Abbildungen der Seite

pensible. When we take up that stupendous work of human industry, Dr. Johnson's Dictionary, we know not whether more to lament the inadequate knowledge of the great lexicographer for his task, or to admire the ingenuity with which he disguised it. The Doctor had no knowledge of German, about as little of Dutch, except such as looking into a Dutch Dictionary could give him, and even his acquaintance with Anglo-Saxon was superficial. Of Plat-Deutsch and the Scandinavian tongues, he was utterly ignorant. Hence we have derivatives of our words, at third, and fourth hand; in many hundred instances we never come near the root, and have often even French where we should get Danish or Norwegian. As the cultivation of the mother-tongue proceeds, there will come for some future lexicographer the arduous, but most interesting, task of a thorough revision of the labours of Johnson. To take one out of innumerable instances, we shall then not have such a word as 'clover' derived from Anglo-Saxon, but from the direct Swedish Klöver, or more direct Danish, Klover, because it is clove, the present Danish word, for divided, meaning also a cross, from the manner of this division. The student of these languages, indeed, can turn nowhere without seeing traces of them all over England in the names of people and places. It is curious, especially in the neighbourhood of London, to see in the Hacons, the Rolfs, the Snewins, the Snellins, the Harolds, Swains, Swainsons, Stensons, and similar names, the descendants of the great Danish leaders who distinguished themselves in the attacks on this part of the kingdom, and made good their settlement here. Again; in our names of towns and villages we often find not so much a German as Scandinavian foundation; Skegby, the building in the wood; Holmby, the building on the island; Kirkby, the church building, &c. But in the laudable work of tracing the origin, and composing complete glossaries of our different dialects, in which so much progress has been made of late years, this northern fountain of original language presents the most wonderful wealth. It is marvellous with what a tenacious and unchanging hold the common people in most parts of the kingdom have preserved their mother-tongue, from the days of the Danes to the present. We have been astonished in the cottages of Lancashire we aver, to hear the people calling spiders Attercops, a name not derived from the aranea of their Roman progenitors, or the spinne of their German ones, nor even from the spindel of their Swedish ones, so com. monly confounded with the Danes, but from the pure Danish term, which has thus clung there unchanged for a thousand years.

Our purpose being at present not philologic or dialectic, we merely allude in the most passing manner to these important facts. In history we come at once into the most interesting and exciting position. We have the very people as actors in the earlier periods, whom we are accustomed to regard with terror, as the savage Danes; they, who carried fire and devastation among the Saxons, and made themselves, as vikings and warriors, a dread and deathless name in our annals. We here learn how they regarded the magnificent isle of England and its people. What were their views and feelings and motives in their expeditions; and we have a strange, wild picture of their life at home in their native north, handed down in their songs and sagas, or legends. To this singular scene we seemed to be first amusingly introduced by Mr. Laing's travels in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway; and his recent publication of a translation of the Heimkringla, or Saga of Snorro Sturleson, has further unfolded it. We have the very battle of London bridge with the Danes, and their various expeditions against this country, recorded by their scalds, or accompanying poets, and transferred thence to the pages of their sagas. In the first volume of the history now under review, we possess these in a more compact form, and bearing only their due proportion to the whole national history. These circumstances are of themselves sufficient to invest this history with a high interest, but the introduction by Mrs. Howitt of the admirable Tales of Everyday Life of Miss Bremer to our literature, has given a still quicker impulse to our curiosity. We desire to learn something more of the progress and present condition of a people originally so nearly allied to us, and now showing that they can even charm and improve us by their living literature.

The Swedes possess two eminent living historians Gejer and Fryxell. Gejer's history is an admirably philosophical and detailed history, and invaluable to the native, or the minute inquirer, who is anxious to make himself profoundly acquainted with the uttermost facts and springs of action of the Swedish annals. Fryxell has aimed to be more popular. He styles his work himself, Berättelser ur Swenska Historien ;'- Relations from Swedish History. This is, however, rather what he at first intended to make it, than what he has made it. In the preface to this translation, written by him expressly for it, he says,- The first three volumes (the portion embraced in the two volumes here translated), including the time from Odin to Erik XIV., deposed in 1569, were the author's first essay, in the compilation of which he considered the taste of the general readers alone, and therefore consulted only the ordinary printed authorities; but, in the latter volumes, he has more and more availed himself of the hitherto untouched treasures of the

archives; and thus by greater detail endeavoured to diffuse a clearer light over certain events hitherto but partially known.'

This seems to us the most rational of all modes of writing a national history, and to have been very fortunate for the popularity of Fryxell's work. To compress the dim subjects of unwritten tradition, and to expand as the narrative advances into more known and important periods, is to keep the true measure of the reader's interest. Accordingly, the second of these volumes rises far in interest over the first, and is, in truth, a most deeply engrossing narrative. We shall, therefore, take but a cursory view of the first volume. It opens with a welldigested and sufficient description of the Scandinavian mythology, highly valuable as illustrative of succeeding parts of the history, and which shows us that the details of those wonderful things given us in ‘Mallet's Northern Antiquities,' are very defective in their nomenclature, being obviously derived from a German medium, and having therefore all the proper names Germanized. The volume then embraces the heathen epoch from 100 years before Christ to A. D. 1061, or nearly the time of our Norman conquest; a period rather of wild tradition than of history; and then advances to the deposition of Christian I. in 1464. Histories of Sweden are not wanting in English, but being derived as they are from secondary sources, we feel, in perusing this fresh from the hands of a native, to whom all legitimate sources are open, a novel and totally different interest; nor should we do justice to it, did we not give a brief specimen or two of the contents of its earliest portion.

Bodwar, a Norwegian hero, is travelling towards the court of the celebrated Danish king and warrior, Rolf, when, during a night's lodging in the cottage of an old man and woman, as the old man and Bodwar were conversing, the old dame began to weep aloud :

"Why weepest thou ? asked Bodwar. "Ah!' said she, we had once a son called Hottur, who went to the king's court for pleasure, but the men-at-arms made joke of him, and set him in a heap of bones in a corner of the ball, and it is now their amusement, during meals, to throw the bones they have picked, upon him, which sometimes wound him sadly. I shall never get him back again, neither do I know if he be alive or dead. Now, I ask nothing from thee for this thy night's lodging, but that thou wilt not cast the larger but only the little bones on my son, for thy hands look so strong and so heavy, that he could scarcely bear a blow from them.'

Bodwar promised this, and expressed his opinion that he did not think it very creditable to beat a man with bones, or to use rough play with children or weak people.

This peep at the manners of a Danish king's court at that time is more fully opened on Bodwar's arrival.

KING Rolf's court.

“The following day Bodwar reached Lejre. He led his horse himself into the king's stable, without saying a word to any one, and then went up to the castle. Both the dogs came raging towards him; but he instantly lifted the large stone which lay at the castle gate, and which every one who would be accepted in the king's service must show himself able to raise. With this he slew one dog, and with this dog he killed the other. He then entered the hall, when king Rolf reproached him with the murder of the dogs; but Bodwar made answer, that every freeborn man had a right to defend his own life as long as he could. The king praised his bravery, gave him the surname of Bjarke, and placed him in one of the chief places at his table. Now, when the men had drunk freely, they commenced, according to custom, to pelt each other with the bones they had picked, which occasioned a great uproar through the hall. Bodwar now perceived a great heap of bones in one corner, and on advancing to it, discovered Hottur sitting, dirty, ragged, and trembling within a high wall which he had cleverly contrived to build round him of the bones which had been thrown at him, to preserve himself by this means from being hit by others. Bodwar knocked down the wall, took Hottur by the arm, and lifted him up from amidst the bones; at which he cried and exclaimed pitifully, believing that Bodwar meant to kill him. But Bodwar took him to his own place, and made him stand there behind him. As soon as the courtiers saw Hottur, they began to throw bones at him, so that they often struck Bodwar also; but of this he took not the slightest heed, but only held Hottur fast, who trembled and shook for fear, and desired nothing so much as to run back and hide himself among his bones again. At last he observed one of these warriors fling a great knuckle-bone with all his might at Bodwar, and set up a cry of distress at the sight; but Bodwar caught the bone in his hand, and slung it back with so much strength, that the man fell dead beneath the blow. At this the rest leapt up to defend their brother in arms, but the king forbade it, saying, ‘That Bodwar had only defended himself, and that this custom of throwing bones at innocent, unarmed people, was a bad custom of his warriors, and a mark of great contempt and disregard to the king; and that it was time that it should now be given up.” Bodwar, after this, rose yet higher in the king's estimation, so that he was considered the chief among the courtiers. Nevertheless, he never forgot Hottur ; but, having washed him clean, and given him fresh clothes, took him always with him wherever he went, and defended him from the jokes and mockeries of the rest.’

Bodwar obtained his wife in a manner equally singular:

“During this time it happened that a very mighty Berserk (hero,) arrived from Blueland, as Africa was then called, and the negroes,

bluemen. He was called Sot, and brought with him many ships, and a body of chosen troops. He went up into the king's hall with his men, and asked the king's sister Drifva to wife, or else challenged the king to single combat. This the king refused, whereupon the giant mounted the steps of the throne and struck at the king; but Bodwar parried the blow with his good sword, which broke that of the giant in pieces. Bodwar then cleft his head, and all the Bluemen fled affrighted from the hall. Bodwar and the rest pursued them, hewing them down, as far as their ships, where they found much gold and many treasures. After this stout action Bodwar received Drifva to wife, as they had long loved each other, and their life was one of the happiest.'"

Another passage may be quoted illustrative of the marvels and mysteries with which the ancient scalds embellished the adventures of their warriors, and which tradition has woven inseparably into her gravest recitals.

It happened once, that as King Rolf and Bodwar were conversing, Rolf asked if Bodwar knew any king who could be compared to him. Bodwar replied that he did not, but that one thing was wanting to King Roll's glory, and that was that he should obtain the inheritance which King Adil unjustly retained. . . . . King Rolf then prepared bimself with his twelve warriors, and a hundred choice men, the best of his court, and set out towards Sweden. One evening they came to a little farm where one peasant lived alone, who came out and courteously invited them to lodge with him. King Rolf answered, that he probably had not room and food enough for them all; but the peasant smiled and answered, that ' he had sometimes seen many more people come to his village, and that they should want for nothing.' The peasant's name was Krane, and he was so wise that he could answer every question they put to him ; and, in addition, he gave them better entertainment than they had ever met with before. But in the night they were awoke by such severe cold, that the teeth were chattering in their heads, and King Rolf with his twelve warriors alone could endure it, all the rest went about looking for more clothes with which to cover themselves. In the morning the peasant asked how he had slept, and the king and Bodwar answered, Well.' 'I know,' said Krane, 'that your people found it rather cool in my cottage last night; but greater difficulties are awaiting them at King Adil's court, and it would be better that you sent home the half of these weaker people, for there is no chance of your prevailing over King Adil by numbers.' The king approved of the peasant's advice, and sending home the half of his people, continued his journey. When they had ridden the wbole day, they came in the evening again to the same farm as it seemed, and the saine peasant received them, in the same style as before. They certainly thought that this looked strange, but passed the night with him notwithstanding. This time they were consumed with burning thirst, and with the heat of great wood fires, and so overcome were the

« ZurückWeiter »