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European language. The Spanish and French are still full of words, derived from the Gothic or Teutonic; some of these the Romans could not put out of use; others there are, and in far greater number, which the immigrations of the Northmen have imported and brought into vogue. But this language, so general, would, of course, be split, having so wide a range, into various dialects, and imperceptibly changed in the same country; and such is the inevitable lot of all languages. We however recognize, in its numerous branches, divers traits still subsisting of their former common origin. The Teutonic or Gothic has a great similarity to the Bas-Breton, or the Welsh, and some, with the Irish. It is still spoken without many alterations in Iceland, and in the more distant provinces of Sweden ; the Danish, the Norwegian, the Swedish, are evidently only the same language, and have a very great affinity with the German, especially with that spoken in Lower Germany."
Rude and poor, however, as the language of the North was originally, it soon acquired a polish and an elevation from the general taste of the natives for poetry. A few specimens of their skill in this art have been transmitted to us, and translated into our language; one of which we propose to append to the present chapter.
Mankind being every where the same in their ruder and infant state, every where were led to make verses, long before they thought of writing in prose. This seems to us a reversal of the natural order; but it is because we do not place ourselves in the situation of a nation, who are ignorant of the art of writing, or whose prejudices hinder them from making use of it. So situated, they could have recourse to memory alone ; memory was the sole medium of recording events; and the best assistant to memory is poetry. With what just reason, then, did the ancient Greeks represent the Muses as the daughters of Jupiter and Memory! Harmony strikes every ear; but song could not long subsist without Poetry; which was soon deemed an almost divine art, and employed for the noblest purposes, for the commemoration of remarkable events and great actions. Laws, religious rites, rural labours
(3) For this paragraph, touching upon the languages of Europe, we are wholly indebted to M. Mallet : See his “ Introduction to the History of Denmark, p. 236, 7.
i (in the primitive ages an honourable occupation) were promulged # and recorded in numbers, as well as the praises of the Gods, of i kings, and heroes. And since it requires a peculiar and uncommon
talent to become a poet, those, so gifted, must have been very con9 siderable and esteemed personages. Thus, all historic monuments
of the North bear testimony to the honours which were paid to them by king and people ; and we believe, that no country can be pointed
out, which has been so favourable to the poetic art, nor any age so ? glorious for it, as that of the Scalds in the courts of Northern : Princes. In the chronicles of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway,
we read that their kings were accompanied by one or more of : these Scalds, or Bards." They were especially honoured at the [ courts of Princes, who desired to immortalize their actions.
Haguin, king of Norway, had in his train five celebrated poets, on that famous day, when the Julines were defeated by him; and history remarks, that they each sang a hymn to inflame the soldiers' courage, before they went into action. But, besides that they were highly esteemed, and sat on the same benches in the public festivals with the superior officers of the court, they enjoyed another advantage, which would be more envied by the poets of our day; the the poems, which they composed in honour of kings and heroes, earned for them munificent presents. Seldom did a Scald sing his verses in the monarch's presence, without receiving on the spot golden rings, brilliant arms, or robes of great value. The great regard held for them, often went so far, as to procure for them the remission of crimes they had committed, on condition that they solicited pardon in verse.
In fine, Poetry was so honoured, that the greater part of the Scalds were men of illustrious birth, and Princes and even kings applied seriously to this art. Rognvald, count of the Orkneys, 5 passed for a very able poet; and in a song still preserved he boasts that he could make verses on all sorts of subjects. Regner Lodbrog-a specimen of whose compositions is given in the sequel literally translated—was no less a good poet, than a great warrior and navigator. It was not, however, on nobleness of birth, without other merit, that respect for poets was founded. A people, who did every thing for glory, was never wanting in respect to
(4) Torfæus, Hist. Norweg. II. p. 21.
the talents of one, who spread and perpetuated it, to whatever rank he belonged. A Prince or illustrious warrior did not often expose his life with so much intrepidity, unless he was likely to be lauded by his Scald, who was a witness and rewarder of his bravery. A celebrated Norwegian King placed the bards around his person in the day of battle, proudly telling them, that they were to relate not what they heard, but what they saw.
These same personages, also, sang their verses at solemn festivals to the sound of the flute or harp. But the subject of these effusions was not always a single event, as a victory, or other noble actions; it was sometimes a genealogical history of all the kings of the country, down to the reigning Prince, who was always, with dexterous flattery, sure to derive his descent from them, and generally from Thor or Woden; for no people gloried more in the pride of ancestry, than the Scandinavian monarchs.
The style of these antique poems was highly figurative, sometimes enigmatical, very remote from ordinary language, and for this reason, grand, but pompous; sublime, but wild ; extravagant, and not seldom obscure. Grandiloquent and sonorous diction was more suited and acceptable to a convivial or festive assembly, than pure and lucid eloquence. If it be the characteristic of poetry to have nothing in common with prose, except the words, if every thing should be expressed in imagery, figures, hyperboles, similes, and all the machinery of the poetic art,--the Scandinavian bards may claim the upper seats in the Temple of the Muses. But true poetry is the language of nature, always simple ; whatsoever, therefore, is artificial and overstrained, is contrary to its spirit. A fairer specimen of genuine poetry cannot be found in the whole compass of language, combining at once simplicity and sublimity, with chaste imagery, than the song of Moses, in the 15th Chapter of Exodus. In short, the Scriptures, independently of their divine origin, contain more sublimity, purer morality, more important history, and finer strains of eloquence and poetry, than can be collected from any book in any language.
We have said that the style of the Runic bards was affected, their language extravagant, their metaphors unnatural. Thus, a poet seldom expressed the heavens by any other circumlocution,
(6) Mallet, p. 242.
* than the skull of the giant Ymer, one of their demigods ; the - rain-bow was called the bridge of the Gods'; gold was turned
into the tears of Friga'; poetry, 'the present or drink of Odin’;
the earth was indifferently styled “the spouse of Odin, or the flesh 2 of Ymer,' or the vessel which floats for ages’; herbs and plants
were called the hair or fleece of the earth’; the horizon was nothing less than the hoop of the world'; with other puerilities. Other figurative expressions were just and chaste, breathing the spirit of the Muse ; as, when they describe the stars to be the poetry of heaven, and the flowers, the stars of the earth ; the warrior's sword to flash like lightning, and the rush of the army, as a mountain-torrent, and the shouting of the hosts as reaching up to heaven; their eyes in the combat to blaze with fire, and the battle-field to be as a bath of blood, and the blows of the combatants like thunderbolts. The lover while praising his mistress, whose bosom is white as alabaster, yet deplores that
her heart is cold as ice. A ship was described as the horse of the [ waves, and the tongue as the sword of words, and the vehicle of $ thought, &c.
We may conclude this division of our subject, by transcribing the summary reflections of our modern Tacitus’ upon the political state of the Northern nations, when they became formidable to the rest of Europe, by their invasions and piracies :
“During several generations, Denmark and Scandinavia continued to send forth innumerable pirates distinguished by strength, by valour, merciless ferocity, and hatred of the Christian name. No country suffered so much from these invaders, as England. Her coasts lay near to the ports whence they sailed, nor was any part of our island so far distant from the seas, as to be secure from attack. The same atrocities which had attended the victorious Saxon over the Celt, were now, after a lapse of ages, suffered by the Saxon at the hand of the Dane. Civilisation, just as it began to rise, was met by this blow, and sunk down once more. Large colonies of adventurers from the Baltic established themselves on the Eastern shores, spread gradually westward, and supported by constant re-inforcements from beyond the sea, aspired to the dominion of the whole realın. The struggle between the two fierce Teutonic breeds lasted during six generations. Each was alternately
(7) B. Macaulay's Hist. of England, I, p. 10.
paramount. Cruel massacres, followed by cruel retribution, provinces wasted, convents plundered, and cities razed to the ground make
up the greater part of the history of those evil days. At length, the North ceased to pour forth a constant stream of fresh depredators, and from that time mutual aversion of races began to subside. Inter-marriage became frequent. The Danes learned the religion of the Saxons; and thus one cause of deadly animosity was removed. The Danish and Saxon tongues, both dialects of one wide-spread language, were blended together. But the distinction between the two nations was by no means effaced, when an event took place which prostrated both in common slavery at the feet of a third people, under William the Norman.
The plan of this work prevents us from doing competent justice to the subject of the foregoing essay; but the curious reader will find it fully and learnedly discussed in Mallet's NORTHERN ANTIQUITIEs: The very erudite author has ably described the manners, customs, religion, and laws of the ancient Danes, and other northern nations including those of our Saxon ancestors; with a Translation of the Edda, and other pieces from the ancient Icelandish tongue. This work has been translated from the French by Dr Percy, Bishop of Dromore, with additional notes by the translator. To it is appended Goranson's Latin version of the Edda.
The subjoined Ode, usually called The Quida, has been selected not only as a fair specimen of the Runic muse, but as an historical epitome of the achievements of Regnar, from the Northern Hellespont to the British isles, In this effusion, war, the worst of evils, is considered a pastime, the battle field, the most awful of sights, as a scene of delight. Every incident attending the slaughter, all the imagery of death, is recalled with exultation. The bloody fray is hailed by the human hell-hound as the sweetest hour of his life, even as the day of his nuptials: "Was it not like that hour when I placed my smiling bride beside me on the marriage couch ?" The clashing of arms, the shouts of the encountering hosts, the shrieks and yells of the wounded, are as music to the ear of the iron-clad and iron-hearted warrior. But the day we trust is now passing or past, when war shall be the occupation of mankind, and the age is now dawning, when the tongue and the pen, not the sabre and the musket, shall employ the faculties of the nations : Cedant arma togæ, concedat laurea linguæ.'
[SEE TURNER'S ANGLO-SAXONS; SIXTH EDITION, vol. i, p. 475.
THE DYING ODE OF REGNER LODBROG.
We fought with swords : When in Gothland I slew an enormous serpent, my reward was the beauteous Thora. Thence I was deemed a man : they called me Lodbrog from that slaughter. . . . I thrust the monster through with a spear, with the steel productive of splendid rewards.
We fought with swords: I was very young, when towards the east, in the straits of Eirar, we gained rivers of blood for the ravenous wolf; ample food for the yellow-footed fowl (eagle). There the hard iron sung upon the lofty helmets. The whole ocean was one wound. The raven waded in the blood of the slain.
We fought with swords : we lifted high our lances; when I had numbered twenty years, and every where acquired renown. We conquered eight barons at the mouth of the
* Five Pieces of Runic Poetry, published by Dodsley, in 1763.