William Morris Archive

Anderson, Karl. Discussion of Morris and the Earthly Paradise," in " "Scandinavian Elements in the Works of William Morris." Diss., Harvard University, 1940, 13-38.

While Morris was still living at the Red House, according to Mackail, he had begun to consider writing a series of narrative poems connected by some framework similar to that of The Canterbury Tales. When the family moved back to London and Morris thus secured a greater amount of leisure time, he began working on several tales, and the plan of the whole rapidly developed. Mackail summarizes very satisfactorily the evolution of the underlying structure of what was to be The Earthly Paradise. Morris first intended, he says, to draw indiscriminately upon the whole stock of the world’s tales and legends for the plots of his poems, but later decided to base one-half of his narratives on Greek stories and the other half on non-Greek material. In order to bring together two groups of people who would be familiar with these two different bodies of lore, he determined to place the scene of the telling of the stories on a remote island where in early times there might have been an outlying colony of Greeks who, cut off from the rest of the world, had preserved through the centuries down to the end of the Middle Ages the old Greek tales. As a motive for bringing men of Western Europe to the island, he chose the search for an earthly paradise stimulated by the stories of the Norse discovery of America and by a desire to escape the ravages of the Black Death.1 

Among the first poems written for this collection, according to Mackail, were three based on Greek legends, the subjects of these being the love of Orpheus and Eurydice, the life of Aristomenes of Messene, and the search for the Golden Fleece.2 None of these tales, however, were eventually included in The Earthly Paradise. The first two Morris never published, and the third one grew to such a length that it could not be given a place in this collection, but had to be published separately as The Life and Death of Jason. The work appeared in January of 1867. As might be expected from its subject, it shows no traces of Scandinavian influence.

The first part of The Earthly Paradise, however, which was published in the spring of 1868, contains many indications of Morris’s interest in the North. None of the twelve tales in this part are of Norse origin, but the Prologue to the whole poem and a number of the links between the various narratives include numerous references to medieval Scandinavia. Moreover, it is important to note that although none of the stories printed in 1868 were Norse, one of the tales he had decided to include in the collection and which he very likely had already written – namely, “The Palace East of the Sun” – was based on a Scandinavian story. This poem is included in the list of tales that Morris printed in 1867 in his announcement of The Earthly Paradise in the Jason volume.3 Although the mention of the work here does not of course prove that it had already been composed, it is very likely that when Morris prepared this list, he had written, or had at least outlined, many, if not most, of the stories there included. As a matter of fact, all but eight of the twenty-six works mentioned in the list in the first edition of Jason were finally published in The Earthly Paradise, and of these eight unpublished ones, five exist in manuscript form.4 Moreover, in the Preface to one of the volumes of the Collected Works Miss May Morris describes a series of six quarto manuscript notebooks containing Earthly Paradise tales, stating that she is of the opinion that the order in which the poems are given in these manuscripts indicates the order in which they were written; in this list of twelve works “The Palace East of the Sun” comes fourth.5 In a later Preface Miss Morris seems somewhat less confident about using this list as evidence of the order of composition,6 but although these manuscripts may not indicate the exact sequence in which the tales were composed, she feels that there is little doubt that the works included here were among the first written and were thus composed fairly early. In fact, of the twelve poems in these notebooks eight were published by 1868, - one, “The Deeds of Jason,” as a separate volume and seven in the first part of The Earthly Paradise.7 That one version of the tale in question had at any rate been prepared before the summer of 1869 is made clear by the fact that in a letter which Morris wrote in August of 1869 when he was preparing the next volume of The Earthly Paradise for publication, he speaks of completely rewriting this particular poem.8 I have not seen the version of this story in the quarto notebooks described by Miss Morris, but I have examined a manuscript version now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England which differs considerably from the published tale and which is very likely in the main a copy of the one referred to by Miss Morris. This is evidently the version Morris rejected in 1869; as compared with the published form, it reveals, as I shall show later, a distinct immaturity of workmanship, and must have been composed at an early date.9 Thus there is every reason to believe that the tale in its original form was one of the earliest poems Morris wrote for The Earthly Paradise although it was not published until September of 1869.

Before proceeding to a detailed analysis of the Norse elements in Part I of The Earthly Paradise, I should like to point out that although Morris did introduce a considerable number of Scandinavian allusions in this section of his work, and had determined to include and seems to have already written at this time one poem based entirely on a Norse story, it is rather surprising that out of the twenty-four tales which, according to the list in the Jason volume in 1867, he originally intended to publish in the new collection and to put in the mouths of a number of Norwegian mariners and their Greek-speaking hosts, only one is Scandinavian in origin; it is evident that at this time Morris’s Norse reading had not made a deep impression upon him.

The majority of the Scandinavian allusions in the first part of The Earthly Paradise are contained in the Prologue, which is called “The Wanderers.” The Prologue that Morris published in 1868, it should be noted, was not his first attempt at writing the poem which furnishes the background and general setting for the whole work; according to Miss May Morris, there are manuscript remains of three other beginning, all of them in a four-line stanza rhyming ABAB.10 One of these manuscript Prologues runs to the length of 634 stanzas; it is carried to a conclusion, but it is clearly not in its final form.11 Morris seems to have written this Prologue late in 1865 or early in 1866; he composed the final published version in the summer of 1867.12 

Both these forms of the Prologue show unmistakably that by the middle of the 1860s Morris had become rather well acquainted with early Scandinavian history. It should be noted that the very fact that he decided to make the mariners who went on a fruitless search for an earthly paradise Norwegians reveals an intimate familiarity with many phases of the life of medieval Norway. The appropriateness of representing the wanderers as Scandinavians has not been sufficiently appreciated, it seems to me. In the first place, it should be remembered that the Norsemen were known to be the most intrepid sailors of the time, and it was accordingly very fitting that the mariners who sailed forth without hesitation over unknown seas should be pictured as Scandinavians. Again, the tradition of a strange, unexplored land lying westward over the sea would most likely be most alive among the Norsemen, who were obviously well acquainted with the saga stories of the voyages of their kinsmen to North America. Moreover, it was absolutely essential to the plot of the whole poem that the men of western Europe who met with the Greeks and exchanged tales with them should be able to understand and speak Greek readily, and this circumstance was provided for by the fact that many Norsemen in the Middle Ages served in the Varangian Guard at Constantinople and there learned Greek. Finally, the wanderers were to be represented as telling stories drawn from a great variety of sources, and the Norsemen, who had visited almost all parts of Europe, would be more likely than any other people to be acquainted with such a wide range of tales.13 

The Scandinavian background is found in both Prologues, but it is presented in much greater detail in the published version than in the other. From the information available it is impossible to ascertain whether in the earlier Prologue Morris was simply not interested in giving his story an air of realism or whether his knowledge of early Scandinavia increased during the year or two that elapsed between the two forms so that he was better able in 1867 to develop in detail the Northern background. It should be noted that the second Prologue is in all respects a much more mature piece of work than the first. It is more carefully planned and developed, and shows a richer imagination and a far greater mastery of the verse; the other Prologue, written in a jaunty, four-line stanza, is in general much less detailed, the scenes passing by as in a fleeting dream. In view of this change in the character of the work as a whole, it seems very likely that the fuller treatment of the Scandinavian setting in the published version – and I shall make clear the exact difference between the two Prologues in this respect in a moment – was to a great extent, if not wholly, simply the result of maturing literary powers.

In both Prologues, the story of the strange voyage in search of the earthly paradise is put into the mouth of one of the surviving mariners, who now for the last time retells the tale to the people at whose shores he and his fellows have finally arrived and with whom they are to pass their few remaining days. In the first version, the narrator does not begin with an account of their race and their native land, as we should expect him to do and as he actually does in the second Prologue, but plunges directly into the story of the beginning of their journey. Moreover, the willingness of the sailors to set forth on a perilous journey over unknown seas is not so carefully motivated here as in the later work, for in this first version they decide quite suddenly on their search merely because of a dream and a vision that comes to their captain on one of their trading voyages. During a short stop for water, according to the narrator, their leader dreamt that he was standing in a temple full of images of Greek deities, and that the two men appeared and described the land in which they lived as the home of eternal happiness, which anyone could reach by sailing westward and by praying for the aid of Venus; at this point he awoke, and saw two strange figures close by him;

Waking, I saw two ancient men
There in the corners; of gold fine
One wore a crown; about his head
Shone rings of light, all armed was he
And all his raiment was of red;
He held a great axe handily.
The other man was clad in blue
One-eyed he was and held a spear;
Olaf and Odin straight I knew
And cried the cry that you did hear.
Straightway they vanished, but each one
Beckoned me westward as he went. . . .”14 

This account of Olaf and Odin is the first reference to anything Scandinavian in the early Prologue, and is the first indication that the Wanderers may be Northmen. The old sailor then tells how their priest tried to dissuade their captain from setting out in search of this land by pointing out that since King Olaf and Odin had appeared together, it was probably the devil who had assumed these shapes to lead him astray; the priest also related that many years before, several men had gone on a similar search and after many dire experiences
“Came broken-hearted to Norway.”15 

The captain, however, was firm in his resolution, and he and a group of his followers set sail. We are now introduced to some of the leading characters, two of whom have Scandinavian names, Sir Rolf the Old and Sir John of Hederby.16 As the story progresses, we learn more about the ancestry of the sailors, for in a dream the captain sees his father and
My mother whom I left alive
In Norway, and my daughter fair,17 

and a few stanzas later the sailors comfort themselves in their despair by the thought that the worst that can happen to them is to die like their fathers,

“Who fell upon the English shore,
Or sunk below the sandy Seine,
Or back from Russia came no more,
Or got no mercy from the Dane.”18 

Two later passages give us more definite information about the Wanderers. On hearing the language of some ladies they have rescued from death, one of the sailors remarks,

“This is the Greek tongue
That erst at Micklegarth I heard
By the Greek king when I was young,”19 
and when they are brought before the queen of these ladies, the captain proudly proclaims,
“From Harald Fair-Hair am I sprung
And thence from Odin in right line,
Who was a God, as skalds have sung.”20 

The passages that I have quoted here contain all the references to Scandinavia that are to be found in the first completed Prologue, except for a few colorless repetitions that add nothing new;21 but although the references are far fewer in number and much less detailed than in the final published version, they indicate that already by 1865 Morris had a more extensive knowledge of the Scandinavian past than he could have gained from the books that we know he read at Oxford. His description of Olaf and Odin as they appear in the vision may have been based on passages in Thorpe’s Northern Mythology,22 and his information regarding the Varangian Guard at Constantinople may have been drawn from Fouqué’s Thiodolf the Icelander;23 but for the familiarity he shows with the expeditions of the Norwegians to England, France, Russia, and Denmark and for his reference to the captain’s descent from Harald Fairhair and thus from Odin, he seems to have drawn upon some Scandinavian history. As I shall show later,24 we know that by 1868 he was familiar with Mallet’s Northern Antiquities; this book may very well have been known to him in 1865, and may have been the source of the material referred to above.25 It is not at all unlikely that he also knew Laing’s translation of the Heimskringla at this time.26 The Scandinavian allusions in the final form of the Prologue make it almost certain that he was familiar with the Heimskringla in 1867, and he may very likely have been acquainted with the book two years earlier and have been indebted to the very full account of the early history of Norway presented there for the passages cited above.27 Neither of these works, it should be noted, states explicitly that Harald Fairhair was descended in a direct line from Odin; but there is an account in Mallet of the custom of tracing the ancestry of early kings or other heroes back to Odin or to one of the other gods28 and in Laing’s Heimskringla there are occasional references to such traditions,29 and it was probably this material which led Morris to represent the sailor as claiming descent from Odin through Harald. It should also be noted that in Laing’s translation of the Heimskringla there are a number of accounts of the reappearance of Odin and King Olaf after death;30 as I have already stated, Morris very likely drew upon Thorpe for his description of these figures in the captain’s dream, but there is only one account in Thorpe of a vision of Odin31 and none of Olaf, and so it was very likely these stories in Laing that suggested to Morris the idea of picturing Odin and Olaf as appearing to a fourteenth-century Scandinavian.32 Finally, I should like to point out that in none of the works mentioned above is the form “Micklegarth,” which Morris used in the next to last quotation, employed in place of “Constantinople”; of all the Scandinavian books with which we definitely know Morris was familiar by 1868,33 I find that only Dasent’s rendering of the Njáls saga uses “Micklegarth.”34 

In the final version of the Prologue, as I have already pointed out, the Scandinavian background is developed in more detail; here the Wanderer who relates the story of the voyage begins at once with a full account of his Norse origin:35 

No wonder if the Grecian tongue I know,
Since at Byzantium many a year ago
My father bore the twibil valiantly;
There did he marry, and get me, and die,
And I went back to Norway to my kin,
Long ere this beard ye see did first begin
To shade my mouth, but nathless not before
Among the Greeks I gathered some small lore,
And standing midst the Væringers, still heard36 
From this or that man many a wondrous word;
For ye shall know that though we worshipped God,
And heard mass duly, still of Swithiod
The Greater, Odin and his house of gold,
The noble stories ceased not to be told;
These moved me more than words of mine can say
E’en while at Micklegarth my folks did stay;
But when I reached one dying autumn-tide
My uncle’s dwelling near the forest side,
And saw the land so scanty and so bare,
And all the hard things men contend with there,
A little and unworthy land it seemed,
And yet the more of Asgard37 I dreamed,
And worthier seemed the ancient faith of praise.38 

A few pages later he goes into more detail about his ancestry:

Now if ye ask me from what land I come
With all my folly, - Viken is my home39 
Where Tryggve40 Olaf’s son and Olaf’s sire
Lit to the ancient Gods the sacred fire,
Unto whose line am I myself akin,
Through him who Astrid in old time did win,
King Olaf’s widow: let all that go by,
Since I was born at least to misery.41 

He relates how he and his companions, when young men in Norway, used to pore over old tales of voyages to strange lands, and how, impelled by the desire to escape the ravages of a pestilence, they themselves finally decided to set out in search of the land of eternal youth.

Now Nicholas came to Laurence and to me
To talk of what he deemed our course should be,
To whom agape I listened, since I knew
Nought but old tales, nor aught of false and true
Amid these, for but one kind seemed to be
The Vineland voyage o’er the unknown sea
And Swegder’s42 search for Godheim,43 when he found
The entrance to a new world underground;
But Nicholas o’er many books had pored
And this and that thing in his mind had stored,
And idle tales from true report he knew.
- Would he were living now, to tell you
This story that my feeble lips must tell!
Now he indeed of Vineland knew full well,
Both from my tales where truth perchance touches lies,
And from the ancient written histories;
But now he said, “The land was good enow
That Leif the son of Eric came unto,
But this was not our world, nay scarce could be
The door into a place so heavenly
As that we seek….”44 

These statements by the spokesman of the Wanderers concerning his ancestry and his early life as well as his references to stories of voyages by other Northmen to unknown lands show clearly that Morris had at this time a rather extensive knowledge of early Scandinavian history,45 a far more extensive knowledge than he could have gained from the works of Scott, Thorpe’s Northern Mythology, and the Norse romances of De la Motte Fouqué. The most likely sources of his information about the matters referred to in these passages are Mallet’s Northern Antiquities and Laing’s translation of the Heimskringla. Thus, the service of the Northmen in the Varangian Guard at Micklegarth, to which he refers in the first quotation above, is mentioned on numerous occasions in both these works and also, as I have already pointed out, in Fouqué’s Thiodolf the Icelander.46 It is noteworthy that the rather peculiar form “Væringers,” which is used by Morris, is found in the 1844 edition of Laing’s Heimskringla and in Fouqué’s Thiodolf. Again, the reference to “Swithiod the Greater” was probably based on the description of the world in the opening chapter of the “Ynglinga saga” in the Heimskringla, where we are told that this name was in medieval times applied to the territory now called “Russia.”47 By “Odin and his house of gold” Morris probably meant either Odin and his mansion Gladsheimr or Odin and the hall Gimli, both houses being made of gold and being gamed as the abodes of happiness; with both Gladsheimr and Gimli Morris may have become familiar through either Thorpe’s Northern Mythology or Mallet’s Northern Antiquities.48 Laing explains in a footnote to the first mention of “Swithiod the Great” that this territory was often called “Godheim” and was considered the home of the gods;49 it was perhaps for this reason that Morris placed Odin’s “house of gold” in “Swithiod the Greater,” although the two are never linked in Old Norse mythological works. For his information regarding “Asagard” Morris may have been indebted to Thorpe, Mallet, or Laing.50 Rather surprising, however, is his use of the form “Asagard,” which is found in none of these works; very likely Morris’s spelling was simply the result of his having forgotten the correct form.

In the second passage quoted above Morris makes even more extensive use of Laing’s translation of the Heimskringla. It may well be that a footnote by Laing at the beginning of “King Olaf Tryggveson’s Saga” to the effect that “King Olaf, it will be remembered, was one of Harald Haargarer’s sons; King Tryggve Olafsson was the son of this Olaf, and this Olaf Tryggvesson the son of Tryggve"51 suggested Morris’s reference to “Tryggve Olaf’s son and Olaf’s sire”; the spelling “Tryggve,” which Morris used instead of the more correct “Tryggvi,” is found in Laing’s translation, it should be noted. Moreover, like Morris, Laing – and Mallet also – give the name “Viken,” with the suffixed definite article retained, to the district around the Oslo Fjord.52 In another of his allusions Morris seems likewise to be drawing on information he had derived from Laing, but here he seems to be making a slight slip: he represents the mariner as saying that he is related to Tryggvi’s line

Through him who Astrid in old time did win,
King Olaf’s widow,

but the only Astrid whom the description “King Olaf’s widow” fits is the Astrid, daughter of King Olaf of Sweden, to whom King Olaf Haraldsson of Norway was married, and the Heimskringla does not record that she ever remarried after her husband’s death at Sticklestad.53 Morris probably had in mind either Astrid, the daughter of King Tryggvi Olafsson and sister Olaf Tryggvason, by whose marriage to Erling Skialgsson King Olaf Tryggvason brought about the baptism of Hordaland,54 or else Astrid, King Tryggvi’s widow, the mother of King Olaf Tryggvason, who fled from home after King Tryggvi’s murder, gave birth to a son, was captured by Vikings from Esthonia, and was sold into slavery, from which she was rescued by Lodin, a rich Norwegian merchant, who ransomed her and brought her home on the condition that she would marry him.55 It is of course impossible to determine to which Astrid Morris intended to refer; undoubtedly both these stories appealed to him.56 

In the third passage quoted above, Morris’s allusion to “Swegder’s search for Godheim” is in all probability based on the story in Chapter XV of the Ynglinga Saga, where it is related that Swegder went seeking for Godheim, was beckoned into a huge rock by a dwarf, and was never again seen on earth.57 The Wineland voyages, also mentioned in this quotation, are described at great length both in the Appendix to Laing’s translation and in Mallet’s Northern Antiquities.58 Laing called the newly-discovered country “Vinland,” and Mallet uses the terms “Vinland” and Wineland”; in neither discussion does Morris’s name “Vineland” occur.

Not only is the Scandinavian setting presented in more detail at the beginning of the final version of the Prologue, but throughout the poem Morris carries out much more completely than in the first Prologue the illusion that the sailors are Norwegians. The characters are given such typically Scandinavian names as “Marcus, Erling,” “Kirstin,” and “Rolf.”59 When the adventurers are making their plans for setting sail secretly, they arrange to leave the town by the gate facing Saint Bride and to meet

“at King Tryggve’s60 hill
Outside the city gates.”61 

In referring to “King Tryggve’s hill,” Morris very likely had in mind the account in Laing’s translation of the Heimskringla of the murder of King Tryggvi and the statement “He lies buried at a place called Tryggve’s Cairn.”62 According to the Heimskringla, Tryggvi was slain at Vegger, near Sotaness; if then, by “Tryggve’s hill” Morris means “Tryggve’s Cairn,” as he almost certainly did, the allusion would place the starting-point of the Wanderers roughly in the Oslo Fjord. That this deduction is correct is proved by a statement made by Rolf, the narrator, toward the end of the poem:

But twenty summers had I seen go by
When I left Viken63 on that desperate cruise.64 

Rolf further relates in his speech before the Greeks how he stole away that memorable night when he left Norway, bearing

My father’s axe that from Byzantium,
With some few gems my pouch yet held, had come.65 

When he grew downhearted as they journeyed over the vast ocean, he recalled the story told of one of his countrymen who sailed through unknown seas in a heavy fog and came to a rocky island,

And while a little off the land he lay
As in a dream he heard the folk call out
In his own tongue, but mazed and all in doubt
He turned therefrom, and afterwards in strife
With winds and waters, much of precious life
He wasted utterly, for when again
He reached his port after long months of pain,
Unto Biarmeland he chanced to go,
And there the isle he left so long ago
He knew at once, where many Northern were.66 

There are numerous references to Norse voyages to Biarmeland in Laing’s translation of the Heimskringla,67 where the name of the country is spelled in just this way, but no story like that resferred to by Rolf is told in the Heimskringla or in any of the other Scandinavian books that Morris is said to have known. Probably Morris had simply become acquainted with some such tale in the course of his extensive reading, and he now localized the story and identified the land as Biarmeland, in the north of Russia, in order to develop further the Scandinavian background of his poem. A little later in his narrative Rolf says that when the mariners began to notice signs of land, one of the sailors brought him some seaweed, and immediately he thought of home:
then knew I certainly

The wreck, that oft before I had seen lie
In sandy bights of Norway.68 

One night they slept, full of hope, on the shore of what they thought was their promised land, and Rolf dreamt; he was straightway carried back to his early days:

But in my sleep of lovely things I dreamed,
For I was back at Micklegarth once more,
But not a court-man’s son there as of yore,
But the Greek king, or so I seemed to be,
Set on the throne whose awe and majesty
Gold lions guard.69 

At one time he and his companions dwelt among some savages who knew little of the arts of civilization; Rolf says the Northmen

built them huts, as well we could, for we
Who dwell in Norway have great mastery
In woodwright’s craft….70 

On another occasion the Northmen were attacked by a host of vicious savages, against whom they fought so valiantly

That Odin’s gods had hardly scared men more
As fearless through the naked press we bore.71 

Towards the end of their journey the Wanderers reached a land of fairly civilized people; Rolf noted at once the character of their writing, and remembered he had seen something similar in his earlier days:
we taught

Such lore as we from our own land had brought
Unto this folk, who when they wrote must draw
Such draughts as erst at Micklegarth I saw
Write for the evil Pharaoh-kings of old.72 

There are a few other, less important references to Scandinavia in the poem,73 but I have quoted enough to show clearly that by the time Morris wrote the final version of the Prologue – that is, by the summer of 1867 –, he had become very well acquainted with the life, culture, and history of the early Scandinavians, and had begun to digest this material and to learn to think and see from the point of view of the Northmen, so that his Norse allusions in the poems produced at this time seem to be more natural and not so much mere external decoration as in his early work. However, all the compositions written before 1868 show that he had as yet not been moved by the spirit of the saga literature; this development was not to take place until he began reading the sagas in the original and came into contact with a personal representative of the Old Norse culture.

All but one of the remaining Scandinavian allusions in the first part of The Earthly Paradise are contained in the links Morris inserted between various tales. Most of these allusions are general and unimportant, but a few give us more information about the Norwegian sailors and incidentally throw further light on the extent of Morris’s acquaintance with early Scandinavia; for the sake of completeness, I shall list all the passages containing Norse references.

In introducing “The Man Born to be King,” one of the tales told by a Wanderer, Morris represents the sailor as saying,

“O kind hosts and ear,
Hearken a little unto such a tale
As folk with us will tell in every vale
About the yule-tide fire, when the snow
Deep in the passes, letteth men to go
From place to place: now from there few great folk be,
Although we upland men have memory
Of ills kings did us; yet as now indeed
Few have much wealth, few are in utter need.
Like the wise ants a kingless, happy folk
We long have been, not galled by any yoke,
But the white leaguer of the winter tide
whereby all men at home are bound to bide.”74 

It is impossible to determine the exact source of Morris’s information about the state of Norway in the fourteenth century; the subject is not treated in any of the Scandinavian works with which we definitely know that he was familiar at this time. As I have already pointed out, we learn in the Prologue to the whole poem that Rolf, the captain, was a native of the district around the Oslo Fjord and that the expedition set sail from this region. Some of the sailors, however, seem to have been from the north of Norway, for in the introductory remarks to “The Proud King” one of the Wanderers says,

“Sirs, it happed to me,
Long years agone, to cross the narrow sea
That ‘twixt us Drontheimers and England lies;
……………………….it came to pass
That to this town or that we took our way,
Or in some abbey’s guesten-chamber lay,
And many tales we heard, some false, some true,
Of the ill deeds our fathers used to do
within the land; and still the tale would end,
‘Yet did the Saint his Holy House defend;’
Or, ‘Sirs, their fury all was nought and vain,
And by our Earl the pirate-king was slain.’
God wot, I laughed full often in my sleeve.

And could have told them stories, by their leave,
with other endings: but I held my tongue.”75 

This charming picture of a fourteenth-century Norseman visiting England adds a great deal of realism to the setting of the poem. With the important town of Drontheim Morris may have become familiar through Thorpe, Mallet, or Laing.76 When the Wanderer had finished his story of “The Proud King,” some of the men began to talk of past events; one of the scenes thus recalled was that of

The fir-built Norway hall
Filled with the bonders waiting for the fall
Of the great roof whereto the torch is set.77 

with Norse burnings Morris had already showed himself familiar in 1858 in the poem “Rapunzel”;78 since then, he had very likely become further acquainted with this very common custom through Laing’s Heimskringla.79 Finally, after Laurence, one of the wanderers, has recited the tale “The writing on the Image,” which tells of a scholar who gained access to a treasure-chamber but as a result of his avarice was imprisoned therein forever, then men talk of other seekers after treasures, and mention

the Niflungs’80 fatal hoard,
The serpent-guarded treasures of the dead.81 

Here Morris is evidently referring to the tale of the Volsungs. With the story of Sigurd’s slaying of Fafnir and the curse laid on the dragon’s gold Morris had in all probability been long acquainted, for there is a very full synopsis of the Völsunga saga in Thorpe’s Northern Mythology,82 which, as we have seen, Morris read while a student at Oxford. In making the allusion just quoted, however, he seems rather to have had in mind the poetical version of the tale in Thorpe’s translation of the Poetic Edda,83 which we definitely know he had read by 1868,84 for in the Northern Mythology Thorpe calls the family of Gudrun the “Nibelungs,”85 but in his rendering of the Poetic Edda he, like Morris, terms them “Niflungs.”

The one remaining Scandinavian allusion in the first part of The Earthly Paradise is found in “Ogier the Dane.” In this poem Morris followed primarily late French prose romance,86 but he treated his source with a great deal of freedom. In one passage not in the original he makes a remark in which he is evidently referring to the Old Norse Thor and his fellow-gods: when Ogier returns to earth from Avalon and arrives at Paris, Morris represents him as exclaiming to the guard,

“St. Mary! do such men as ye
Fight with the master from across the sea?
Then, certes, are ye lost, however good
Your hearts may be; not such were those who stood
Beside the Hammer-bearer years agone.”87 

By the “Hammer-bearer” Morris almost certainly meant Thor. With Thor and his hammer he had very likely become familiar through the Edda stories in Thorpe and Mallet.88 

At the end of this first part of The Earthly Paradise Morris announced the second and, as he then intended it to be, the concluding volume;89 “The Palace East of the Sun” appeared again in this list of forthcoming tales, but this was the only Scandinavian story that he planned even at that late time to include in this lengthy work. Before the end of the year, however, he was destined to meet with a great experience which was to have a decided effect upon the rest of The Earthly Paradise and, indeed, upon the rest of his life.

"The Story of Aslaug," pp. 120-27.

"The Lovers of Gudrun," 64-109.

  1. William Morris, I, 178-179.

  2. Ibid., I, 188.

  3. Collected Works, III, xi.

  4. The eight works not published in The Earthly Paradise are "The Story of Theseus," "The King's Treasure-House," "The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice," "The Dolphins and the Lovers," "The Fortunes of Gyges," "The Seven Sleepers," "The Queen of the North," and "The Story of Dorothea." The three not included in The Earthly Paradise and not known to exist in manuscript form are "The Story of Theseus," "The Seven Sleepers," and "The Queen of the North."

  5. III, xv.

  6. VI, xvii. It does seem rather unsafe to assume that the tales were written in the order in which they are found in these manuscripts, for in these books "The Deeds of Jason" comes last, and according to Mackail, as I pointed out above, this was one of the first works Morris produced when he began planning The Earthly Paradise.

  7. The seven published in the first part of The Earthly Paradise are "The Prologue," "Cupid and Psyche," "The Lady of the Land," "The Doom of Acrisius," "The Proud King," "The Watching of the Falcon," and "Writing on the Image."

  8. See below, pages 62-63.

  9. See below, pages 74-87.

  10. Collected Works, II, xiii-xv.

  11. Miss Morris published this version many years after her father's death in Volume XXIV of the Collected Works, pp. 87-170.

  12. Mackail, William Morris, I, 188.

  13. In the final published version of the Prologue Morris provides a Breton squire and a Swabian priest to tell some of the tales, but in the earlier Prologue he does not mention any foreigners as being present in the group of Norsemen.

  14. Collected Works, XXIV, 91-92.

  15. Ibid., XXIV, 92.

  16. Ibid., XXIV, 93 and 106.

  17. Ibid., XXIV, 108.

  18. Collected Works, XXIV, 109. 

  19. Ibid., XXIV, 120.

  20. Ibid., XXIV, 127.

  21. Such as Ibid., XXIV, 92, 11. 17-19 and 127, 1. 25.

  22. See I, 160-161 and II, 38.

  23. See pages 163-304.

  24. See below, pages 43-45.

  25. See pages 168-192 for an account of the foreign expeditions of the Norsemen, pages 75, 121, 182, 183, 187, 235, and 280 for reference to Harald Hárfagra, and pages 193-194 for an account of the service of Scandinavians in the bodyguard of Byzantine emperors. For possible sources of Morris's statement that Harald was descended from Odin, see below, pages 24 and note 1.

  26. The Heimskringla; or, Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, tr. Samuel Laing (London, 1844).

  27. See, for example, I, 288-289, 293-294, 316-317, 319-323, 396-397 and 459 for references to Norse voyages to other lands of Europe; I, 271-313 for the story of Harald Haarfager; and III, 3-17 for an account of Harald Hardrada in Constantinople.

  28. Page 80.

  29. See, for example, I, 212, 223-224, 242 ("vísa"), and 261 ("vísa"). Moreover, in one of the "vísur" in the Haralds saga hárfagra (I, 277), Harald is described as "The Fair-haired son of Odin's line."

  30. See I, 224 and 435-436 and III, 14, 27-28, 53, 167-168, 197-201, 264-265, and 297.

  31. I, 160-161.

  32. I have assumed that the "Olaf" Morris meant to represent as appearing in the captain's vision was King Olaf the Holy. However, Karl Litzenberg, in his article "William Morris and the Heimskringla" in Scandinavian Studies and Notes, XIV (1936-1937), 36-37, identifies this Olaf as King Olaf Tryggvason. That this was the Olaf Morris had in mind seems to me less likely. In the first place the legends telling of the reappearance of Olaf the Holy were much more numerous than the stores of visions of Olaf Tryggvason. There is only one mention in the Heimskringla, as far as I know, of the reappearance of the latter (see II, 295-296), in contrast to the nine accounts of the visits of Olaf the Holy just listed in note 30. Moreover, since Morris makes the priest say that the appearance of Olaf and Odin together must have been the work of the devil, it is more likely that he had Olaf the Holy in mind, for this Olaf was of course much more famous than Olaf Tryggvason as the champion of Christianity. Furthermore, the "rings of light" which Morris says shone around his head were very likely meant to refer to the halo which would naturally surround a saint. Finally, the fact that the figure carried an axe points toward Olaf the Holy, for Olaf's axe was supposed to have replaced Thor's hammer as the symbol of divine might and in all representations of Olaf the Holy he was pictured with an axe.

  33. See below, pages 43-47.

  34. See The Story of Burnt Njál, tr. George Webbe Dasent (Edinburgh, 1861), I, x. Moreover, in his long introduction Dasent describes, though much more briefly than Mallet and Laing, the foreign expeditions of the Norsemen (see I, ix-x), and refers occasionally to Harald Fairhair (see I, ix and xi.) Furthermore, it is interesting to note that in Mallet and Laing, Harald's nickname is not translated, but in Dasent, as in Morris, he is called "Harald Fairhair."

  35. In quoting passages from this form of the Prologue, I have followed the edition of The Earthly Paradise that was published in London between 1868 and 1871 in four volumes. The version that was printed in the Collected Works, III-VI, embodies changes that Morris made in his revision of this work in 1890 (see Collected Works, III, xxx), and in this revised form many of the proper nouns in the Prologue are altered. I have preferred to reproduce the original version here, for the names used in this text often throw light, as I shall show, on the source of Morris's information. When the names occurring in my quotations were later changed, I have given the revised form in the footnotes.

  36. Revised form: "midst the Væring warriors heard."

  37. Revised form: "of Asgard's days."

  38. Earthly Paradise, I, 7.

  39. Revised form: "Wick was once my home."

  40. Revised form: "Tryggvi."

  41. Earthly Paradise, I, 15.

  42. Revised form: "Swegdir."

  43. Revised form: "Godhome."

  44. Earthly Paradise, I, 15-16.

  45. The more important Scandinavian allusions in this version of the Prologue are discussed by O.F. Adams and W.J. Rolfe in the notes to their edition of Atlanta's Race and Other Tales from the Earthly Paradise (Boston, 1888). Adams and Rolfe, however, are interested only in explaining these references to the general reader, and make no attempt, as I have done in my comments, to ascertain the source of Morris's information regarding these matters; moreover, they are not all interested in using these allusions to determine the extent of Morris's acquaintance with early Scandinavia at this time.

  46. See above, page 23, notes 1, 3, and 5.

  47. I, 216.

  48. See Thorpe, op. cit., pp. 104, 409, 414, 500, and 504.

  49. I, 216. See also page 224.

  50. See Thorpe, Northern Mythology, I, 11; Mallet, Northern Antiquities, pages 80, 84-85, and 406; and Heimskringla, tr. Laing, 217.

  51. I, 367.

  52. See, for example, Heimskringla, tr. Laing, I, 290, 316, 319, 321, and 323 and Mallet, op. cit., p. 183.

  53. See Heimskringla, tr. Laing, III, 365 and 368-369.

  54. See Ibid., I, 429-431.

  55. See Ibid., I, 367-371 and 425-426.

  56. Karl Litzenberg, in the article referred to in Scandinavian Studies and Notes, XIV, (1936-1937), 35, identifies Astrid as the widow of King Olaf Haraldsson; he thinks that Morris remembered that the Heimskringla does not mention the remarriage of this Astrid after the death of Olaf, and believes that Morris remembered that the Heimskringla does not mention the remarriage of this Astrid after the death of Olaf, and believes that Morris deliberately chose to refer to a second husband of this Astrid as the ancestor of the sailor Rolf in order to supply a "mysterious and intangible link between Rolf and the imaginary royal genealogy which the English poet has constructed for him." It seems to me somewhat more likely that Morris made a slight slip in his account, and meant to refer to either Astrid, King Tryggvi's daughter, or Astrid, King Tryggvi's widow. 

  57. See Heimskringla, tr. Laing, I, 227-228. The forms "Swegder" and "Godheim" are there used, it should be noted.

  58. See Ibid., III, 343-361 and Mallet, op. cit., pages 250-276.

  59. See, for example, Earthly Paradise, I, 11 and 12. With the names "Marcus," "Erling," and "Rolf" Morris could have met in the Heimskringla (see for example, I, 244, 245, 292, 293, and III, Thorpe's Northern Mythology (see II, 232).

  60. Revised form: "Tryggvi's."

  61. Earthly Paradise, I, 12.

  62. I, 359.

  63. Revised form: "Wickland." 

  64. Earthly Paradise, I, 72.

  65. Ibid., I, 13. 

  66. Earthly Paradise, I, 29.

  67. See I, 301, and 362; II, 198-200, 205, 221, and 224; and III, 117.

  68. Earthly Paradise, I, 31.

  69. Earthly Paradise, I, 50-51.

  70. Ibid., I, 56.

  71. Ibid., I, 61.

  72. Ibid., I, 72-73.

  73. See Earthly Paradise, I, 5, 11. 17, and 20; 9, 1. 13; 13, 1. 28; 22, 11. 11-12, 25, 11. 26-28; and 72, 11. 21-25. Only one of these allusions is at all important or interesting. As the Wanderers are sailing through the English Channel, they are stopped by the fleet of King Edward III of England; after learning the purpose of their journey, Edward lets them sail on, and gives Rolf and his fellow-commander parting gifts, bidding them (I, 25) "Remember me, who am of Odin's blood, / As Heralds say..." Morris's authority, if any, for putting this remark in the mouth of Edward III is not known to me. Perhaps he simply had in mind the common medieval custom of tracing the ancestry of kings back to the gods or to mythological heroes; see above, page 24.

  74. Earthly Paradise, I, 136.

  75. Earthly Paradise, I, 307.

  76. See, for example, Thorpe, Northern Mythology, II, 10-11 and 35; Mallet, Northern Antiquities, page 109; and Heimskringla, tr. Laing, I, 275, 276, and 277.

  77. Earthly Paradise, I, 343.

  78. See above, pages 10-11.

  79. See, for example, I, 229, 246, 251, 254, 256, 281, 298, and 304.

  80. Revised form: "Niblungs'."

  81. Earthly Paradise, II, 111.

  82. I, 91-113.

  83. Edda Sæmundar Hinns [sic] Frôpa, [tr. Benjamin Thorpe] (London, 1866).

  84. See below, pages 43-44.

  85. See II, v, vii, 97, and 116-117 for occurrences of the name "Niflungs."

  86. See Mackail, William Morris, I, 206 and Julius Riegel, Die Quellen von William Morris' Dichtung The Earthly Paradise (Erlangen and Leipzig, 1890), pp. 36-40.

  87. Earthly Paradise, II, 308.

  88. See Thorpe, Northern Mythology, I, 21-22, 39-40, and 54-56 and Mallet, Northern Antiquities, p. 374-375 and 417.

  89. See Collected Works, III, xii.