavia. That very ancient poem, 
the Havamal, in the Old Edda, at once occurs to us, brim- 
ful from beginning to end of sage rules of life, of wise 
saws, and apothegms, as ever was Shakespeare's Justice ; 
racy too of the soil, and savouring nothing of a biblical 
or classical source. 

" Praise the day when it is evening ; praise a woman 
when she has been burnt" (81), attesting alike the anti- 
quity of the sentiment and the popular verdict upon the 

' We are sorry to say we cannot one perfect simile, comparing the 
call to mind more than one proverb greedy Abbot Henry to a drone, 
in the whole Saxon Chronicle; also - A translation from the Latin. 



430 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

daughters of Enibla. The author still harps upon the same 
string in " Trust not in women, for their hearts were made 
on a turning wheel," which savours of the Greek legend 
of Prometheus (84). And he arrives at a climax in 
" Woman's love is as slippery as unroughed horse-shoe 
upon ice " (90). 

" To 'a bad man never tell thy mishap, or he will take 
advantage of thy open heart" (119), is a piece of advice 
which is matched in Anglo-Saxon, "Hast thou a sore 
foot ? tell not thy foe." 

Here are a few characteristic reflections on friendship. 
The first stanza reminds us of the old sentence, " Idem 
velle atque idem nolle, ea demum firma amicitia est." 

" To thy friend Fair shalt thou talk, 

A friend be tliou, But think false, 

To him and to his friend ; Leasing for lies repay.^ 

But to his friend's unfriends 

No man must " Young was I once, 

Friendship show. I ^''^^•ecl '-^lone, 

Then I missed my way ; 

" Knowest thou hast a friend Was rich, methought, 

Whom thou well canst tiust. When a friend I found ; 

And wilt get good from him ? 'Tis man that gladdeneth man. 

Thy thoughts shalt thou blend 

with his " Hast thou a friend 

And with him gifts exchange, ^ Thou well canst trust ? 

Often to visit him go. ^'""6 thee to hmi often ; 

With bush o'ergrown 

•' Hast thou another And lofty weeds 

Whom thou ill canst trust ? Is the way that no man treads." 

Wilt thou get good from him ? 

But no age, no country, or literature has ought better 

to show than the last saw we shall quote from this 

poem — 

" Dieth foe, But good name 

Dieth friend, It dieth never, 

Dieth too oneself. Once thou hast it gained." 

Christianity may shrug the shoulder at some of these 
sayings, but in the main they evince a lofty tone of mind, 

^ Cf. the old saw, " Giffe-gaffe was a good fellow." 

^ " Speake faire and think what you will." — Old English Proverb. 



NORTHERN WIT AND HUMOUR. 431 

much sound sense, and an abundance of life and energy 
among the people where they grew into a whole.^ 

But to judge of the wit and humour of the Scandin- 
avians, we must read their literature. It is there in the 
rich setting that we become aware of the full beauty and 
wit of their sayings and saws ; and not in a book of pro- 
verbs, where we are left in the dark about the original 
context, the occasion, the company, the features of the 
locality, which led to the impromptu. A brick out of the 
wall or a fragment of moulding fails to give us a notion 
of what the fine old building looked like. To come sud- 
denly on a saw pat to the purpose, as, for instance, when 
Arinbjorn with his " nattvig ero mord\^g " — three words 
only to be given in English by the roundabout " to put 
a man to death at night is murder " — deters Eric, ruler 
of Northumberland, from his fell purpose of slaying on 
the spot the huge Viking poet Egil. Or again, a proverb 
in the mouth of a Njal is a very different thing from 
meeting it away from its proper belongings in the two- 
volume edition of " Icelandic Proverbs." ^ But we will 
mention a few, remarking that, as with us, every proverb 
seems to have its counter-proverb. 

Step-mothers, of course, are in bad odour in the North 
as elsewhere. This is quaint : — 

"A step-child will never get so well into the bosom 
but that the feet will hang out." 

"Wit comes with waxing "= S. Weller's "width and 
wisdom," or "You can'tput an old head on young shoulders;" 
and it is w^ell it is so, for " Wise children never wax old." 

That " the boy gets bigger, but not his breeches," was a 
fact not unknown to Cyrus. 

" Blood goes far, but breeding farther," says much for 
the enlightenment of the Northern heathens. 

" Better one crow in the hand than two in the wood " is 
more definite than our modern English counterpart. 

^ Keyser, Efterladte Skriftcr, Cbristiauia, 1866. 

2 Safn af Isleiizkum Or&kviSum, Copeubagcn, 1830. 



432 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

" Ale is another man" is a motto picturing to us tlie man 
disguised in liquor more vividly than "Wlien the wine's in 
the wit's out." It might well serve as a badge for the Tem- 
perance League. In the " Havamal" (12) there is also a fine 
figure. " The heron of oblivion hight the bird that broods 
over the drunkard and steals away his senses." The poet 
doubtless had his eye on that frequent feature in a Scan- 
dinavian landscape — one of these birds, standing stock- 
still foi; hours as if in deep slumber, rooted to the shore of 
one of his native lakes. 

In " Though the spoon has taken it up, the tongue has 
not tasted it," we recognise an old friend. 

" The best muck is the mould that falls from the 
master's shoes " is a saying which every practical farmer 
will appreciate. It is not unlike our " The master's eye 
maketh the horse fat." 

'"Tis hard to have the needy for neighbours," for 
" where the goat's tethered, there the goat gnaws," was of 
course only a pre-Christian sentiment. 

" Love your neighbour, but let his gate stand still," is 
not unlike another, " Seldom-come is welcome." Both 
must have originated in a year of famine. 

" Men's odds is not great," reminds us of Burns's " A 
man's a man for a' that ; " while " No man makes him- 
self" seems to contradict the existence of that special 
phenomenon of our age — the self-made man. 

From " They can't all have the Bishop for their uncle," 
we surmise that in Iceland an episcopal berth was pretty 
snug. 

" He falls not from the roof who lies on the floor " 
(Pilgrim's Progress) is a sop for those of lowly estate, who 
are told elsewhere "that the lower must lout." 

"Wisdom may be hid, M'it-want not," and "It's hard to 
hunt for one's wits," are the sayings of a quick and ready 
people. 

Never was truer proverb than " Soothsaying is wise 
man's weening." 



ICELANDIC PROVERBS. 433 

"The haddock never wanders so wide it hasn't the 
same spot by its side," is the saw of a maritime race, who 
had found out, like us, that " wliat is bred in the bone 
is never out of the flesh." 

That " It is hard to bring many heads under one hat " 
most chairmen must have found out. 

" Man's list is not land's law " is pithy in the extreme. 

" Healing sores should not be riven " = " Don't rouse 
sleeping dogs." 

" He who lives awaiting dies with wanting" corresponds 
with " It is ill waiting for dead men's shoes." 

" Mighty near my nose, as the seal said when he was 
hit in the eye," reminds us that the nose is the vulner- 
able part of that animal. 

"Many tell of St. Olaf who never saw him" lias a 
local colouring, but is true all the world over. The 
English counterpart is, " Many speake of Eobin Hood that 
never shot in his bowe." 

That consolatory proverb, " AVheu wale is best, bote is 
nest," in its Scandinavian original was "Jjegar bol er hffist 
er bot noest." " Home is home, though it be never so 
homely," occurs in " Havamal" {^-^j). " Where wolf's ears 
are, wolf's teeth are near," ^ is highly characteristic of the 
country and that age of violence. 

" It is easy getting into the king's house, but hard get- 
ting out"(Egil, cap, 71), is a saw which shows that in 
those days the king's notions of meum and tuum were 
necessarily somewhat lax. For the sake alike, then, of his 
purse and his liberty, the udaller knew it was better " to 
hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep," to stay at home 
in simple country quarters rather than frequent a royal 
hall which might at any moment become a dungeon. 

" Too bland is a blemish, too gruff greater," is a multum 
in parvo. The other shape, " Good words won't fill a fast- 
ing wame " =r our " Soft w^ords butter no parsneps," a 
proverb which requires explanation. Objectively it is 

^ Volsung Sag.n, cap. 19. 

2 E 



434 ICELANDIC LITERA TURE. 

true, but subjectively it is tlie most efficacious way to 
thrive. We know without the aid of tlie public analyst 
that the article is adulterated ; but we swallow it whole- 
sale, deleterious though it be ; " Popiilus vult decipi et deci- 
piatur," and that in spite of the Psalmist's plain caution, 
" With the flatterers are busy mockers." " Havamal " (25) 
renders it thus, " In the eyes of the unwise all assenters 
are friends, but when he gets into court he finds his mis- 
take." 

" The kettle banters the pot, and black they are both," 
shows whence comes our homely English equivalent. 

" 'Tis fox that fox shall fetch (catch)" = " Set a thief to 
catch a thief," has been fully realised in quite modern 
days, and on a grand scale in our metropolis. 

" It is merely a transition, said the fox when they flayed 
him alive," is an observation attributed in England to the 
eel. 

" The meanest guest has keenest eye " is well under- 
stood by all, especially by the entertainers of poor rela- 
tions. 

" Eolk are found even over the Fells " is the remark of a 
people who had seen the world. 

" Many meet who made no tryst " appeals to the expe- 
rience of all the ages. 

"Bad will not be good till worse comes after" reminds 
us of " In the country of the blind a one-eyed man is 
king." 

" Thanks are good, but a gift is better," is full of worldly 
wisdom. 

" You must aim at the bird before you can get him " = 
" Nothing venture, nothing have." 

" Faint heart never won fair lady " is of course found in 
the North as well as elsewhere, by way of encouragement 
to those lords of creation who are so fearful of their fate, 
or of so small deserts, that they dare not put it to the test 
either of winning or losing all. 

" One must cultivate the oak under which one has to 



ICELANDIC PROVERBS. 43- 

live " = to make the best of a bad job (Egil, c. 71), or to 
establish a modus vivendi with those among whom we 
live. Again, in "Harbard's Ljod" (21), "The oak gets 
what another tree loses " = " One man's meat is another 
man's poison." 

Some of the legal saws and maxims are particularly 
terse, but they lose in transference, the alliteration being 
absent. Such is the famous motto, " With laws shall man 
build up the land, with unlaw lay it waste "^ (Njal) ; " One 
witness is nought, two as good as ten ; " " Landmarks are 
neighbours' peacemakers," &c. 

^ "Written over the Court of Law in Coi)eiihiigen. 



( 436 ) 



CHAPTEE XXV. 

ICELANDIC AND DANISH BALLADS. 

In this rapid survey of the literature of Iceland, as com- 
pared with that of the Anglo-Saxons, we must not omit 
the ballads (I. fornkveeSi, D. Kcempeviser). In the Stur- 
lunga Saga,^ which is a most interesting history of Ice- 
land in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, besides some 
lines from the " Voluspa," there are two bits of ballads 
(danz) preserved, one of a.d. 1221, and one referring to 
the year 1264, which are exactly of the same metre and 
flow as that of the modern ballads.^ Many of the burdens 
of these are of great beauty, and may be centuries older 
than the ballads to which they are affixed. They refer 
to lost love, merriment, &c. The historical ballads seem 
to have been of later growth. For seven hundred years 
were these ballads sung in Iceland as an accompaniment 
to the dance at their country wakes, in spite of the bishops, 
who endeavoured to put them down ; and it was only in 
the last century that they died out, about the time that 
Percy's "Eelics" were published in England (1770). The 
Icelandic ballads are remarkable as often dispensing with 
the characteristic alliteration.^ 

Specially worthy of our attention are the old Danish 
ballads,* the number of which is very great. Those on 
the old Northern gods stand foremost. Then come heroic- 

1 Oxford University Press, edited ^ Cleasby's Dictionary, sub voce 
by G. Vigfusson. "Danz." 

2 Collected in the west of Iceland ■* Danske Folkeviser af Svend 
in the seventeenth century. Cf. Is- Grundtvig, Copenhagen, 1853, &qq., 
lenzk FornkvseSi af Svend Grundt- not yet finished; a truly interesting 
vig og Ion Sigurdson, 1854-59. work. 



DANISH BALLADS. 437 

mythic ballads, with Dietrich, Grimild, &c., for their cen- 
tral figure, followed l3Y others of a heroic or romantic 
character. The age of these ballads has been a moot- 
point with antiquaries. Looking at the MSS., they must 
all be older than 1500. Now Saxo in his " Historia 
Danica" (1200-10) gives Latin versions of several of 
these ballads ; and those who are well up in such 
matters discern plain evidence of Saxo's models havin<T 
been in the old ' Stave rhyme ' and ' FornyrSalag ; ' so 
that these ballads in their present shape are subsequent 
to him. In all probability they are modelled after the 
German lyric court-poetry of the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries. Indeed, at this period, several knightly poets 
of Germany were domiciled at the Danish court. Thus 
the celebrated Heinrich Lrauenlob (died 13 18) composed 
a poem in honour of Eric Menved.^ He and other poets 
having brought their German rhymes and melodies to 
Denmark, the fancy of the people was so much caught 
by them that they transformed their old ballads into 
this new foreign style. In the background of all these 
ballads we have the Danish nobleman with his castle, his 
gardens and orchards, the lordly hall and lady's bower, 
his knightly tastes, manners, and sympathies. Storm, 
therefore, in opposition to Grundtvig's theory of their being 
popular ballads at bottom, argues that these originated 
with, and were spread through the land by, the knightly 
class, who in the warlike days of the Waldemars became 
so powerful as to overshadow all others, the king being 
only the president of the council, and the clergy bound 
to them by self-interest. To conclude, then ; the Danish 
ballads, according to Storm, are, in their present shape, 
not older at farthest than the end of the thirteenth cen- 
tury, and are transformations of old ballads in an older 
shape and metre, the historic facts taking the colouring 
of the time of their composition. 

1 Sagnkredsene om Karl den Store og Didrik af Bern hos den Norsko 
Folk af Gustav Storm, Christiania, 1874. •> 



438 ICE LA NDIC LITER A TURE. 

Tlie identity of many of our Border and Scottish ballads 
with these Northern songs has been pointed out by several 
authors. " I'air Anna " occurs in Danish, though Walter 
Scott (" Border Minstrelsy," iii. 36) referred it to a Erench 
source. " The Cruel Sister " is likewise among the Danish 
ballads. " The Watersprite's Treachery " reappears in the 
" Demon Lover" of Scotland ; while " Hrosmer" is the pro- 
totype of the Scotch " Burd Ellen," which receives fresh 
interest when we call to mind that in " King Lear" (act iii. 
scene 5) Edgar quotes from it : " Child Ptoland to the dark 
tower came," &c. But these by no means exhaust the list 
of coincident ballads. 

We may here enlarge upon one instance, and a typical 
one, of the world-wide spread of these ballads, and their 
tenacity of life. " Eavngard og Memmering " ^ is the name 
of a Danish ballad, being the story of Gunhilda, daughter 
of Canute the Great, who was married (1036) to the Ger- 
man Emperor Henry. After she had lived for some time 
as his exemplary wife, the false Eavngard impeaches her 
honour. To meet her accuser in the field, her only cham- 
pion was the faithful Memmering, an old retainer, the 
rest having shrunk from the contest. By the favour of 
Heaven, her humble knight gained an unexpected victory, 
and the traitor was defeated. 

Now William of Malmesbury - relates that Gunhilda, 
the daughter of Canute, married the Emperor Henry of 
Germany, and was falsely accused by a courtier of 
gigantic stature, against whom her only champion was a 
little boy she brought from England. He, nevertheless, 
slew the traitor. The lady was thus shown to be innocent 
of the charge ; but, with the spirit of her race, she sepa- 
rated from her husband never to return, in spite of all his 
entreaties, and took the veiL He further adds that this 
tale was sung as a street-ballad " in his century," i.e., the 
twelfth. Matthew Paris, again, in the fourteenth century, 
mentions it as among the ballads of his day. A very 

1 Grundtvig, i. 117. " GesU Keg. Anyl., ii. 197. 



DA iXISH BA LLA DS IN SCO TLA ND. 459 

romantic tale, doubtless, but unfortunately not true of 
Gunbilda, who lived on the best terms with her husband, 
and died of the plague only two years after her marriage 
(1038). Somehow the popular imagination had con- 
founded her with the Empress Kunigunde, her contem- 
porary, who, on her virtue being called in question, had 
proved her innocence by w^alking barefoot over hot plough- 
shares. She died two years after Gunhilda. 

We find this tale in " Sir Hugh le Blond " in Scott's 
" Border Minstrelsy," ii. 274, where the traitor's name is 
Eodingham, and in " Sir Aldingar " in Percy's " Eelics," ii. 
53 ; both which names recall the original perjurer, Eaven- 
gard. But the story existed also in Lombardy, according to 
Paulus Diaconus, who wrote in the year 800. The king there 
is Eodoald, Gundiberta the queen, and her champion Carel. 
So that there is good reason to suppose it had followed 
the migrations of the Gothic races, adapting itself parasi- 
tically to like events or names in the countries through 
which it passed. Curiously enough, under the name of 
Olif and her son Landres it appears as an episode, and a 
very incongruous one, in the Norse saga of Charlemagne.^ 
It is there stated that this tale was met with by Bjarni 
Erlingson during the winter which he spent in Scotland 
after the death of Alexander, grandfather of Princess 
Margaret of Norway. He took a copy of it home to Nor- 
way, where he had it translated (1287-90) from English 
into Norse. One English word occurs in it: Stivard= 
steward. In this tale, which extends over more than 
twenty pages of prose, Olive is supposed to be sister of 
Charlemagne. The English poem was itself a version of 
the French " Doon de la Eoche," with an alteration of the 
uames.^ 

We may add that the singular likeness of many of the 
songs of the two countries in depth of feeling, in views of 
society, in external form, has been explained by Geyer, by 

' Ed. Unger, Christiania, i860, p. 50. 
* Cf Storm, Karlmagnus Saga, 66. 



440 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

W. Grimm, and others, on the principle tliat we and the 
Scandinavians received these traditions as our common 
property from the most remote period, before the immi- 
gration of our ancestors to England.^ 

Be it here noted in passing, if such minor matters are 
worthy the attention of the learned, that our nursery 
rhymes once lulled to sleep tlie infants of those rough 
Northern mothers, before they came to us.^ From the 
ash Yggdrasil, Jack's beanstalk is a sucker. That ami- 
able stranger who smiled on our wondering infancy, ' The 
Man in the ]\Ioon,' is all that is left to us of " Bil 
and Hiuki," the lass and the lad who, while engaged in 
carrying water from the fountain, in a bucket slung 
atliwart their shoulders, were conveyed to heaven by 
Mcini ; an allegory most likely of two phases of the moon, 
and an allusion to the rise and fall of the tide.^ So 
Odin pawning his eye for a drink of Mimer's fount must 
be an anthropomorphic version of sunset in the sea. Such 
is the burr-like tenacity with which mythological stories, 
especially when so life-like as those of Scandinavia, cling 
to the memory of a race in its age of ductility and im- 
pression. The mythology of the Eskimo in Greenland is 
mainly Scandinavian, although the natives were cut off 
from that race early in the fifteenth century. In this 
connection we must not omit to mention that the Green- 
land Saga is very interesting.^ 

^ Cf. Jamieson, Northern Anti- ' Prose Edda, i. 56. 
quities and Popular Ballads, li. 87. ^ Gronlands Historiske Mindes- 

-Cf.Halli well, "Nursery Rhymes," mserker, Copenhagen, 1838. Cf. 

preface to second edition ; "Oxonian Antiquitates Americanse, Hafniae, 

in Tlielemarkeu," ii. 180, sqq. 1^37- 



( 441 



CHAPTEE XXVr. 

A MEDLEY. 

It is quite beyond the scope of tins work to enter into 
any elaborate discussion on tbe abstruse points of the old 
iSTorse or Anglo-Saxon philology ; how, for instance, a 
Gothic, Anglo-Saxon, or old Norse word would of necessity 
shape itself in English. Eather let us address ourselves 
to the more salient features of family likeness between 
English and Scandinavian. There are many English 
phrases from the North, but words perhaps which find 
their analogues only in Scandinavia are more interesting. 
Looking at them, we feel inclined to ask, if our tongue is so 
Northern now, what would book-English have been if our 
capital had been York ? Take that genuine old quasi- 
relative, used all over England in the dialects, ' as,' e.g., 
' him as ' = ' he who.' It is the Is. indec. particle ' es,' 
more commonly ' er,' the Old-Norse language possessing no 
relative pronoun. And this reminds us that ' are,' third 
per. plur. pres. of ' to be,' one of the very hinges and pivots 
of our tongue, is the Northern ' eru,' which has utterly 
superseded the Anglo-Saxon 'sindon' (Germ. 'sind'). 
' To call ' and ' to take,' which are such indispensable 
words, and used by all grades of society, for these we 
must thank Scandinavia. The Anglo - Saxon ' niman ' 
(Germ. ' nehmen ' = ' take '), and ' clepan ' = ' to clepe,' 
we could not away with, though the latter still lingers on 
in ' yclept.' " That be far from thee " is an Icelandic, not 
an Anglo-Saxon, form of speech. Again, the preposition 
' a ' seems to afford us an instance of the triumph of Ice- 
landic over Amrlo-Saxon. In Antrlo-Saxon it was ' on,' 



442 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

^vhich has given place to ' a ' in the compounds ' aloft ' (= in 
the lift or air), ' athwart,' ' abroad,' and numberless others. 
'Alone/ however, is referred to the German 'allein' = 
all one. In the participial forms, ' a-doing,' ' a-talking,* 
the ' a ' is possibly not a preposition, but a prefix. The ' a ' 
in our ' once a year ' is not an article, but a preposition. 
By the way, one hears in the Eastern counties ' to year ' for 
' this year.' When a Northumberland man talks of ' gang- 
ing till a place,' he is using the old Norse tongue, which, 
not having the form ' to,' employed ' til ' for definitions 
both of time and place ; wdiereas modern English uses 
' till ' of time only, and ' to ' of place. Take the English 
word ' fellow.' It is not to be found in early Anglo-Saxon. 
Your ' good fellow,' your ' college fellow,' must go to Ice- 
land for his name ; ' fe-lag ' = the laying of one's fees 
together = partnership.^ Your ' good fellow ' naturally 
suggests the thought of his yoke-fellow, the 'jolly fellow.' 
Now the dictionaries, of course, refer this word 'jolly' to 
the French ' joli.' But this etymology admits of reconsi- 
deration if it is true that ' J61 '( = ' Yule ') signifies ' mirth,' 
'jollity,' and that Odin, as the Christmas host of the 
deities, was called ' Jolnir.' 

But to pass from the heathen to the corresponding 
Christian festival. Wlien the Provost of Queen's College, 
Oxford, marches into hall in that preprandial procession 
on Christmas Day, chanting the praises of the boar's head, 
it is generally supposed that it is in memory of a learned 
scholar of Queen's, who hundreds of years ago choked a 
boar, which attacked him in Shotover Wood, by ramming 
an Aristotle down his throat. But it is not so. The Pro- 
vost is only doing what tlie Pagan priest of Freyr, the 
germinal god, did at the Temple of Upsala, to propitiate 
him for the new year, a thousand years ago ; to say nothing 
about the like offerings to Osiris in Egypt thousands of 

^ ' Felagus ' occurs in late Anglo-Saxon. Our ' boy ' is not to be found in 
Anglo-Saxon. We recognise liim again in the Danisli ' pog,' Swedish ' poik6,' 
and Welsh ' bachgen.' 



A MEDLEY. 443 

years before that. The boar's head, borne aloft in a lordly 
dish, " bedecked with a gay garland," " bedecked with bays 
and rosemary," is surely " Gullinbursti " (Gold-mane), the 
hog sacred to Freyr, as well as his sister Freya. In the 
"Herv. and Heidr. Saga" (332, Bugge, Cliristiania, 1S73), 
King Heidrek, a great worshipper of Freyr, fattened up a 
boar till it was as big as the biggest steer, and so sleek that 
every bristle shone like gold. The Swedish rustics used 
to have pastry pigs on their tables all through Yule. These 
they kept till sowing-time, when they were shared between 
the horse and the ploughman.^ In Olaf the Peacock's 
grand halP at Hjardaholt, one of the carvings on the wall 
pictured Freyr riding in his chariot, drawn by Gold-mane, 
to the funeral of Balder, as we learn from the verse pre- 
served in the prose Edda of that celebrated poem, " Hiis- 
drapa," the extempore effusion of Ulfr Uggason as he sat 
at meat and drink and surveyed these sculptured myths.^ 
Beowulf (2910; cf. 2227) wore a helmet with the boar's 
head upon it, " wondrously wrought in days of yore." 
Indeed this porcine device was common to all the Northern 
nations who worshipped Freya and Freyr. The helmet of 
the Norwegian king, Ali, was called Hildigolltr, ' the boar 
of war,' and was prized beyond measure by his victors 
(Prose Edda, i. 394). But long before that, Tacitus 
(Germ., 45) had recorded that the Esthonians, east of the 
Baltic, wore swine-shaped amulets, as a symbol of the 
mother of the gods. 

Let us here mention that the cross-buns, &c., of Good 
Friday, which recent antiquaries have identified with 
the cakes laid on the bier of Adonis, are most likely a 
survival of a Northern rite. Certainly the custom among 
undergraduates of drinking sconces in College Hall is the 
' at drekka viti ' of the sagas. 

That variously spelt word ' undorn ' (in Volusp., 6, it 
must mean ' afternoon ; ' see vElf ric's Colloquy) survives 

1 "Lexicon My thologicum " in Edd. Poet, iii., suh voce "Gullinbursti." 
2 See "uxouian iu Iceland." ^ Laxdoela Saga, c. 29. 



444 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

in the English dialects in its derived sense ' luncheon ' (cf. 
Peacock, " Dialect of Corringham," ' Andra '). The latter 
syllable of our national dish, beef-steak, is from the Ice- 
landic ' steikja,' to broil, not from the German ' stiick,' a 
piece, as suggested by Archbishop Trench. That matter 
of such importance to us all, ' harvest,' Icelandic ' haust,' 
we find in Sleswig in the form of ' harrest.' But not only 
do our substantial realities hail from Scandinavia, but also 
our most evanescent fancies and visions. Our ' dreams ' 
are the old Norse ' draumr.' The An^lo-Saxon 'dream' 
— 'joy/ ' music,' "while the old Norse ' svefn ' (= ' sleep ') 
was used by our forefathers for sleep's accident, a dream. 
We have shown elsewhere that the common etymology of 
our 'warlock' is Anglo-Saxon 'va^r-loga' = 'truce-breaker/ 
But in Cleasby's Dictionary it is derived from ' varS- 
lokkur ' = ' w^eird songs,' the wizard's utterances having 
com^e to mean the wizard himself. 

Many of our features of physical geography are pure 
Scandinavian. That place so well known to us at the foot 
of the loliite. cliffs of Cleveland (Klivlond), Whitby, was 
known to the Saxons only by the less euphonious name 
of Streonschalch. The three ' Eidings ' of Yorkshire are 
merely a third part (Icelandic ' Tjridjungr ') ; every county 
in Iceland was divided into three parts. The ' Rape ' of 
Bramber in Sussex is Icelandic ' hreppr,' a division or 
district. Filey-' brigg,' the natural pier of rock which 
runs far out to sea, in sight of Scarborough, is the Icelandic 
' Bryggja ' = a pier : Icelandic ' bru ' — bridge ; and yon- 
der ' coble,' skimming over Bridlington Bay, is the ' kei- 
puU ' of the old Norse fishermen. When a vessel ' rides ' 
at anchor in Yarmouth ' Roads,' the expressions are Scan- 
dinavian. The Scotch ' skerries ' remind us of a time 
when the Danes, not the Saxons, were lords of tlie ocean ; 
a tale repeated in the name of those two headlands, the 
Great and Little Orm's (serpent's) Head, between which lies 
the modern Welsh bathing-place, Llandudno. And not far 
from thence is ' the Calf,' at the southern extremity of the 



A MEDLEY. 445 

Isle of Man, which signifies in Icelandic ' a little island 
near a large one/ ' the Cow ; ' a signification not found in 
Anglo-Saxon. That wonderful gap in the Shetland cliff, 
' Grind of Navir,' would have a clearer meaning for the 
islanders if they had read of that desperate leap of Her- 
moder's over ' Helgrind,' ^ i.e., ' Hellsgate,' when he went 
to bring back Balder (Prose Edda, 49). Our Stanhopes 
may learn from St. Margaret's ' Hope ' in the Orkneys, 
with its rounded hooped shape, that their old name is 
' Stonehaven,' or recess of the sea, in which sense ' hop ' 
constantly occurs in the map of Iceland, while its Celtic 
analogue meant the upper nook of a valley. The ' bore ' or 
tidal wave in the Trent is there called the ' Eger,' the Scan- 
dinavian river-god. And being down, so to say, at the 
waterside, let us point out that the ' foreshore,' so often 
mentioned in our courts of law = Icelandic ' fjara,' as in 
the alliterative phrase 'milli fjalls og fjoru,' 'between fell 
and foreshore.' 'Gill,' 'carr' (= brushwood), 'scroggs' 
(=r wild woodland), of Lincolnshire are purely Icelandic. 
The drizzling fog borne down on the coast of that country 
in bad weather is known there by the Scandinavian name 
' sea- rog' =:' sea-smoke.' Our common jjlace 'waterfall' 
becomes a picture - word in Scandinavia, ' fors ' = the 
' force ' of Westmoreland, i.e., the stream in a state of rage 
and fury. The ' gates ' (streets) of York and Leeds are the 
same thing as the ' gade ' of Copenhagen. Tooley Street in 
the Borough, as well as the church in the Old Jewry, pre- 
serves the memory of St. Olaf. Why should I insist upon 
what the Danish antiquary, Worsaae, first prominently 
brouglit before us,- that the invariable mark of a Scandina- 
vian settlement in England is the termination ' by ' (from 
' bua,' to dwell) ? We find scores of villages with their 
names ending thus, from the east coast to Ptugby and 

1 Some derive the name of the mon- Irlaiid," Copenhagen, 1859. Cf. "Den 

ster Grendel from 'grind,' quasi a Danske Erobering af England ogNor- 

' prisoner,' one pent up within a mandiet," Copenhagen, 1863. "Fagr- 

lattice or gate. skinna," p. 15, mentions GrinisVjy 

'^ " Minder cm de Danske og Nor- and Hogsfleet as places with Norse 

msendene i England, Skotland, og names. 



446 ICELANDIC LITER A TURE. 

Derby (Deoraby, one of the five towns t<aken from the 
Danes ; S. Chron., 942), the town of wild beasts, pointing 
to a time wlien the Northman and the wolf both held their 
own in the JMidlands ; wliile Tenby in the west tells a 
similar tale. Our ' ills ' come from Scandinavia, as the 
Saxons thought for many generations ; but ' evil ' comes 
from the Saxons. When we call a man ' stone-deaf,' the 
intensive ' stone ' finds its parallel in the Icelandic ' stein,' 
e.g., 'stein ogr ' = ' stone wud ' = ' very mad.' In Icelandic 
the negative is u, e.g., ' lifrigr ' = ' unpeace,' which is quite 
in accordance with the genius of the English tongue, or 
Mr. Bright — self-constituted judge ! — would not have attri- 
buted to a great English statesman ' hearty unwisdom,' or 
a child say, this is very 'uneasy,' instead of 'difficult.' 
Hunferth in " Beowulf " is called ' J>yle,' which Bosworth 
connects with ])il (=: deal), making him to be ' the speaker 
from a boarded place,' like the public orator at Commemo- 
ration, But this word (J^ulr) occurs very early indeed on 
the Snoldelev Eunic stone (Thorsen, " De Danske Eune- 
niindesmserker," p. 19), and is generally interpreted to 
mean ' a sayer of saws,' ' an orator' (cf. " Havamal," 135), 
where reverence for the grey-haired reciter of sagas is 
inculcated. So, again, in " Vaf))ru5nismal" (9), one night 
a stranger arrives at the abode of the giant, but hesi- 
tates to advance into the hall. Now it was always the 
custom in Scandinavia to make the meal a feast of reason 
and flow of soul, poets and elders reciting things new and 
old for the gratification of the company, whether poems or 
stories, enigmas or questions of ancient wisdom. So the 
giant summons the stranger, who was Odin, to advance 
and take his seat, and says, " Now we shall try who knows 
most, the guest or the aged speaker" (l^ulr). 

Tidings, good or bad, come to us from Scandinavia. 
Iceland is the only Scandinavian, and indeed Euro- 
pean country, except England, where ' the good tidino-s ' 
are called ' gospel ; ' and that old-fashioned preacher of it. 
Sir Hugh Evans, of Shakespeare notoriety, were he in the 



A MEDLEY. 447 

flesh, would deliglit to recognise liis own title in ' Sira' the 
prefix to a clergyman's name in that country, his patro- 
nymic being omitted. The Anglo-Saxons do not seem to 
have been acquainted M'ith the word ' to die,' which is 
Icelandic ' deyja ; ' they used instead ' ge-swiltan,' which 
in Icelandic (' svelta ') =r ' to starve,' ' to die of hunger.' 
Our ' skin ' came probably straight and unaltered out of 
Scandinavia, otherwise it would have been ' shin,' after the 
analogy of ' ship,' Icelandic ' skib.' Our ' wrist,' by the 
way=Icelandic ' vrist,' i.e., the junction of the foot with the 
leg, i.e., the instep. Icelandic 'skapr '=.' case ' or ' drawer,' 
still extant in the Lincolnshire schoolboy's 'scob.'^ When 
the East Anglian mother ' bastes ' her child, she is unwit- 
tingly using an Icelandic word. That ' haunt ' comes from 
' ond,' ' a spirit,' is, we fear, a more ingenious than correct 
etymology. 

The word ' ransack ' will be sought for in vain in Anglo- 
Saxon dictionaries, though the meaning of the word was 
known to our forefathers by a too sad experience. It is 
the Is. 'rannsaka,' to search a house (rann), which the 
Danes often did without any warrant. 

Pity we did not naturalise among us the terse Scandin- 
avian word ' ifa ' - = ' to if ' = ' to doubt ; ' a word which 
Eichard III. was on the verge of coining in his "If! 
talkest thou to me of ifs ! " The same may be said of 
those handy words 'hausta'='to draw near to autumn,' 
and ' vara ' = ' to draw near to spring ; ' ' jata ' = ' to say 
yea,' and ' nita ' = ' to say nay ; ' ' tvi-henda ' = ' to wield 
with two hands ; ' a method of speech which the acute 
Yankee is beginning to affect when he 'tables' a motion 
or ' wires ' a message. In Anglo-Saxon, however, we had 
' dagian ' = ' to day,' i.e., ' to dawn.' This multum-in-parvo 
method further appears in Is. in ' feSgin ' = ' f atlier and 
daughter,' ' nutSgin' = ' mother and son,' 'systkin' = ' brother 
and sister.' Our ' arch ' = ' sly,' is very different in mean- 

^ A Winchester boy would make it ' box ' spelt backwards. 
^ From this word Thorpe would derive 'Ifiiig,' the ever-moving (vacil- 
lating) river between the giants aud the gods, which never froze. 



448 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

ing from Is. ' argr ' = ' effeininatc' Our ' ignorant,' ' silly ' 
fellow once meant a ' happy ' fellow ; reminding us of the 
old saw which makes ignorance and bliss go together. 

What a singular instance of degeneracy is our word 
' gossip,' originally = the sponsor in baptism : the relation 
according to the Spirit : cf. Anglo-Saxon ' sib ' = ' affinity, 
peace ; ' Is. ' sif.' But in Icelandic, ' Sif ' took a more 
poetical shape. She was the wife of Thor, the golden- 
haired goddess, i.e., mother earth with her golden grain. 
She was the goddess of the sanctity of the family and of 
wedlock, whence her name. In this connection our Eng- 
lish word ' friend,' Is. ' vinr,' occurs to us, a word quite 
at home in Anglo-Saxon, ' freond,' Ulf. ' frijonds,' Germ. 
' freund.' The word is also to be found in Scandinavia, 
but never in the sense of ' friend,' always of ' kinsman : ' a 
change in the sense of the Avord not to be passed unnoticed, 
being in itself curious, and characteristic of our ancestors 
on the Northern side. With them, the bonds of kinship 
and brotherhood were strong, and each family formed a 
kind of confederacy or fellowship, equally bound in rites 
and in duties. But every rule has an exception, for there 
is an Icelandic proverb meaning that friendship is some- 
times more trustworthy than kinship : ' Let there be a 
firth between kindred, but a creek between friends.' 

Talking of fjords, who would have thought that ' Water- 
ford ' is a corruption from ' vedra fjord,' the ' creek of the 
wethers ' ? (AI. Mtiller, " Chips "). 

The mention of ' fostr,' which is not found in Ano-lo- 
Saxon proper, or in any of the Teutonic tongues, will not 
be out of place here. It is, in fact, an Icelandic word = 
' the fostering of a child,' an institution well known to the 
Northern nations, and also in Scotland, as we learn from 
W. Scott and other writers. When our King Athelstan 
fostered Hacon, the son of Harold Harfagr, he was uncon- 
sciously performing an act of submission in tlie eyes of the 
crafty Norwegian ; for, says Snorri, " Sa var utignari er 
bgrum fostraSi barn." He was looked on as inferior in 



FOSTER-BROTHERHOOD. ' 449 

rank who fostered other men's chikh^en. There was a very 
curious custom in Scandinavia, ' foster-brotherhood ' = a 
vow on the part of two persons to eternal friendship, and 
to avenge the death of the survivor of them. A relioious 
rite consecrated the act. The parties gashed the pahns of 
their hands, and let the blood run into a hollow in the 
ground (a foot-mark in the case of Gunnar and Sigurd, 
" Brot af SigurgarkviSu," 18), and then stirred it together, 
mould and all, upon which they shook hands, and the cere- 
mony was complete. In the gold-age of Heaven, which 
was spoilt by the coming thither of the women out of 
Jotunheim,! in those days when strife was unknown, 
Loki, afterwards the representative of all that was evil in 
the world, and Odin, the type of the higher and nobler 
life, w^ere one, and joined together by this blood-brother- 
hood : a fact of which Loki reminds Odin when on tlie 
point of being kicked out of the banquet of the gods,- and 
Odin cannot resist the appeal to so sacred a tie. Later on 
the rite was more elaborate. In the " Saga of Gisli Sur- 
son," the four men pare from the earth a long strip of turf, 
leaving the ends still adhering to the ground. This arch 
they support with a rune-lettei-ed spear, and then pass 
under it. Which done, they wound themselves till blood 
comes, wdiich is let flow into the mould from which the 
sod was cut, and the whole is stirred together. After- 
wards they all kneel and swear an oath that each would 
avenge the other's death, as though he were his brother ; 
and they call all the gods to witness, and shake hands 
upon it.^ 

One of the most interesting of the Icelandic sagas, tlie 
" Foster-brother Saga," relates the adventures of two such 
sworn brothers. The custom can be traced farther east. 
Joinville, "Memoirs of St. Louis," a.d. 1250, p. 483: "I 

1 Prose Edda, cap. xiv. = 'duel ') the old heathen method of 

2 jEgisdiekka, ix. ordeal (Laxdoola, 18), before tliat of 
" Gisla Surss. Saga, p. 11, Copen- beaiiug hot iron was introduced with 

hagen, 1848. Thispassingbeneath the Christianity from England and Ger- 
sod was (together with ' holuiganga ' many. Is. Diet., mb voce "Bjra." 

2 F 



4 5o ICE LA NDIC LIT ERA TURE. 

heard the noble Knight Coucy tell the King that the King 
of the Commains, in order to have greater faith in the 
professions of the Emperor of Constantinople, caused their 
people on both sides to be blooded, and made each drink 
alternately of the other's blood, a sign of brotherhood, 
saying they were brothers of the same blood." In Africa 
a similar rite still exists. Sir S. Baker relates how he 
entered into brotherhood with a chief on the Upper Nile 
by each drawing his own blood and placing a drop of it 
on the tongue of the other. 

Connected doubtless with this is, and was, that custom 
for the new-made members of secret societies to be ini- 
tiated by the tasting of blood. There are those who 
would quote here, as a parallel, that sacred brotherhood 
into which each new member is fully and finally admitted 
by partaking figuratively of the blood of the Founder, as 
He himself prescribed. But they forget that the initiatory 
rite among the Pagans was quite incapable of repetition. 
" Do this as oft as ye drink it " is absolutely inconsistent 
with the above idea. Keferring to ancient faiths, we may 
here note that the Voluntary principle in religion, so 
dear in these days, and in all days to Englishmen, was in 
full operation in Iceland a thousand years ago. The Pre- 
fects of the districts in heathen times combined in their 
own person the office of magistrate and priest, and that 
was one reason why, on the introduction of Christianity, it 
was impossible to put down clerical marriage. But every 
man might build a temple for himself, and it was quite 
free to the neighbours " to sit under him " or go to the 
mother temple of the chief lord. 



( 451 ) 



CHAPTEE XXVII. 



FURTHER STUDY OF WORDS. 



But let us proceed with our study of words. The ' book ' 
you are reading is a word common to all the Teutonic and 
Scandinavian languages from Ulfilas to the present day, 
being doubtless akin to the Latin, ' fagus,' Greek, ' (p^jjo^,' 
' beech,' the bark of which tree in the early days did duty 
for the future parchment to write upon. Our ' write,' 
however, from the Anglo - Saxon ' writan ' (from which 
language Scandinavia also seems to have adopted it as 
(' (v)rita '), which always means ' to write on parchment,' 
nowhere occurs on the Eunic stones or in the old poets, 
the word there used being ' rista ' = to carve or scratch 
characters.! 

In the East -Anglian saw, 'A good riddance of bad 
rubbish,' riddance = clearing away. In Icelandic, ' rydja ' 
= to clear away, to make a clearing in a forest. To 
* scamp ' (work), a not uncommon thing, it is said, in these 
days of high wages, is akin to 'skammr' (= short), i.e., 
= to cut it short, not finish it. 

Our ' to cap verses ' and ' handicap ' are analogous to 
Icelandic ' kapp ' = contention, from ' kamp.' 

In ' spick and span ' we are reminded of ' spannyr ' = 
span-new, from ' span ' = a shaving. In " Egil," yy, it is used 
of the hero who came out of a great fight unscathed. 
'Fussy' has degenerated in meaning; in Anglo-Saxon 
and Icelandic, ' fus ' or ' fuss.' ' Fusan ' in Anglo-Saxon = 

^ In mediaeval Latin ' charaxare '= both 'to write' and ' to scratch,' e. (7., 
"Charaxat ungulia genas." — Prudent. 



452 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

to hurry, to drive, a word used later by the amiable 
Gornoille in Layamon's " Brut " when she proposed to 
eliminate old Leir's retainers. 

Our word ' window ' (Anglo-Saxon, eag-J)yrl, ' eye-turl ') i 
is also an Icelandic word, ' vindauga,' wind's-eye ; while 
* windlass ' is a corruption of ' vindass ' = winding-pole. 

' Gain,' the sole object, it is said, of this nation of shop- 
keepers, is only found in the Icelandic dictionary, not in 
Anglo-Saxon or German. Our ' to count noses ' surely 
refers to Icelandic ' nose-tax ' =: poll-tax. Hence arose the 
amusing legend that King Thorgisl, the Norse conqueror of 
Ireland (830-845), levied a tax on the natives in default of 
which they were to lose their noses ; — an instance of how, 
on the sandy foundation of a mistaken word, a circum- 
stantial historical edifice gets built, which, in this case, it 
took the energetic onslaught of Professor Munch to over- 
throw. Take another salient feature of the human body, 
'the toe.' This is to be found in Anglo-Saxon 'ta,' as 
well as in Icelandic, but, singularly enough, ' heel ' is pure 
Icelandic, ' hsell,' which is not to be found in Anglo-Saxon. 
Our ' beard ' is probably radically identical with Icelandic 
' barS,' which signifies ' edge,' ' rim.' The Icelandic for 
this hirsute appendage is 'skegg' (= ' shagginess'), a 
much more expressive term. 

Let us here devote a few words to the favourite 
liquor of Englishmen — 'ale,' otherwise 'beer.' But 
though we use both words, the former used to be the 
more common. Now ' beer ' is a word of German extrac- 
tion, while ' ale ' is a purely Scandinavian word, which 
meant any intoxicating drink. So in that fearfully inte- 
resting passage in the Old Edda, when Gudrun, in revenge 
for the slaughter of her brothers, had murdered her chil- 
dren by Atle and dished their hearts up for supper, we 
are told how there was " a resounding of the ale-cups 
heavy with wine as the stately long-bearded Huns took 

1 See p. 206. It would be more correct there to describe ' Turl ' as origin- 
ally the postern in the city wall, visible in the old map of Oxford. 



ALE V. BEER. 453 

their places in tlie hall." There is another passage in 
that curious philological poem, the " Alvismal," where 
light is thrown upon the two words. Thor, on returnino- 
home, encounters the dwarf Alvis (all- wise) in the act of 
eloping with his beloved daughter. " Who are you Mdth 
that pallid look? You must have been to-night among 
the dead." The dwarf declares himself to be one of the 
underground folks ; but he says the lady had been pro- 
mised him, and that she was his, and fair play's a jewel. 
The god replies he was absent, and not consulted in the 
matter, but agrees, if 'AH -wise,' who has been a great 
traveller, having, in fact, visited all nine worlds, will 
answer some questions he has to put to him, he shall have 
the damsel. Thor's stratagem succeeded. The wise dwarf, 
put on his mettle, and evidently flattered by the ever- 
recurring soft sawder of the god, does his very best to 
enlighten his interrogator, and quite forgets the approach 
of day, which surprises him above-ground, and he has to 
pay the usual penalty inflicted on any of his race who are 
found loafing about on this earth after daybreak. He is 
turned into stone. Among the many objects of which he 
gives the names " in the talk of men, of gods, dwarves, 
Vanir, Aser, the Jotuns, and the elves," he is asked to say 
what the juice of malt and hops is called by gods and by 
men. " Men," he replies, " call it ' ale ; ' but the gods call it 
' beer. ' " Now what is the meaning of ' gods and men,' let 
alone the other beings mentioned ? ^ It has been surmised 
that ' men ' refers to the inhabitants of Scandinavia, ' gods ' 
to an immigrant people. Anyhow the chief object of the 

■^ Before we quit the subject of ale, beard had grown he underwent a new 
•we must mention that in Frey'sserv- series of sufferings from the sliarp 
ing-man, Byggvir, at the banquet of scytlie, the heavy flail, and the hard 
the Aser in the Old Edda (^gis- millstone ; but lie ended at last in 
drekka, 44), S. Crundtvig discerns the becoming a miglity lord who con- 
prototype of Allan o' Maut and his quered the greatest in the land, and 
English relation. Sir John Barley- won the hearts of all the women, 
corn, whom the peasant killed, and What is this but barley (' byg '), 
buried in the earth with the plough- which becomes malt and subsequently 
share, but who, when the weather ale. Jamieson's " Popular Ballads." 
grew warm, rose up again. After his ii. 240. 



454 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

poem must liavc been to exhibit the great copiousness of 
the Old Norse in its wealth of synonyms ; ^ and it seems 
hinted that this arises from the number of different tribes 
(gods, men, Aser, dwarves, &c.) who were embodied in the 
Northern race. See three passages in the " Iliad," i. 403, 
ii. 813, xiv. 291, where the names given respectively by 
the gods, and by men, to Briareus, to the river Xanthus, 
and to a species of owl are mentioned. In the " Odyssey " 
two words are given in the language of the gods, but what 
they were in the language of men we are not informed. 
Some would explain this by saying that the two languages 
referred to the poetic and the common modes of expres- 
sion. That something ethnological, however, may lie at the 
bottom of it is indicated by Aristotle, " Hist. Anim.," ix. 
1 2, where, in reference to the bird which, according to the 
"Iliad," xiv. 291, was called by the gods ;^aA,/ci9 and by 
men Kvixcvha, he says that " in the language of the 
lonians it was called by the latter name, whereas '^^oXkU 
was a more ancient and more poetical expression." 

Our ' knife ' is found in Icelandic ' knife ' only ; while in 
the same language we first learn the primitive meaning 
of ' spoon ' = a slip of wood ; in the Old Edda ' span-hak ' 
= spoon-thatch, i.e., shingle-roof of Valhalla, which was 
composed of gilded shields (Old Edda, "Grimnismal," 9, and 
" Hakonarmal"). The sportsman will delight to hear that in 
Iceland alone the age of a horse is computed as in England 
— ' so old next grass.' ' Dapple-grey ' is a corruption of 
' apple-grey,' as we see from the Icelandic ' apal-grar.' ' A 
dark horse,' the sporting phrase for ' an untried horse,' is 
exactly the ' vanfoli ' in " Burnt Njal," c. 108, while ' hack ' 
recurs in Icelandic ' eykr' = a beast of burden. Ships were 
called the 'eykir' of the sea, Latin, 'equus;' Sanscrit, 'a^-va.' 
In this connection we will mention 'nightmare,' a puzzling 

^ Keyser thinks the whole poem Scalds, a repertory of poetical syno- 

intended for the use of the Scalds, riyms (i. 157). His view seems to be 

What the " Skaldskaparmal '' was for Ijurne out by the Prose Edda (i. 510), 

the poets of Snorri's day, the " Alvis- which, in alist of synonyms fortheus© 

nial" had been for an earlier race of of young poets, quotes " Alvismal." 



ETYMOLOGY OF ' lady: 455 

word, for the nightmare is supposed to ride the sleeper, not 
the sleeper the mare ; after the fashion of the man in the 
old tale, who bore the donkey because people said he was 
too big for the donkey to bear him. But we are puzzled 
no longer on hearing that ' mara,' the ogress who bestrode 
the sleeper, is an Icelandic word akin to ' merja ' = to 
crush. The ' slot ' of game comes from the North, as 
also ' sleuth - hound.' The ' scut ' = tail of the hare or 
rabbit, is from the same source. The ' skid ' which the 
guard affixes to the coach- wheel is a word well known in 
Norway. There, however, it is ' a snowshoe,' used to 
accelerate, and not to retard, motion. The soldier's ' fur- 
lough ' is nothing but the Icelandic ' orlov ' == ' leave,' with 
a different prefix, ' fur,' i.e., ' for,' instead of ' or.' Our 
' gun,' i.e., ' war-piece,' is akin to ' gunnr ' := war, which 
early became a common proper name. Many of our Eng- 
lish names are of mythological origin, see Leo, " Anglo- 
Saxon Names," ' Giselher ' in the " Nibelungen " = rock- 
hard ; cf. ' chesil ' = beach at Portland. 

That elegant piece of superstition, at home in the North 
of England, of spitting in the hat for good-luck, is only 
a reminiscence of the gods in the Old Edda, on the cessa- 
tion of a feud between themselves and the Vanir, spitting 
in a jar which they carry off in triumph. 

Our ' prude ' has gone down in the world. In Icelandic 
the word ' pruSr ' = ' a fine, stately lady.' It is only 
through the medium of Icelandic that we can anatomise 
the Old English word ' hlafdige,' whence our ' lady,' 
a word often used in the Saxon Chronicle for the 
highest lady in the land, the queen. The first part of this 
word is clear, ' hlaf ' = loaf. The second part, ' -dige,' is 
the Icelandic ' deigja ' == a maid who kneads (cf. German, 
' deig,' English, ' dough ') ; so that ' la-dy ' originally — per- 
haps in the days of King Cophetua — signified ' baker 
woman.' But ' queen ' itself, we must remember, in the 
outset simply meant ' woman.' Our ' king ' means ' gene- 
rosus,' a man of noble extraction, and is derived from 



456 ICELA NDIC LITER A TURE. 

;i word common to all Teutonic languages except Gothic, 
meaning 'genus,' family. It is but a step from the sub- 
lime to the ridiculous ; so having ' interviewed ' the highest 
lady and gentleman in the land, let us descend to our 
excellent friend, whose history has been so well written 
by an English humourist, ' The Snob.' He, too, with 
his vulgar pretence, his pushing propensities, and low 
practices, is mirrored alike in word and deed in Icelandic 
' suapr.* 



( 457 ) 



CHAPTEE XXVIII. 

/? U N E S. 

A SURVEY of Scandinavian literature would not be com- 
plete without some reference to Pamic lore, the most 
w^eighty topic perhaps of all ; for here we must look for 
the very cradle, the first writing-down, of those multi- 
tudinous dialects which were heard side by side in this 
our island — beginning, perhaps, a couple of centuries 
before the days of Hengist — as each succeeding wave of 
colonists broke upon our shores from the eastern shores 
of the North Sea. Of spell-runes, i.e., of runes used in 
magic, we are not speaking. By some it is doubted 
whether such runes were anything more than fanciful 
signs supposed to possess a magic power. Still a great 
deal of interesting matter might be adduced here on this 
branch of ancient ' Demonology and Witchcraft.' The 
" Havamal " in the Edda contains a locus classicus on the 
subject. Young Egil, when a poisoned cup was handed to 
him by that arch-sorceress, Gunhilda, the Einnish queen 
of Eric Bloody-axe, wounded his wrist with his knife, 
and with the blood wrote Eunic signs on the cup, and of 
such power that it split to pieces (Egil, 44). Edged tools 
they were, however, with which it was ill to play — 

"Save with deft and practised hand, 
Risk not runes to trace ; 
Many a man has sorely erred 
In the darkling maze." 

Is it not written how that Swedish damsel, Helga, in 
the year of grace 944, got no sleep, was quite distraught 



45 S ICE LA NDIC LIT ERA TURE. 

(liamstoli), and was pining visibly away, wlien that scamp 
of a bonderson — ill betide him ! — who was smitten with her 
charms, pretended to cure her by scratching runes, from 
which day forward she worsened visibly? Did not Egil 
chance to reach her father's house when it seemed all over 
with her, discovered the said ' risting ' on a fish-bone 
under her pillow, read the characters over carefully, scraped 
them off, and hurled the bone into the fire ? Thereupon he 
traced some other Eunic characters, put them under the 
girl's pillow, and, when she awoke, she said she felt quite 
well. And the grateful parent offered to the successful 
rune-master free quarters for man and horse, by way of 
doctor's fee (Eg. 75). 

The question Spelman asked Wormius, 1629, "What 
are runes, whence do they come ? " is not yet set at rest, 
though it has taxed the powers of the most learned writers 
in Scandinavia. In earlier times the chief books on the 
subject were Worm's " Monumenta," Goranson's " Bautil," 
and Liliegren's " Eun-urkunder," In 1848 Professor P. 
A. Munch published his " Den ffildste Nordiske Eune- 
skrift." Since then the study has considerably progressed. 
Not presuming to intrude our opinion on so vexed a ques- 
tion, we shall simply cite here the four chief modern writers 
on the subject — Professors Thorsen, Stephens, and Wimmer 
of Copenhagen, and Professor Bugge of Christiania. The 
first part of Thorsen's work, already published, is devoted 
to the Eunic stones of Sleswig,^ those written documents 
concerning the history of the North which are many 
hundred years older than any of the existing manuscripts; 
monuments which must ever cry out against that great 
iniquity which consigned an old Danish-speaking popu- 
lation up to the very borders of Jutland to the tender 
mercies of a German master. Of it we may say this much, 
that the first volume makes us only regret that he does not 
hasten the completion of the second. 

^ De Danske Runemindesmaeiker, af P. G. Thorsen, Copenhagen, 1864. 
Part I. 



STEPHENS ON RUNES. 459 

Of the splendid work by our own countryman, Professor 
George Stephens,^ accompanied, like Professor Thorsen's, 
by beautiful facsimiles and illustrations, it is difficult to 
speak in adequate terms, so full is it of exhaustive criti- 
cism, of patient research, of varied lore, along with which 
the author exhibits a power almost of divination in un- 
riddling some of these Eunic puzzles. His views, it should 
be said, are not the views of most writers, certainly not of 
the Germans, whom he excludes from all part or lot in the 
birthright of runes. His assertion, based on a careful 
examination of the extant examples of old Eunic monu- 
ments, is, that runes were first brought to Scando-Gothic 
Europe or developed therein by the latest clan-wave from 
the East — the Northern or Scandinavian — an iron-wield- 
ing tribe who superseded the bronze-age population. Their 
origin has been the theme of the wildest conjecture. Some 

' He leaves new runes out of the account. The older, whence again the 
Anglo-Saxon alphabet, consisted of twenty-five letters ; the more modern 
development, which came into use about 800 A.D. , only of sixteen. The 
number of monuments inscribed with these new runes may be reckoned by 
thousands, those with the older runes amount to iSo, thirty-six of which 
were found in England. 

English Value. F, U, TH, M, R, C = K, G, W, H, N, 

Old Northern.* E, Jl, I, K R, <, X, P, N, % 

New Northern. ^^ ^1, I, t, RA, F, „ „ % %, 

English Value. I, Y, yO, P, A, S, T, B, 

Old Northern.* I, ^N+i ^ \, B W K, ^ SV, T, B, 
New Northern. J^ ^^ ^, „ ^^ H, T, B, 

English Value. E, M, L, NG, D, (E, IJ, O. 

Old Northern.* M, N, J^, <> X, M, % I^, % 
New Northern. .. ''^I^ K 

* These are the Old Northern, exclusive of English provincial variations. 



46o ICELANDIC LITERA TURE. 

have said that runes are as old as the Deluge ; some have 
attributed the invention of them to Odin;^ some date 
their origin from 2000 B.C. The Swedish scholar Ihre 
thought they were the invention of the Scythians. 

Shortly, Stephen's conclusions are as follows : — No 
hint of runes has ever been found in the oldest German 
or Saxon Chronicles, though such things are mentioned 
in Anglo-Scandinavian parchments. No indigenous fixed 
Eunic monument has ever turned up on Saxon or 
German soil,^ though half-a-dozen Eunic jewels, 'wan- 
derers,' as he calls them, have. Any Eunic remains, e.g., 
an inlaid spear (ibid., p. 882), that may be found in 
Brandenburg or elsewhere, he would attribute to the 
Scando-Gothic tribes (subsequently driven out or annihi- 
lated by the Huns in the third and fourth centuries) who 
once occupied that region, and not to the Germans, who 
came later into the land. 

Of the thousands of blocks discovered in Germany, dating 
from the first century downwards, not one is Eunic, all are 
Eoman. 

Eunes have nothing Eoman about them ; the order of 
the letters is different. The Eoman alphabet is an ' Abce- 
darium,' the Eunic a ' Futhorc,' beginning with F. 

It should be noted here that all Mr. Stephens's decipher- 
ings of the oldest or Old Northern runes are based on the 
assumption that the rune UJ = A, not M or E. He 
maintains that all the Northmen had these elder Eunic 
staves everywhere, in Scandinavia and in its colony Eng- 
land, at the same time. No inscriptions in the more 



1 The name of Odin appears on only indicate about that date, 

one known Runic stone. Thor's name 2 " Nos apertum esse arbitramur 

is found on two. Of the two thousand runas Scandinavioe antiquiores esse, 

liunic stones known, of course many Germanosque suasanobis accepisse." 

are from Christian times. Such, for — Lagerheim, Litterce Gothicce, d;c., 

instance,are two discovered in Sweden Lund, 1805. The late acute antiquary, 

in memory of one Mani and one Suin, Carl Save of Upsala, was, we believe, 

who died respectively at Bath and in one with Stephens in holding that 

London. Possibly they were in the runes are essentially Scandinavian 

retinue of King Canute, as the runes and not German. 



STEPHENS ON RUNES. 461 

ancient and more numerous alphabet, but only in the 
shorter and more modern one, have been found in Iceland, 
Greenland, the Faroes, and the Isle of Man, these being 
colonies of more recent date; while they abound in England, 
the oldest Scandinavian settlement. 

The tongue of all these old Eunic inscriptions is one and 
the same, Old Northern, but in dialects more ancient than 
our written specimens of Icelandic, which date at the 
earliest from the thirteenth century. 

The oldest Runic inscriptions — say from the first century 
to 800 — are as unlike Icelandic as the language of the 
Latin monuments at the time of the Eepublic to the 
classical dialect of Dante. Now, are we to suppose, argues 
Stephens, that Scandinavian workmen were summoned to 
England to carve these runes in a character not understood 
by the people, when the inscription often warned the people 
not to remove the stone at their peril ? Such a supposition 
w^ould be ridiculous. Old Northern, therefore, must have 
been spoken at the very earliest period in Great Britain. 

Many of these Eunic monuments were in the oldest age 
placed inside, and not out of the cairns ; and to this perhaps 
owe their preservation. 

The so-called ' barbarians,' our forefathers, who wrote 
these inscriptions, were anxious for the blissful repose of 
the dead,i and the word ' rest ' indicates the belief in a 
future state. But no dates are to be found ; there are no 
numerical figures on the oldest monuments. They had no 
ciphers.^ 

The earliest dated stone (the dates spelt out) is of the 
fourteenth century. Eunic bells go a hundred years far- 

1 Cf. Old Edda, " Havamill," to that obscure period from the fifth 

71. to the eighth centuries which is com- 

- Cf. Hiibner, " Inscriptiones Bri- prehended in Professor Stephens's 

tanni?e Christianae" (London, 1876), inquiry, and about which we have 

a work which includes inscriptions in notices by hardly any ancient writer 

Latin, British, and Saxon, and adnuts of credit. Here too, as in the Kunic 

no Kunic ones, except when the runes moniunents, the date is nearly always 

occur mixed with Latin. But all the wanting, and there is an almost uni- 

inscriptions given in this work belong versal lack of Christian symbols. 



462 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

tlier back. Scandinavian Eunic coins appear in Scandinavia 
at the end of the tenth centnry. 

In England coins occur with these Old Northern runes ^ 
as early as the sixth century, v^^hile the runes on the 
Golden Horn at Copenhagen (only a facsimile) are sup- 
posed to date from the fourth or fifth century. 

The very ancient grammatical forms of these older Runic 
monuments are highly instructive. We find the S still 
left, not yet become E, e.g., ' was ' (from verb to be), 
whereas the later Scandinavians use ' var.' Compare 
' quseso,' which became ' quoero,' and ' ausum,' which be- 
came ' aurum.' 

As aforesaid, the language on these monuments is Old 
Northern, but with dialectic peculiarities according as the 
monument was found in Scandinavia or England. 

Of German there is no trace, save that German and 
Saxon and Old Northern were very near each other in the 
oldest times. 

Such is a brief epitome of the results arrived at by tlie 
author : results, it may be added, utterly at variance with 
those of Eask. It was his dictum that English was not a 
Northern but a German dialect; and this he proves by 
three things: (i.) our old infinitive ended in an and the 
Scandinavian in a; (2.) we have no passive, while the 
Scandinavians have a passive in s ; (3.) we have the article 
before, the Scandinavians after, the substantive, as 'heimr- 
inn,' ' the home.' 

Professor Stephens, however, endeavours to prove that 
these are not old but modern developments. In reply to 
(i.) he says, this is only a question of time and dialect. 
All the Scando-Gothic tongues originally had the an and 
n ; at least half-a-dozen examples are known of the infini- 
tive in an on old Scandinavian stones ; while in the oldest 



"Worsaae, however (Danish Con- century, in which view Mr. Kemble 

quest of England), is of opinion that concurs. — Proceedings of the JVor- 

the Danish influence in England was vnch Archceological Society, p. 45, 

nil till nearly the end of the eighth 1847. 



STEPHENS ON RUNES. 463 

North-English (as on Euthwell Cross, about 670 a.d.) the 
-n had fallen away as early as in Scandinavia. In answer 
to (2.) he says the old Scandinavian tongue had no passive : 
the present Icelandic passive was originally not a passive 
but only a reflective form. The affixed personal pronoun 
(sik, se) in time became enclitic, and was shortened into 
sk, and the verb got to be used in a passive sense. He 
says further {3.) there was no article in the ancient 
dialect. By degrees it crept in hefore the noun. In 
the oldest Eunic monuments there is an entire absence 
of it after its name : when found, it is always hefore its 
noun. 

All this is, of course, very startling. For the ingenious 
arguments on which these conclusions are based, together 
with copies of all the old Eunic monuments extant, we must 
refer the reader to the work mentioned below. If the 
tongue in which these old Eunic inscriptions found in 
this country are written be Scandinavian, then we learn 
that our original tongue, after the Celtic was eliminated, 
was not that later Anglo-Saxon of our books, a language 
to a great extent latinised and modified by various influ- 
ences, but a congeries of many floating dialects, with no 
fixed orthography or spelling (' stone ' is spelt in fifty 
ways on these stones) ; all however not German, but 
Scandinavian. 

But besides the difiiculties of spelling in Eunic inscrip- 
tions, there are others by no means trivial. Such, e.g., is 
the usual want of separations between the words. Then 
again the letters are often reversed, or must be read from 
right to left, or alternately from the right to the left, and 
from the left to the right. Sometimes careless writing lays 
a trap for the decipherer. Eunes, says Professor Stejjhens, 
are descended from a source which produced alphabets of 
Phoenician and classical people.^ 

And this remark brings us to a third work upon runes, 

1 Old Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England, by G. 
Stephens, London and Copenhagen, 1866-68, 



464 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

the main object of -wliicli is to elicit the true origin of the 
Eunic characters.^ 

By a masterly analysis and a comparison of Runic letters 
with the letters of the old Greek inscriptions, with those 
on the Moabite Stone, with the Phoenician alphabet, and 
lastly with the bilingual alphabet, the Greek and the 
Etruscan of the Galassic vase of Coere, Wimmer arrives 
at the conclusion that runes are not a direct offspring of 
the Phoenician or old Semitic alphabet, nor derived from 
a common source with the South European alphabets, or 
from picture-writing, but direct from the Latin alphabet. 
Among other proofs he points out that the Eunic alphabet 
and the Latin alphabet alone use the sign P, with the 
meaning/. Further, he shows that the original direction 
of runes was, like that of Latin, from left to right ; but 
that pretty early, alongside of this, right to left was used, 
and by continuation of these arose the alternate or 
^ovarpo(j)'qSov method ; and he further shows that the 
younger runes were not introduced by newcomers, but 
were gradually/ developed out of the older and longer 
alphabet. "VVimmer does not, like Stephens, make runes 
a monopoly of the Scandinavian races, but believes that 
there were Gothic or German runes also. Stephens 
entirely rejects this Eoman origin of the runes, for many 
reasons, among them one which he thinks decisive — that 
the runes were already old and common in Scandinavia in 
the early Eoman imperial period, from whose alphabet 
Dr. Wimmer says they were taken. But we have said 
enough to show that these runes are intimately connected 
with the momentous question of what was the tongue 
used in this country by the earliest Teutonic settlers. If, 
as Stephens asserts, Eunic stones were being carved in 
England as early as the third century, with inscriptions 
not in Saxon, but in Scandinavian, then it must follow 
that the Danisms in English are not due solely to the 

1 lluneskriftens Oprindelse og Udvikling i Norden, af L. F. A. "Wimmer, 
Cox)euhagen, 1874. 



BUGGE ON RUNES. 465 

Northern invasions, extending from 787 to 1066, but were 
many of them welded into the very constitution of our 
tongue in the last days of the Eoman occupation. 

It remains for us to mention another notable rune- 
master, Professor Bugge of Christiania, who first gave to 
the world what is considered the right interpretation of 
the old Eunic inscription on the Golden Horn of Gallehus. 
According to this, l|i does not ■= m or a, but r, viz., the 
r which arose from z, i.e., the soft, s — an idea further 
developed by Wimmer. Eafn had already hit on this 
signification of IjJ, but he missed the meaning of the 
inscription ; while Munch, who had also interpreted iU 
rightly in the Blekking and Tune runes, would have it 
that on the Golden Horn it signified m. 

Hitherto, unfortunately, Bugge's Eunic investigations 
have only appeared in isolated tracts and pamphlets. It 
is to be hoped that they will soon assume a collected form. 
We shall quote from one of these, which gives a short con- 
spectus of his views on the origin of runes,^ differing most 
essentially from those of Stephens. The short alphabet, 
consisting of sixteen runes, originated, according to Bugge, 
in the North, out of the longer one of twenty-four runes. 
The longer alphabet is the oldest known method of writing 
among the Germans, and must have been known and used 
by pretty nearly all the Teutonic tribes as early as the 
first centuries after the Christian era. It was not an ori- 
ginal invention of theirs, but was connected with the 
Southern alphabets, which were derived, though not imme- 
diately, from the Phoenician. They exhibit a nearer rela- 

^ Om RuDeskriftens Oprindelse af port of the Piraeus, which was called 

S. Bugge, Christiania, 1874. We ia consequence Porto Leone. The 

may mention here, as a proof of the true import of these runes is not ascer- 

ubiquity of the Northmen, the runes tained ; but, from the peculiar snake 

on the lion in Pentelic marble, 10 feet ornaments wliicli surround them, Pro- 

liigh, which stands at the entrance of fessor Bugge concludes that they were 

the Arsenal at Venice. This lion carved in the middle of the eleventh 

was brought from Athens to Venice, century by a Varangian of Upland 

1687, by Francesco Morosini, when Sweden. — Manadshlad Kona. Acad., 

that place was taken by the Vene- July 1875. 
tians. Formerly it stood close to the 

2 G 



466 ICELANDIC LITERA TURK. 

tioiisliip to the Greek characters and the alphabets issuing 
from them ; but they were not derived directly from the 
Greek, but rather from the Latin alphabet, as is clear from 
certain peculiarities mentioned by Kirchhoff, Jessen, and 
others. By the Latin alphabet is meant not that used in 
Eoman public inscriptions at the close of the Eepublic 
and commencement of the Empire, but the Old Latin char- 
acter. And yet the Old Latin character is not the imme- 
diate source of runes. Runes appear to he a system of 
writing constructed in the century immediately preceding the 
Christian era, among a South German race, after a foriii of 
the Roman character which the Germans adopted from one 
of the Celtic tribes that dwelt Clearest, north of the Alps. 
This form of writing, adopted from Keltic neighbours, had 
for its basis a very old-fashioned form of Eoman writing ; 
which form of writing, however, had — in its spread north- 
wards among the ancient tribes of Upper Italy, Gallia 
Cisalpina, and the vicinity of the Alps — become modified by 
the influence of the old writing formerly used by these tribes, 
but which had been superseded by the Eoman alphabet. 

The old character Bugge alludes to was a branch of the 
old Transapennine character, the North Etruscan. This 
North Etruscan character is shown by Theodor Mommsen 
to have been used by people using the Celtic language. The 
above-mentioned influence is shown in the fact that runes 
often read from right to left, which is a thing originally 
foreign to Eoman writing proper. Again, the use of three 
points, one above another, by way of stops, is likewise 
foreign to Eoman writing. Again, this influence is mani- 
fest in the form of several characters, most so in the form 
of the rune A, which, as Weinhold showed, is almost iden- 
tical with the form that A often has in North Etruscan 
writing, e.g., in the Celtic inscriptions from Todi in Um- 
bria, and from No vara in Gallia Cisalpina, and also in the 
Salassic coins from the Alpine region. 

In another tract ^ Eugge enters at length upon the 

1 De ^Idste Nordiske Kuneindskrifters Sproglige stilling, af S. Bugge, 
Copenhagen, 1870. 



BUGGE ON RUNES, 467 

burning question of the kind of language in which these 
older Eunic inscriptions were written. Here (p. 28) he 
observes, " The oldest Runic language is the oldest known 
German tongue, besides the Gothic, which has retained the 
dual in the verbs." This is so characteristic a peculiarity, 
that it at once enables us to assert that this rune speech 
is, next to Gothic, the most antique of the known Old 
German tongues. 

Bugge's last work ^ is an explanation of the runes on 
the door-ring of the weapon-house of Forsa Church, in 
Helsingland in Sweden. This part of the country was 
first evangelised by Steinfinn (p. 46), who was sent 
thither by Archbishop Adalbert of Bremen (1043-72), 
and the inhabitants were found by King Swerrir to be 
good Christians, 1178. But Maurer has called attention 
to the fact that English missionaries paved the way for 
Christianity in Sweden, though not in Helsingland, from 
the end of the tenth century, and this would account for 
the fact that the Swedish tithe was not apportioned on 
the same principle as in Germany, but was divided into 
three parts, as it was in England — a custom which was 
also introduced into Helsingland after Steinfinn's days. 
The population of this distant region, however, always 
made a difficulty about these imposts, which led to several 
Papal rescripts on the subject. These are to be found in 
the " Diplomatarium Suecicum." 

And sure enough, on this identical ring there is now 
found to be engraved a warning by the authorities about 
paying tithes, and an authoritative recital of the fines to 
be levied on a defaulter, which, in case of a thrice-repeated 
omission to pay, amounted to all his substance. The date, 
judging from the language, is fixed by Bugge in the latter 
half of the twelfth century, though the shape of the runes, 
which is akin to that of the strange Helsing runes, points 
to an earlier date. 

But the main interest attaching to tlic runes consists 

^ Rune-Indskriften paaEingen i Forsa Kirke, af S. Bugge, Christiania, 1877. 



468 ICELANDIC LITERA TURE. 

in this : that here on a church-door ring — which rings, 
according to some antiquaries, are historic continuations of 
tlie rings fixed in the doors of the heathen temples — we 
liave in runes the oldest preserved original copy of a legal 
enactment (p. 53, ibid.). A legend attaches to the ring, 
which shows what a hold these mysterious letters graved 
upon it had upon the popular imagination centuries ago. 
The recital of it may perhaps prove a little relief to some 
of our readers, after this erudite discussion on runes. 

" Two Jotuns (giants), Blacke and Fatte by name, who 
dwelt the one north and the other west of the great howe, 
agreed — perhaps on the same principle as the devil will at 
times quote Scripture — to build a church together there 
for their own use ; and, to give the requisite finish to the 
work, they had the identical runic ring, of about a foot's 
breadth, smithied and fixed in the church door. Tliey 
both attended church with a regularity quite worthy of 
modern imitation. But Blacke having far the longest 
way to come, it was agreed that the last bell should not 
begin till he was seen topping the hill just by the church. 
For a space, Fatte, who lived much nearer the church, 
stuck to the compact, but later on he broke it, and one 
Christmas morning he had the folks rung in before Blacke 
appeared. When Blacke arrived service had begun, at 
which he got into a rage and would not go inside. And 
what should he do but wrench off the door-ring, bind it to 
his horse's tail, and ride away ; at the same time making 
a vow that wherever the ring chanced to drop, there he 
would build a church for himself. In his course he rode 
through the rapids in the river north of the place where 
Forsa Church stands. On reaching the opposite shore, his 
steed shook himself to get rid of the water, when down 
dropped the ring from his tail ; and upon this very spot 
Blacke built Forsa Church, and fixed in the door the ring 
from Hog." 

In the above short notice of some of this author's Runic 
writings, it was impossible to give more than a faint 



THORSEM ON NON-MONUMENTAL RUNES. 469 

notion of the critical ingenuity which he has brought to 
bear on a most recondite subject. 

It will be seen that his views differ most essentially 
from those of Stephens. Of course we had nothing to do 
in the matter but to report progress. " Adhuc sub judice 
lis est." Fresh finds of Eunic monuments will doubtless 
throw fresh light on the subject. 

Since writing the above, another work, by Professor G. 
Thorsen, has reached us, entitled " The Use of Eunes other 
than on Monuments." ^ It is in the form of a preface of 
some hundred pages to the facsimile of a whole volume 
written in runes. This unique and very beautiful speci- 
men of Eunic writing is shown by the author to date from 
six centuries ago, at least the earlier MS., for it is not all 
by one hand. This first part, which on good grounds he 
assigns to the last quarter of the thirteenth century, con- 
tains the Scanian law, civil and ecclesiastical, of King 
Waldemar II. (died 1241), i.e., the law for Scania, now the 
southernmost province of Sweden, but which in those days, 
and long after, belonged to the Danish crown. The lan- 
guage is Old Danish, very different, as may be imagined, 
from the modern tongue. Here, then, we have one of those 
ancient Danish codes about which Sir H. Spelman made 
such searching inquiry of Worm. The second part of the 
book is by a later hand, about 1300, and contains two Jlists 
of Danish kings, among whom appears Hamlet, and an 
account of the ancient frontier ^ between Sweden and Den- 
mark. A word here on the history of the MS. From an 
autograph on the title-page we learn tliat the widow of 
Sitzel Goi gave it, in 1569, to the honourable man Peter 
Seurensen (Severini), Canon of Viborg, and physician to 
the King of Denmark. An injunction is added by her in 
runes that he was never to part with it. True to her 

1 Om Runernes Brug til Skriffc udenfor det Monumentale, af P. G. Thor- 
sen, Kjiibenliavn, 1877, to which is appended Codex Kunicus. 

■■^ This was marked, and is to the present day, by heaps of stones placed 
at intervals, called K6s = ' raise,' Old English, as Dunmail ' Kaise,' near 
Ambleside, 



470 ICELANDIC LITERA TURE. 

bidding, he kept it through life, and at his death it passed 
to his SOD, who was equally tight-fisted, although plied 
by the great Danish antiquary Ole Worm, the friend of 
Casaubon and correspondent (see above) of Sir H. Spel- 
man, to let him have a sight of it. But on the death of 
Severini, junior, Worm, to his immense delight, obtained 
possession of the treasure.^ His handwriting is on the first 
page. " Nunc optimo jure vendicat Olaus Wormius." On 
his death Worm left it to his son William, who left it to 
the Borck Library at Copenhagen. It was here, perhaps, 
that it became known to Hickes through the Danish 
ambassador, who copied the Runic alphabet, " ex legibus 
Scanise MSS.," in his " Thesaurus " (1702-5), tab. i. While 
lying on the shelves of the Borck Library it was lent out 
to Arne Magnusson, the renowned collector of Icelandic 
MSS. It Avas in his possession at the great fire of Copen- 
hagen (1728), which destroyed very few of his own parch- 
ments, but annihilated the Worm and Borck Libraries. 
By good-luck, as we have seen, the book was not in either 
of these collections, and so escaped destruction. Two 
years later A. Magnusson died (1730), leaving all his 
MSS. and all his property to Copenhagen University. 
This MS. was found among his effects, and so passed with 
the rest — no questions being asked — to the University. 
It is at length safe for all time, having been reproduced in 
facsimile by the trustees of the Magnusson bequest. 

Thorsen (23) calls attention to the fact that the use of 
runes is first mentioned by Venantius Fortunatus in the 
sixth century, not, as stated in Is. Diet., by Martianus 
Capella. His words are, " Barbara fraxineis pingatur 
runa tabellis. Quodque papyrus agit virgula plana valet." 
Hrabanus Maurus, in the ninth century, in giving the 
letters of the Eunic alphabet, says, " Cum quibus (Dani) car- 
mina incantationes que et divinationes significare solent." 

We all remember " the sealed letters " which in Shake- 

1 See his letter to J. Terceyjus, Professor of Mathematics at Paris, Jan- 
uary 24, 1628. 



THORSEN ON NON-MONUMENTAL RUNES. 471 

speare are sent to England by Hamlet's treacherous uncle ; 
but in Saxo they are " letters carved on wood " {i.e., runes), 
" for this," he adds, " was in days of yore a celebrated 
method of writing." ^ It is quite a mistake, says Thorsen, 
to suppose, as some have done, that runes were never used 
for any other purposes than those of simple monumental 
inscriptions, or brief legends on weapons, sacrificial vessels, 
drinking-cups, &c. The very title of this tractate shows 
the contrary. With the entrance of the Christian religion 
into Iceland, about the year 1000, it is further supposed 
that runes, like the heathen gods, became obsolete. It is 
true that the conversion of Denmark to Christianity was 
the first step to expelling runes from its gravestones, but 
they still continued to hold their own throughout the 
North as a common vehicle of writing generally to a much 
later date, while in Iceland, runes were in full swing till 
the middle of the twelfth century. Ari Prodi's history 
must, says the author, liave been written in runes, as well 
as the original Gragas and the genealogical tables.^ For we 
find in the Prose Edda (10-12) the author of the gram- 
matical treatise — conjectured by Egilson to have been Euna 
Gunnar the priest 3 (died 1193) — says "he has composed a 
new alphabet for the Icelanders by taking all the Latin 
letters which seemed to suit our language and adequately 
represent its sounds." And he further says " he constructed 
this alphabet in order that people might be able better to 
write and read both the laws and genealogical notices or re- 
ligious expositions, and also the very learned treatises which 
Ari Frodi has wisely committed to paper books." Until this 

^ Saxo, Hist. Dan., i. 145. ed. ^ " Before the invention of writing 
Miiller. An Icelandic scald of the Latin letters on parchment in ink, the 
eleventh century, Snael)j6rn (cf. Edd. law was certainly not written down 
Snorri, A. Magn., i. 328), calls the sea in its entirety. But this inscription 
" Hamlet's churn," which proves that proves what was long suspected, that 
the details of Hamlet's story were in heathen times brief abstracts of 
known in Iceland, although the tale laws existed in runes." — S. Bugge, 
itself, the basis of Shakespeare's play, " Ringen i Forsa Kirke," p. 53, Chris- 
has only come down to us in a later tiania, 1877. 

Danish account, i.e., Saxo's, ii. •' So Kgilson conjectures, rirfc Thor 

133. sen, p. 8. 



472 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

time, then (about 1 1 50), runes was the only writing em- 
ployed ; but from this date the new alphabet of the anony- 
mous writer of the grammatical treatise became the one in 
vogue. 

In the third treatise, "Malfroeginnar grund-vollr," i.e., the 
foundation of grammar (Edda, p. 62), it is expressly stated 
in the preface (4-6) that there were sixteen runes, and 
that Ari Frodi and Thoroddr Eunameister used runes. 
But there are other proofs, at an earlier period, that runes 
were used for ordinary writing in Iceland. When Egil 
was inconsolable for the death of his son (see Egil Saga, 
which was written before 1200), the ready wit of his affec- 
tionate daughter rescued him from his fearful depression 
by proposing that he should compose a dirge to his memory. 
He did so, and she WTote it down from his mouth in runes 
on a piece of wood (kefli). This " Sonar Torrek " (sad 
loss of a son) was twenty- four stanzas long of eight lines 
each! Again, in Grettis Saga, 144, Halmund bids his 
daughter write down the epic he composed just before his 
death in runes on a Kefli. In the middle, then, of the 
twelfth century, there existed a mass of compositions 
written down in runes in the preceding generation. These 
the many Icelanders Avho, for 250 years from the days of 
Sweyne Eorkbeard, continued to frequent the Danish 
court, brought with them, and Saxo, the Danish Livy, 
who lived about the end of the twelfth century, made 
great use of them in the writing of his history, as he 
himself expressly states.^ Nay, he mentions (lib. iv.) one 
of these Icelanders, Arnoldus Thylensis (Arnold the Ice- 
lander), a very skilful antiquary, who attended Archbishop 
Absolon on his journeys, and who in the " Skaldatal " is said 
to have been on a visit to Denmark in those days, with five 
of his countrymen. The last of these Northern visitors, 
Olaf Thordason Hvitaskald,^ nephew of Snorri, did not 

1 Saxo says, preface, p. 8, that he - Hvitaskald gives an account of 

carefully examined these thesauri this journey, in which he was accom- 

historicarum rerum, hut whether they panied by his brother, Sturla Thor- 

were in writing, or delivered to him darson, in the Knytlinga Saga, p. 

orally, non liquet. 396. 



THORSEN ON NON-MONUMENTAL RUNES. 473 

arrive in Denmark till 1239 or 1240, while Saxo's preface 
was written not later than 1208. After acknowledging the 
assistance thus received, Saxo goes on, preface, p. 1 1, to 
say that the Danes used to write the deeds of their ances- 
tors on rocks, e.g., Eunamo in Bleking, where, he believed, 
Harald Hildetand had his father's deeds sculptured ; also 
on the rocks in Bjarmeland (1-9), where Lodbrog was 
immortalised. But we cannot say what or how much he 
got from these stones, many of which have vanished. He 
had, of course, like Ole Worm, to trust to the explanations 
of them given by others. Another remarkable proof of the 
non-monumental use of runes is recorded in " Biskupa 
Sogur," i. 435. One Ingemund, a priest, was wrecked with 
others on the Greenland coast, not later than 1 1 90, and 
he left an account of the calamity written in runes on 
wax, which was found fourteen years after. This shows, 
says Miiller, that he thought runes would be best under- 
stood by mariners who chanced to find the tablet. Again, 
a very notable instance of the use of runes in common life 
is afibrded by historical facts connected with the death of 
Snorri (1241), A friend sent him a warning, written in 
runes, of the plot against his life (Sturlunga, ii. 241), but 
he was unable to decipher the character, and so lost his 
life. This has been adduced as a proof of how little runes 
were understood at the time ; but most likely the runes 
were of a recondite character, a sort of cypher of which 
Snorri had not the key. Such runes are mentioned by 
Sturla Thordarson as having been twice used politically, 
in 1226 and 1240. Of this nature, we may remark, are 
tree-runes, so called from each character resembling the 
stem of a tree, with branches shooting out right and left. 
If we divide the sixteen runes into three sets, the first set 
consisting of six letters, /, u, h, 0, r, k, the other two 
sets of five letters each, then let the strokes on the left 
hand denote the set, the strokes on the right the place in 

the set. Thus Nk^ = a, the two strokes on the left of the 

stem denoting the second set, h, n, i, a, s, and the four 



474 ICELANDIC LITERATURE. 

strokes on the right its place in the set, viz., fourth, which 
is a. This might be varied by bending the branches on 

the left downwards, thus : \^ which also = a. Some 

of the inscriptions discovered by ]\Ir. Farrer at Maeshow, 
Orkney, were in tree-runes. Mr. Burton has recently 
endeavoured to show that the Arabic alphabet, called by 
the Arabs El-Mushajgar, or the tree-formed, explains not 
only tliese branch-runes, but also the once mysterious 
Ogham.^ Bind-runes, i.e., interwoven letters, were often 
affected by Eunists, pretty much as the early Christians 
used as a symbol for Christ the Greek letters X (= cA) 
and P (= r) thrown into the monogram N^. Then there 
were the Helsing runes, used in Helsingia Land, a northern 
part of Sweden, which have no perpendicular stem, and 
somewhat resemble in this the Ogham character. It was 
the great ingenuity of Magnus Celsius, A.D. 1694, which 
first discovered the key to these enigmatical characters.^ 
In " Sigdrifumal " we learn that runes were used in fourteen 
different ways. 

Each rune had its name, besi