A thesis submitted to the Division of Modern Languages, Harvard University, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Karl O. E. Anderson

In Three Volumes

Volume I
Cambridge, Massachusetts

CHAPTER II: The Culmination of Morris’s Interest in the North: 1871-1876

          During the years 1871 to 1876 Morris’s interest in early Scandinavia reached its height, and during this period he devoted practically all of his time and energy to his Scandinavian work. He not only continued to translate Icelandic sagas, turning at least twelve of these works into English, either wholly or in part, but he also prepared renderings of a number of Icelandic, Danish, and Swedish ballads. He made two prolonged trips to Iceland, one in 1871 and the other in 1873, visiting the scenes of his beloved sags and drawing fresh inspiration from the country, its people, and its literature. He wrote a great number of minor poems which were a direct result either of his visits to Iceland or of his growing acquaintance with Old Norse literature. And at the very end of this period he produced his long poem Sigurd the Volsung, which is considered by most critics to be without question the greatest English work – if not the only truly great work in English – inspired by a Norse legend.

In the case of the Scandinavian work Morris produced before 1871, we know, or can ascertain fairly definitely, the exact time at which the various translations or original poems were written out: in the case of the Norse works he prepared during the period 1871 to 1876, however, we are generally not aware of the precise date of composition. Hence I shall not be able to discuss the renderings and poems belonging to this period in their chronological order, as I have done with his earlier productions, but I shall

treat them instead by groups.

I have already called attention to the fact that Morris translated a number of Scandinavian ballads, and I have pointed out that he began turning Northern folk songs into English at least as early as the beginning of 1870, for his rendering of  “Hafbur og Signy,” the first of those that are dated, was composed on February 4th of that year.1 In all, Morris translated ten Scandinavian ballads – namely, “Habfur and Signy,” “Hildebrand Hellelil,” “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” “Knight Aagen and Maide Else,” “The Mother under the Mold,” “Axel Thordson and fair Walborg,” “The Lay of Christine,” “The Son’s Sorrow,” “Den Lillas Testamente,” and “Herr Malmstens drőm.” Only four of these renderings are dated or can be fairly definitely dated, - “Hafbur and Signy,” which, as I just pointed out, is marked “February 4, 1870” in the hologram manuscript, “The Lay of Christine” and “The Son’s Sorrow,” which must have been prepared before August 26, 1870 because they are included in an illuminated manuscript finished at that time,2 and “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” which is dated “March 1, 1871.”3 Although the date of the compositions of the other six is not definitely known, it is generally assumed that all these ballad translations were written out in the early 1870’s.4

  1. See above, p.109.
  2. See Collected Works, IX, xxviii.
  3. See Sparling, Kelmscott Press and William Morris, p. 149.
  4. See Collected Works, IX, xxv. I should like to point out here that in view of the fact that three of these ballad translations are definitely known to have been produced in 1870, it would, perhaps, have been better to assume that the majority of them were prepared before 1871 and to have considered them as belonging to the first period of Morris’s Scandinavian work. However, as I have stated above, we have no definite evidence as to the date of the composition of six of the other seven, and since it is just as likely that they were prepared after the beginning of 1871 as before – perhaps even somewhat more likely -, I have decided to treat them as belonging to the

period 1871 to 1876, when Morris was most absorbed in his Norse work and was most familiar with the Scandinavian languages.

Morris printed none of his ballad renderings until 1891, when he included in Poems by the Way “Hafbur and Signy,” “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,’ “The Lay of Christine,” and “The Son’s Sorrow.”1 The first four Morris described – and correctly so – as translations from the Danish: the last two, as he indicated, are renderings from the Icelandic. “The Mother under the Mold,” also Danish, was first published by Miss Morris in 1915 in the last volume of the Collected Works.2 Morris’s trnaslations of “Den Lillas Testamente” and “Herr Malmstens drőm,” two Sweedish folk songs, were not put into print until 1936, when Miss Morris included them in her William Morris: Artist Writer Socialist.3 the rendering of the famous Danish ballad “Axel Thordson and Fair Walbrog” has never been published; Miss Morris, in the book just mentioned, merely states that the manuscript is in her possession, describing it as a “long ballad in four-line verse, from the Danish.”4 She does not indicate whether the translation is complete.
In the case of the five Danish ballad renderings by Morris that have been published, I find that for four of them he followed the versions given in Abrahamson, Nyerup, and Rahoek’s Udvalgte Danske Viser fra Middelalderen; for only one did he use the text in Grundtvig’s Danmarks Gamle Folkeviser.5 It is rather surprising that for

  1. See Collected Works, IX, 213-224, 203-205, 208-209, 210-212, 201-202, and 206-207.
  2. XXIV, 352-355.
  3. I, 517-518.
  4. II, 611.
  5. For “Hafbur and Signy,” “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” and “The Mother under the Mold” Morris followed the texts in Udvalgte Danske Viser fra Middelalderen, edd. W. H. F. Abrahamson, R. Nyerup, and K. L. Rahbek (Copenhagen, 1812-1814): for the originals of these ballad renderings see Ibid., III, 3-18; III, 353-357; I, 210-214; and I, 205-209. For his translation “Agnes and the Hill-Man” Morris used Danmarks Gamle Folkeviser, edd.

four of these folk songs Morris preferred the versions in Udvalgte Danske Viser to those in Danmarks Gamle Folkeviser; - Grundtvig’s texts always reproduce the ballads exactly as they are found in the old manuscripts or in contemporary recordings, without an y alterations or additions, and hence present the songs in their original form, with all their crudities and inconsistencies as well as with all their vigor and color, whereas Abrhamson, Nyerup, and Rahbek in their edition frequently make changes, additions, and deletions in accordance with modern taste and sometimes combine

(Continuation of note 5 on page 148)                Svend Grundtvig and Axel Olrik (Copenhagen, 1853-1923), II, 53, No. 380. Dr. Litzenberg’s statement, in his article “William Morris and Scandinavian Literature: A Bibliographical Essay,” p. 96, that the originals of Morris’s “Hafbur and Signy,” “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” and “Hildebrand and Hellelil” were the text in Grundtvig’s collection I have found to be inaccurate.
For other versions that had been published by 1875 of the five Danish ballads that Morris translated, see the following works:
For “Hafbur and Signy,” Levniger ag Middel-Alderens Digtekunst, [ed. Rerthel C. Sandvig] (Copenhagen, 1780-1784), I, 33-34; Gamle Danske Folkeviser, ed. [Adam g.] Oehlenschläger (Copenhagen, 1840), pp.51-66; Kjaempeviser. Ed. Christian Winther (Copenhagen, 1840), pp. 192-207; and Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, I, 276-317;
For “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” Levinger, [ed. Sandvig], II, 137-143; and Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 393-403, 680-681, and III, 857-858;
For “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” Levinger, [ed. Sandvig], I, 63-65; Gamle Folkeviser, ed Oehlenschläger, pp. 86-88; Danske Kaempeviser til Skole-Brug, ed. Nik[olai] F. S. Grundtvig (Copenhagen, 1847), pp. 185-189; and Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 495-497 and III, 870-871;
For “The Mother under the Mold,” Gamle Folkeviser, ed. Oehlenschläger, pp. 82-85; Kjaempeviser, ed. A. F. Winding (Copenhagen, 1843), pp. 31-34; Dankse Kaempeviser, ed. N.F.S. Grundtvig, pp. 181-185; Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 478-491, 681-682, and III, 860-868; and Jydske Folkeviser og Toner, ed. Evald T. Kristensen (Copenhagen, 1871-1876), I, 54-55 and 206-211;
And for “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” Danske Viser, edd. Abrahamson, Nyerup, and rahbek, I, 313-315; Gamle Folkeviser, ed. Oehlenschläger, pp. 108-110; Kjaempeviser, ed. Winther, pp. 128-130; Danske Kaempeviser, ed. N.F.S. Gundtvig, pp. 141-143; Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 51-57, 656-661, III, 813-818, and IV, 807-809; and Jydske Folkeviser, ed Kristensen, I, 251-253.

several ballads to form their own version, in this way giving the songs a literary finish which is really foreign to them. For his Icelandic ballad translations, Morris followed the texts given in Svend Grundtvig and Jón Sigurðsson’s Íslenzk Fornkva͜eðl.1 One of his renderings from the Swesish, “Dan Lillas Testamente,” he based on the version of this ballad in Adolf I Arwidsson’s Scenska Fornsånger;2 for the other, “Herr Malmstens drðm,” he used the text in Geijer and Afzelius’s Svenska Folk-Visor.3

Most of the ten ballads Morris translated had previously been turned into foreign languages. Five of the six Danish ones were very well known in English, German, and French versions, and the sixth had appeared in English once;4 the two Icelandic songs, how-

  1. (Copenhagen, 1854-1885.) For the original of “The Son’s Sorrow” see Ibid., I, 144-146; for the text of “The Lay of Christine” see Ibid., I, 154-157. For other versions of the former ballad see Ibid., I, 147-152.
  2. (Stockholm, 1834-1842), II, 90-91.
  3. Svenska Folk-Visor från Forntiden, edd. Er[ik] G. Geijer and Arv[id] A. Afzelius (Stockholm, 1814-1816), III, 104-106. For references to other versions that had been published before 1875 or these two ballads in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, English, German, French, Italian, Wendish, Magyar, edc., see below, pages 154 and 156-157.
  4. In listing below the translations which had been published by 1875 of these ballads, I have single starred those which are base, not on the same text as Morris used, but on a very similar version of the ballad and which may consequently be compared with Morris’s rendering, and I have double-starred those which follow exactly the same text as Morris used.

For English, German, and French translations of the six Danish ballads Morris turned into English, see the following works:

For “Hafbur and Signy,” Fraser’s Magazine, XLV (1852), 656-658**; Old Danish Ballads, by an Amateur (London, 1856), pp. 29-49*; Ancient Danish Ballads, tr. R.C. Alexander Prior (London and Edinburgh, 1860), I, 216-231* and 232-240; Altdänische Heldenlieder, Balladen und Märchen, tr. Wilhelm C. Grimm (Heidelberg, 1811), 93-101*; Auswahl altdänischer Heldenlieder und Balladen, tr. L.C. Sander (Copenhagen,

ever, so far as I know, had never before been rendered into

(Continuation of note 4 on page 150)                1816), pp. 97-120**; Dänische Volkslieder der Vorzeit, tr. Tosa Warrens (Hamburg, 1858), pp. 243-260; and Chants Populaires Du Nord, tr. X[avier] Marmier (Paris, 1842), pp. 148-155**;
For “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” Fraser’s Magazine, LI(1855), 89**; Danish Ballads, by an Amateur, pp. 13-15; Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, II, 411-415*, 415-418**, 418-420, and 420-422; Ballad Stories of the Affections, tr. Robert Buchanan (New York, 1869), pp. 15-19**; Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr Grimm, pp. 119-121; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, pp. 141-143**;
For “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” Romantic Ballads, tr. George Borrow (London, 1826), pp. 47-52*; Foreign Quarterly Review, VI (1830), 62-63**;  Danish Ballads, by an Amateur, pp. 75-78; Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, III, 76-81 and 81-88**; New Monthly Magazine, CXXXI (1864), 42-43**; Fortnightly Review, I (1865), 693-695**; Ballad Stories, tr. Buchanan, pp. 112-116**; Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr. Grimm, pp. 73-74; Auswahl altdänischer Heldenlieder, tr. Sander, pp. 41-45**; Christian Rauch, “Die skandinavischen Balladen des Mittelalters” in Jahresbericht űber die Friedrichs-Werdersche Gewerbeschule in Berlin (Berlin, 1873), pp. 29-31; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, pp. 134-135**;
For “The Mother under the Mold,” London Magazine, I (1820), 397-398*; “The Ghaist’s Warning,”* tr. Robert Jamieson (in Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works (Edinburgh, 1861), VIII, 335-339); Fraser’s Magazine, XLV (1852), 653-654**; Danish Ballads, by an Amateur, pp. 23-26*; Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, I, 368-371**; Henry W. Longfellow, Complete Poetical Works (Boston and New York, 1914), pp. 282-283** (composed and originally published in 1873 [see Ibid., p.678]); Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr. Grimm, pp. 147-149*; Talvj (Therese A. L. von Jakob), Versuch einer geschichtlichen Uebersicht der Lieder aussereuropäischer vőlkerschaften (Leipzig, 1840), pp. 237-239**; Dänische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 183-191; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, pp. 108-111**;
For “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, III, 335-337**;
And for “Axel Thordson and Fair Walborg,” Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, II, 247-276; Ballad Stories, tr. Buchanan, pp. 117-159; Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr. Grimm, pp. 357-382; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, pp. 156-173.
For the sake of completeness, I should like to note the following English, German, and French translations of Swedish, Norwegian, or Icelandic versions of these same six ballads:
For “Hafbur and Signy,” Altschwedische Balladen, Mährchen und Schwänke sammt einigen dänischen Volksliedern, tr. Gottlieb Mohnike (Stuttgart and Tubingen, 1836), pp. 1-10; and Volkssagen und Volkslieder, tr. F.H. Ungewitter (Leipzig, 1842);
For “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” Volkslieder der Schweden, tr. Gottlieb Mohnike (Berlin, 1830), I, 34-36; and Schwedische volkslieder der vorzeit, tr. R[oss] Warrens (Leipzig, 1857), pp.86-92;

English or French, and only one of them had ever been turned into German;1 of the two Swedish ballads, one had been printed in English, German, and French, and the other had appeared in German and French but never in English.2

“The Mother under the Mold,” and the Swedish ballad translations call for special comment. As I have already stated, none of these pieces were published by Morris himself, the Danish folk song appearing first in 1915 in the Collected Works and the Swedish

(Continuation of note 4 on page 151)
For “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” Schwedische Volksharfe, tr. J.L/ Studach (Stockholm, 1826), pp. 101-104; Volkslieder, tr. Mohnike, pp. 39-40; Talvj, Versuch, pp. 313-314; and Schwedische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 245-248;
For “The Mother under the Mold,” William and Mary Howitt, The Literature and Romance of Northern Europe (London, 1852), I, 272-274; Altschwedische Balladen, tr. Mohnike, pp. 124-125; Schwedische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 224-227; and Alt-isländische Volks-Balladen und Heldenlieder der Färinger, tr. P.J. Willatzen (Bremen, 1865), pp. 56-58;
For “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” Foreign Quarterly Review, XXV (1840), 35-36; Thoms Keightler, The Fairy Mythology, pp. 103-108; New Monthly Magazine, CXXX )1864), 492-493; and Norwegische, Isländische, Färðische Volkslieder der vorzeit, tr. Rosa Warrens (hamburg, 1866), pp. 16-21;
And for “Axel Thordson and Fair Walborg,” Volkslieder,  tr. Mohnike, pp. 11-39.

  1. For a translation of “The Son’s Sorrow” before 1875, see Altisländische Volks-Balladen, tr. Willatzen, pp. 201-202.
  2. For earlier English, German, and French translations of the two Swedish ballads see the following works:

For “Den Lillas Testamene,” Howitt, Literature of Northern Europe, I, 265-266; Schwedische Volksharfe, tr. Studach, pp. 98-100; Volkslieder, tr. Mohnike, I, 5-6; Schwedische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 213-215; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, p. 215**; and
For “Herr Malmstens drőm,” Altschwedische Balladen, tr. Mohnike, pp. 149-150**; Schwedische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 164-166**; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, p. 214**.
The English and German translations of “Den Lillas Testamente,” I should like to point out, are based on the version of this ballad presented by Geijer and Afzelius in their Svenska Folk-Visor, III., 13-15 but Morris’s rendering, as I have already stated, follows the text in Arwidsson’s Svenska Fornsånger, II, 90-91.

ones in 1936 in William Morris: Artist Writer Socialist. When Miss Morris printed these works, she did not indicate that they were translations, but presented them as original compositions of her father.1 However, the three poems follow so closely to the Scandinavian ballads designated above – namely, “Den Dødes Igjenksomst” in Abrahamson, Nyerup, and Rahbek’s Udvalgte Danske Viser, “Den Lillas Testamente” in Arwidsson’s Svenska Fornsánger, and “Herr Malmstens drőm” in Geijer and Afzelius’s Svenska Folk-Visor- that there can be practically no doubt that they are direct translations of these Scandinavian pieces. In the case of the first one, the rendering is so exact that there is not room for any uncertainty whatsoever.2 In the other two poems Morris departs occasionally from the Swedish ballads just cited, but although some of these differences are surprising, they are really not great enough to justify any serious doubts that Morris’s compositions are translations. Moreover, these discrepancies are almost certainly not the result of Morris’s having followed some other version of these songs, as it seems at first that they might be, for an examination of all the European folk songs on these two themes that are recorded or mentioned in the ballad collections of F.J. Child, S. Grundtvig, and Geijer and Afzelius shows, as I shall make clear in a moment,

  1. I have not seen the manuscript of the first of these ballad renderings, but in the holograph manuscript of the two Swedish folk songs now in the Ftzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, there is likewise no indication that they are translations, both pieces being simply headed “ballad”; for an account of this manuscript, see above, page 13.
  2. Dr. Litzenberg’s statement, in his article “William Morris and Scandinavian Literature: A Bibliographical Essay,” p. 96, that “The Mother under the Mold,” like “The Raven and the King’s Daughter” and “The King of Denmark’s Sons,” was “probably written in imitation of true Icelandic and Danish ballads which Morris translated about the same time…” is incorrect, for “The Mother under the Mold” is clearly, as I just stated above, a translation of a genuine Danish folk song.


that of all these versions the two Swedish ones referred to above are by far the closest to Morris’s poems; evidently the differences between these Swedish pieces and Morris’s translations were simply the result of his incomplete knowledge of the Swedish language or of the demands of the metre and rhyme.

The ballad theme embodied in “Den Lillas Testamente” is extremely widespread, being found throughout almost the whole of Europe, in the introductory remarks he gives in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads to “Lord Randall,” the English equivalent of this folk song, Professor Child cites 18 versions of this ballad in English, 12 in Italian, 6 in German, 1 in Dutch, 2 in Swedish, 2 in Danish, 2 in Magyar, and 1 in Wendish.1 A comparison of all these texts with Morris’s reveals, as I just stated, that the one called “Den Lillas Testamente” in Arwidsson’s Svenska Fornsánger offers by far the closest resemblance to Morris’s piece and must almost certainly have been Morris’s source. Not only does this Swedish folk song correspond more closely in general form and substance to the poem in question than do any of the other versions, but it also contains certain details found in this work which are not given in any of the other numerous ballads on the same subject. For example, it is only in Arwidsson’s version that the poisonous food of which the central figure in the folk song has partaken and is now dying is described as fried eels and pepper. In regard to the medium of the poisoning Child says,

There is all but universal consent that the poisoning was done by serving up snakes for fish. The Magyar says a toad, English M. a four-footed fish, and German D a well-peppered broth and a glass of red wine. English L adds a drink of hemlook stocks to the speckled trout; F, H have simply poison. The fish are distinctively eels in the Italian versions, and in English A, D, E, G, T, Swedish B,2

  1. (Boston and New York, 1882-1898), I, 151-157. See also Ibid., II, 498-499; Vi, 499; VIII, 449; IX, 208-209; and X, 286-287.
  2. Ibid., I, 155.

Thus, although some of the versions state that the poison was eels and one mentions pepper, it is only in Arwidsson’s ballad that we find the combination fried eels and pepper. Furthermore, it is in Arwidsson’s version alone that the list of bequests made by the victim of the poisoning is given in exactly the same order and form as in Morris’s poem; in fact, I believe this Swedish folk song is the only one in which the dying person refers in his will to barns filled with wheat.1

I stated above that Morris’s poem differs in some respects from Arwidsson’s ballad and that these discrepancies are evidently the result either of deliberate changes or of failure on the part of Morris to understand the Swedish. Thus, in the first stanza of the original the girl who has been poisoned says,

“Jag har vát i bänne
Hos broderen min!”2

but in Morris’s poems she states,

“To my brother’s house I went to play.”3

The reason for Morris’s incorrect rendering of the Swedish here was very likely that he was unacquainted with the word “bänne,” meaning “prison,” which is now obsolete. Again, in the third and fourth stanzas the Swedish says that after the girl had eaten the eels, she gave the bones to the dogs, and they as a result burst into fifteen pieces; but Morris states that it was the broken meat that the girl threw to the dogs, and that when they had eaten of this food, their

  1. In an Italian ballad the dying person bequeaths the key to his granary to his father; see G. Nerucci, “Storie e Cantari. Ninne-Nanne e Indvinelli del Montale,” in Archivio per lo studio delle Tradizioni Popolari Rivista Trimestrale, edd. G. Pitre and S. Salomone-Maríno (Palmero, 1882-1907), II, 527, 1.12.
  2. Svenska Fornsånger, edd. Arwidsson, II, 90.
  3. May Morris, William Morris, I, 517.

Please Note pg. 156 is missing

third with 7, and fourth with 1; that there is 1 in Norwegian, which has been collected in 3 different forms; that there is 1 in Romaic, with 9 versions; that there is 1 in Catalan, with 2 variant forms; that there is 1 in Italian, with 6 versions; that there is 1 in French, with 8 different forms; and that there is 1 in Finnish, 1 in Wendish, 1 in Dutch, and 1 in Faroese.1 An examination of all these forms of this ballad-them shows that here again, although the theme and situation are similar in many of the others, none of them by any means resemble Morris’s poem so closely in subject matter and form as one of the Swedish ones – namely, “Herr Malmstens drőm” in Geijer and Afzelius’s Svenska Folk-Visor. Besides, it is only in this version that the lover is given the name “Malmsten” and that the young man learns of the death of his sweetheart from a woman in blue and a woman in red.

To be sure, in this ballad also, Morris departs from his original in a number of cases. Thus, he completely omits the double refrain,

Så lustelig locker man liljorna
Főr älskogsfullt han sőrjde’na,2

and in several passages he renders the Swedish freely. For example, the exclamation
“Gud nåde er, Herr Malmsten, hvad sorg I får,”3

  1. English and Scottish Ballads, III, 204-206. See also Ibid., IV, 512; VI, 510; VIII, 471; IX, 225; and X, 294. For other references to parallels see Svenska Folk-Visor, edd. Geijer and Afzelius (2nd ed,; Stockholm, 1880), II, 283-284 and Danmarks Gamle Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, V, 352. I have examined all the ballad versions referred to above in the text except the two contained in Kaarle Krohn’s Die geographische Verbreitung estnischer Lieder (Kuoplo, 1892) and Frederich H. Bothe’s Frühlings-Almanach (Berlin, 1804), for these works I have not been able to locate in the Harvard College Library, the Boston Public Library, or the Library of Congress.

In addition to the parallels to which I refer above in the text, Child mentions a few other ballads which show a partial resemblance to “Lord Lovel.”

  1. Svenska Folk-Visor, III, 104.

Morris turns into the question,

“My lord Malmston, what aileth you?”1

For the lines

Herr Malmsten så hastigt af gångaren sprang;
Han lyfte så lätt under bare-stång,2

Morris writes,

He let his horse loose hastily,
And by the dead corpse quick stood he.3

The Swedish says that the young man, on meeting the pier of his beloved, took off his six gold rings, and

Det gav han åt den, som skulle grifta och ringa,4

but Morris simply states that the youth pulled off the rings

And gave them to the clerks to hold.5

In none of these cases, however, is Morris following other versions of the ballad. Most likely it was simply his lack of complete familiarity with the Swedish that led him in these passages to reproduce the original incorrectly or with undue liberty. Perhaps, also, the exigencies of metre and rhyme were sometimes responsible.

All the ballad translations that Morris produced he apparently prepared by himself.6 The only external evidence bearing upon the

  1. Morris: Artist Writer Socialist, I, 518.
  2. Svenska Folk-Visor, III, 105.
  3. Morris: Artist Writer Socialist, I, 518.
  4. Svenska Folk-Visor, III, 105.
  5. Morris: Artist Writer Socialist, I, 518.
  6. The question of the authorship of these ballad translations has never been fully investigated, and I therefore feel justified in examining as carefully as possible all the evidence available.

Question of authorship that we have is the remark “translated from the Danish (by poor little me)”1 in the holograph manuscript of one of the copies of “Hafbur and Signy” and the statement at the end of the illuminated manuscript A Book of Verse to the effect that ‘I made the verses; but the 2 poems, the ‘Ballad of Christine’ and the ‘Son’s Sorrow,’ I translated out of the Icelandic.”2 That Morris should have been able in the early 1870’s to render Icelandic ballads into English unaided is of course not surprising, for his study of the sagas with Magnússon had undoubtedly made him by this time well acquainted with the Icelandic language, but that he should also have been capable of translating Danish folk songs by himself is rather unexpected. However, strange as it seems, we must, I believe, for various reasons that I shall present below, interpret these two statements literally, and also assume that Morris rendered not only these three ballads by himself but all ten that have come down to us. Evidently it was his intimate knowledge of Icelandic and the slight familiarity with German that he is known to have possessed3 that enabled him, with the aid of dictionaries, to read the Danish and Swedish although he had never made a formal study of these languages.
Morris sometimes surprises us by the literalness of his ballad translations, even occasionally rendering correctly a difficult word or phrase which other translators of the ballad in question misunderstood; but, as I just stated, he apparently prepared his


  1. Collected Works, IX, xxxvii.
  2. Ibid., IX, xxviii.
  3. See Ibid., XXII, xiv.

renderings by himself, for there is no reason to suspect that he received aid from anyone acquainted with the Scandinavian languages. In the first place, if the translations had been the result of collaboration, Morris would almost certainly have stated this fact when he published them; with only one exception,1 he acknowledged the assistance of Magnússon in every saga-rendering he printed. Secondly, if he had sought help in this work, it would most likely have been from Magnússon, who was acquainted with all the Scandinavian languages,2 but Dr. Einarsson in his recent biography of Magnússon3 says nothing of any collaboration by Morris and Magnússon on ballad translations, although he quotes and refers to a great many letter relating to their work together on the sagas. Thirdly, if he had received help from Magnússon, his renderings would have undoubtedly have been far more accurate than they are; very rare indeed are the errors in the saga-translations they produced together. It is thus almost certain that in turning these eight folk songs into English, he was not aided by Magnússon or by anyone else who was proficient in reading Danish and Swedish.

There is one other probability that must be considered: in rendering these Danish and Swedish ballads into English, Morris may 


  1. The only saga-translation Morris ever published bearing his name only was that of the Friðpiofs saga (see below, pp. 176-179).
  2. In a letter now deposited in the Library of the University of Cambridge, England (Add 6581, No. 263), Magnússon says, in the course of describing his education and scholarly productions, that contributions “to various literary Journals in Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden I merely mention in passing, because I write & speak all these languages with facility.”
  3. For the title of this work, see above, p.41.

have been aided by previous English, or even German and French, translations. However, it seems extremely unlikely that Morris went to the trouble of locating English, German, or French renderings of the folk songs he wished to turn into English and that he then followed these in reading the Danish and Swedish; such a procedure would be entirely inconsistent with what we know about Morris’s usual methods of work. Moreover, when we compare the previous English, German, and French translations with Morris’s versions, we find, as I shall show, not only that there is never the slightest verbal similarity between Morris’s work and that of his predecessors, but also that sometimes Morris correctly interprets a passage which was misunderstood by the others and that he occasionally mistranslates a phrase or word which is correctly rendered in all the other translations.

Thus, in “Agnes and the Hill-Man” Morris correctly renders the Danish “tøyse”1 as “twice,”2 but Prior, the only other translator of this particular version, interprets it as “thrice.”3 Later in the same ballad Morris renders the lines

“Og naar du kommer paa Kirkegulv,
saa maa du ej gaa med din kjaer Moder I Stol”4

much more closely that Prior does, for Morris translates them as

“So that when thou standest the church within
To thy mother on bench thou never win,”5

but Prior says,


  1. Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 53, col.1, Version C, 1.12.
  2. Collected Works, Ix, 208, 1.9.
  3. Danish Ballads, III, 336, 1.3.
  4. Danmarks Folkeviser, II, 53.
  5. Collected Works, IX, 208.

“And when thou kneelest at church to prayer
Apart from thy mother place the chair.”1

Similarly, in “Hafbur and Signy” Morris’s version is in several cases more exact than the six previous translations that were based either on the text in Danske Viser or on the very similar text in Tragica.2 For example, in the account of Hafbur and Signy’s arrival in Signy’s chamber and their preparation for sleep, Morris renders correctly the lines which Danske Viser read,

Saa ta͜endte de op de voxlys,
Saa herligt vare de snoed’,3
and in Tragica appear as,
Saa tendte de op de voxxe Lius,
Saa herlig vare de snaa,4

For he says,

Then kindled folk the waxlights
That were so closely twined;5

but most of the other translators seem to have been troubled by the word “snoed” or “snaa” in the second of these lines. Thus the rendering of this ballad in Fraser’s Magazine departs entirely from the original at this point:

Hafbur and Signy took the light,
And their room they lovingly sought.6

  1. Danish Ballads, III, 336.
  2. See above, p.150, n.4, for a list of these translations. Those that are there single-starred are based on the text in Tragica; those that are double-starred follow the text in Danske Viser, the basis of Morris’s rendering. The version in Tragica, I should like to point out, was reprinted by Grundtvig as text in his Danmarks Folkeviser, I, 300-304.
  3. III, 9.
  4. Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, I, 301.
  5. Collected Works, IX, 217.
  6. XLV (1852), 657.

Grimm, also, completely misunderstood the line:

Sie zeundeten de Wachslichter an, so freudig waren die zwel.1

In his Old Danish Ballads in 1856, Prior,2 following Grimm’s translation, says,

The tapers all they lit so bright,
Grew friendly more and more;3

and in 1860, in his Ancient Danish Ballads also, Prior seems to have relied on Grimm for this line, although he says that his rendering is based on the text of this ballad in Tragica, for here he translated the two lines thus:

The cheerful tapers there they lit,
And were se well inclined.2

Narmier’s French version is likewise incorrect at this point: “Le flambeau de cire est allumé. Tous deux étaient bien joyeux.”5 The only other translator besides Morris to understand the word was Sander, who says,

Das kunstgedrehte Licht von wachs,
Das leuchtet ringsumher.6

A few stanzas later in the ballad we are told that when Hafbur and Signy were in bed together, Signy discovered the identity of Hafbur, who had come to her disguised as a maiden, and that she chid him for having thus deceived her and put her to shame. She asks,

  1. Altdänische Heldenlieder, p. 96.
  2. I should like to point out here that I have found that the Old Danish Ballads published anonymously in 1856 and described as having been male “by an Amateur” were almost certainly the work of R. C. Alexander Prior, who for four years later published three volumes of Ancient Danish Ballads; I shall therefore in the following discussion refer to Prior as the author of both works.
  3. Page 37.
  4. I, 221.
  5. Chants Populaires, p. 151.
  6. Auswahl altdánischer Heldenlieder, p. 106.

In Danske Viser,

“Hvi rider ej til min Faders saard
Med Hund, og Høg paa Ha͜ende?”1

and in Tragica,

“Hvi rider I icke til min Faders Gaard
Med Høg of Hund I hende?”2

There is nothing difficult about these two lines, and Morris translates them correctly as

“Why ridest thou not to my father’s garth
With hound, and with hawk upon glove?”3

Moreover, Grimm and Sander render them correctly in their German versions of this ballad, and Marmier, though not so exact, keeps the main idea of the original.4 Prior, however, departs from the Danish in the second line both in his Old Danish Ballads in 1856 and in his Ancient Danish Ballads in 1860:

“Why ride not in with hawk and hound
In court my hand to claim.”5

The third English translation follows the original more closely than Prior does, but is still not so exact as Morris:

“With hawk and hound to my father’s hall,
Ah, if you only came!”6

  1. III, 11.
  2. Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, I, 302.
  3. Collected Works, IX, 219.
  4. See Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr. Grimm, p. 97, 1.14; Auswahl altdänischer Heldenlieder, tr. Sander, p. 109, 11.3-4; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, p. 151, 1.32-152, 1.2. I should like to point out here that although Morris’s and Sander’s translations agree in the two passages from “Hafbur and Signy” already discussed and also in the passage about to be treated, they differ in several other cases, so that there is no reason for supposing that Morris was following this version for differences, see, for example, Collected Works, IX, 213, 1.28 and Auswahl, p. 99, 1.1; Collected Works, IX, 214, 1.2 and Auswahl, p. 99, 1.2; and Collected Works, IX, 214, 1.26 and Auswahl, p. 100, 11.13-14.
  5. Old Danish Ballads p. 40 and Ancient Danish Ballads I, 221.

In Morris’s rendering of the ballad “The Mother under the Mold” occurs another very striking example of his independence of previous translators.1 In this song we are told that one night a dead mother begged the Lord for permission to arise from her grave in order to visit her children, who were being maltreated by their stepmother; the Lord yielded to her entreaties, whereupon,

Hun skjød op sine modige Ben,
Der revnede Mur og Marmorsten.2

The Danish word “Ben” can of course mean either “bone” or “leg”; in this passage it almost certainly is used in the sense of “legs.” However, Morris is the only English translator to give it this interpretation:

Then forth her weary feet put she.3
The rendering in the London Magazine reads,
Then up she raised her weary bones;4

Robert Jamieson gives the translation

With her banes sae stark a bowt she gae;5

Fraser’s Magazine has

She lifted up her weary bones;6

  1. For the six previous translations with which Morris’s may be compared, see above, on p. 151, the continuations of n.4 on p. 150. Those that are double-starred follow, like Morris’s, the text in Danske Viser; those that are single-starred are based on Peder Syv’s text, which is reprinted in Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 480-481, No. 89B.
  2. Danske Viser, I, 207. These lines are almost exactly the same in the other text; see Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II,480, col. 2, 11.3-4.
  3. Collected Works, XXIV, 353.
  4. I (1820), 398.
  5. Scott, Poetical Works, VIII, 337.
  6. XLV (1852), 654.

Prior in his Ancient Danish Ballads renders the line as

Out from the chest she stretch’d her bones;1

and Longfellow, presenting this ballad as the Musician’s third story in his Tales of a Wayside Inn, gives the translation

She girded up her sorrowful bones.2

In his Old Danish Ballads Prior translates the passage very loosely, omitting the word entirely:

In coffin then no longer pent
Her corpse its marble tombstone rent.3

Three of the German renderings use the collective noun “Gebein,” which of course cannot refer to “legs.”4 besides Morris, Grimm and Marmier are the only translators who definitely give the word the meaning “legs”: “Da hob sie auf ihre můden Bein,” and “Elle se lève sur ses jambs fatigues.”5

Finally, I should like to point out that in his rendering of “Hafbur and Signy” Morris includes the refrain, as do Grimm and Sander, but that all the three other English translators, as well as Marmier, omit it.6

That Morris was not dependent upon the work of his predecessors is indicated not only by passages, like those just cited, in which his renderings are more exact than the previous translations, but also by cases in which Morris mistranslates the original and all

  1. I, 369.
  2. Complete Poetical Works, p. 283.
  3. Page 24.
  4. See von Jacob, Versuch einer geschichtlichen Charakteristik, p. 238, 1.15; Dänische Volkslieder, tr. Binzer, p. 20, 1.3; and Dänische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, p. 186, 11.13 and 16.
  5. Altdänische Heldenlieder, p. 148, 1.13 and Chants Populaires, p. 109

the other renderings are correct. I should now like to give a few examples of such mistakes by Morris.

Thus, in “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” when Agnes has escaped from the mountain and the Hill-man tries to induce her to return by telling her that her children are crying for her, Morris completely misunderstands Agnes’s exclamation

“Lad dem gra͜ed’, lad dem gra͜ed’, lad dem gra͜ed’, med de vil:
jeg n ej mere hører dem til,”1

and writes,

“Let them greet, let them greet, as they have will to do;
For never again will I hearken thereto!”2

Prior, the only other translator of this Danish ballad, is much more exact though not absolutely literal:

“The children may wail, as they will, and cry,
with them nothing more to do have I,”3

In his “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else” Morris likewise makes two mistakes which are not found in the other renderings of this folk song; these errors, however, seem to be the result of carelessness, rather than of a failure to understand the Danish. Thus he incorrectly translates stanza three,

Det var Jomfru elselille,
Hun var saa sorrifuld;
Det hørte Ridder Herr Aage
Hen under sorten Muld,4

  1. Danmarks Folkeviser, II, 53.
  2. Collected Works, IX, 209.
  3. Ancient Danish Ballads, III, 337.
  4. Danske Viser, I, 210.


It was the maiden Else,
She was fulfilled of woe
When she heard how the fair knight Aagen

In the black mould lay alow.1

All the seven earlier renderings, however, state correctly that it was Aage who heard Else crying, not that Else wept because she learned that Aage was in his grave.2 Later in the same ballad we are told that Aage arose from his grave one night in order to go and comfort Else, and that after she had welcomed him into her chamber, she took her comb and smoothed his hair:

Saa tog hun den guldkam
Saa kja͜emte hun hans Haar.3

Morris, however, says,

O, she’s taken up her comb of gold
And combed adown her hair.4

Here again all the other translations are correct.5

Similarly, in his “Hafbur and Signy” Morris makes a very serious mistake, failing to understand the old Danish word “axle,” meaning “to put on”; thus he misinterprets the lines

  1. Collected Works, IX, 210.
  2. See Romantic Ballads, tr. Sorrow, p. 48, 11.1-4; Foreign Quarterly Review, VI (1830), 62, col. 1, stanza 3; Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, III, 82, 11.5-8; New Monthly Magazine, CXXXI (1864), 42, 11.23-24; Fortnightly Review, I (1865), 693, 11.40-43; Ballad Stories, tr. Buchanan, p. 112, 11.10-13; Auswahl altdänischer Heldenlieder, tr. Sander, p. 41, 11.10-13; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, p. 134, 11.17-18. I should like to point out that although I have listed eight translations here, I referred above to only seven because Buchanan’s version in the Fortnightly Review is almost identical with the one in his Ballad Stories.
  3. Danske Viser, I, 211.
  4. Collected Works, IX, 211.
  5. See Romantic Ballads, tr. Borrow, p. 49, 11.7-8; Foreign Quarterly Review, Vi (1830), 63, col. 1, stanza 9; Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, III, 83, 11.5-6; New Monthly Magazine, CXXXI (1864), 694, 11.17-18; Ballad Stories, tr. Buchanan, p. 114, 11.1-2; Auswahl altdänischer Heldenlieder, tr. Sander, p. 40, ….


Midt udi den Borgegaard
Der axler han sit Skind.1


Now out amid the castle-garth
he cast his cloak aside.2

All the other translators render it in the right way.3

Finally, I should like to point out that one of the mistakes I discussed above in Morris’s rendering of the Swedish ballad “Den Lillas Testamente” – namely, his translation

The flesh fell from them that they died


Remna I femton stycken, -

is not found in Marmier’s rendering, the only other version based on the same text, for Marmier says, “Leur corps s’est brisé en morceaux”;4 similarly, the errors I noted above in Morris’s translation of the other Swedish ballad are not in the other renderings of this song.5
It is not necessary to cite further examples of this type. The ones I have already pointed out, like the specimens of previously quoted cases in which Morris gives correct renderings but the earlier translators misunderstand the original, show clearly that

  1. Danske Viser, edd. Abrahamson, Nyerup, and Rahbek, III, 5.
  2. Collected Works, IX, 214.
  3. See Fraser’s Magazine, XLV (1852), 656, col. 2, 11.21-22; Danish Ballads, by an Amateur, p. 32, 11.5-6; Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, I, 218, 11.9-10; Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr. Grimm, p. 94, 1.7; Auswahl altdänischer Heldenlieder, tr. Sander, p. 100, 11.13-14; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, p. 149, 11.8-9.
  4. Chants Populaires, p. 215.
  5. With only one exception: Marmier (in Chants Populaires, p. 214) renders the Swedish

Han lyfte så lätt under båre-stång
as “et va se placer près du cereueil.” For the passages in Morris and in the translations see the following works: Morris: Artists Writer Socialist, I, 518, 1.4, 11.11-12, and 11.13-14; Altschwedische Balladen, tr. Mohnke, p. 149. 1.15 and p. 150, 11.3-4 and 11.5-6; Schwedische Volkelieder ….

there is not the slightest reason for believing that Morris was guided in any way by the work of his predecessors. Moreover, it should be noted that the mistranslations which were made by Morris but not by the others indicate not only that Morris was not following other renderings but also that he could not have collaborated with Magnússon or with anyone else who was thoroughly familiar with Danish and Swedish.

In order to make this last point clearer – namely, that the lack of accuracy in Morris’s translations tends to prove that he could not have prepared them with the aid of some friend who was well versed in the Scandinavian languages -. I should like to show that Morris’s mistakes are by no means rare by briefly calling attention to a few more cases in which he failed to understand his original. So far I have mentioned only those passages which Morris renders incorrectly but others translate in the right way, but there are of course words and expressions which not only Morris but others failed to comprehend.

Thus in “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” he misunderstands the line

“Min Fader lod mig saa haederlig somme,”1

rendering it rather absurdly as

“He taught me sewing royally.”2

Moreover he seems to have been unfamiliar with the word “svige,”


  1. Danske Viser, edd. Abrahamson, Nyerup, and Rahbek, III, 354.
  2. Collected Works, IX, 203.

meaning “to deceive,” for in “Hafbur and Signy” he mistranslates the line

Kong Sivards Datter at svige1


King Siward’s daughter to woo.2

He fails to understand the line

Der Dug drew over de Spange,3

and renders it incorrectly as

O’er the meads the dew drave down.4

He confuses the word “stodte” with “stod,” ad thinks that the lines

De stødte paa Døren

Med Glavind og med Spyd5


So there anigh the high-bower door

They stood with spear and glaive.6

Like all but three of the other ten translators of “The Mother under the Mold,” he misinterprets “udi Sky” as “under the sky”; the phrase means, of course, “in terror.”7 For the Danish

  1. Danske Viser, edd. Abrahamson, Nyerup, and Rahbek, III, 5.
  2. Collected Works, IX, 214.
  3. Danske Viser, III, 8.
  4. Collected Works, IX, 217.
  5. Danske Viser, III, 13.
  6. Collected Works, IX, 220.
  7. The three translations in which this phrase is rendered correctly are Fraser’s Magazine, XLV (1852), 654, col. 1, 1.32; Dänische Volkslieder, tr. Binzer, p. 20, 1.6; and Dänische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, p. 187, 1.2.


De Hunde de tuded saa højt udi Sky,1

he says,

Under the sky the hounds they bayed.2

Thus, as I have already stated, there is absolutely no reason to believe either that Morris relied on previous translations in preparing his ballad renderings or that he had the aid of anyone acquainted with the Scandinavian languages.

Finally, before closing my discussion of Morris’s ballad translations, I should like to point out that in spite of occasional errors, the renderings are on the whole very pleasing and highly successful. Morris always took pains to imitate the form of the originals as closely as possible; and as far as his knowledge of Icelandic, Danish, and Swedish permitted him to do so, he reproduced faithfully the substance of his texts. For example, he always retained the metre and rhyme scheme found in the originals, and often, though of course by no means always, imitated their metrical irregularities. Moreover, unlike many of the previous translators, he as a rule kept the refrain, which is such an integral part of the Scandinavian folk songs; in only one ballad rendering – that of “Herr Malmstems drőm” – did he omit the refrain. It should also be noted that he frequently introduced feminine rhymes, in this way reproducing the melodious quality of the original ballad poetry; in “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” for example, Morris’s first and fifth stanzas run thus:

Agnes went through the meadows a-weeping,
Fowl are a-singing.
There stood the hill-man heed thereof keeping.
Agnes, fair Agnes!

  1. Danske Viser, I, 207.
  2. Note was cut off from the bottom of the original printed out page.


There she sat, and lullaby sang in her singing,
Fowl are a-singing.
And she heard how the bells of England were ringing.
Agnes, fair Agnes!

Equally striking is his insistence on reproducing, as far as his knowledge of Icelandic, Danish, and Swedish and the demands of metre and rhyme allowed him to do so, exactly what is given in his originals, and nothing more. Never was Morris guilty of trying to improve his texts. In only one or two cases did he add a single image or descriptive detail of his own, although many of his predecessors enlarged upon the originals when the expressions in the ballads were bald or crude. One or two examples of Morris’s close adherence to his sources will suffice. Thus the opening stanza in “Hildebrand and Hellelil,”

Hellelil sidder I Bure –
Min Sorrig veed ingen uden gud.
Hun syer sin Søm saa prude.
Og den lever aldrig, jeg vil for klage min Sorrig,2
Morris renders faithfully as
Hellelil sitteth in bower there,
None knows my grief but God alone,
And seweth at the seam so fair,
I never wail my sorrow to any other one;3

but Robert Buchanan in his Ballad Stories of the Affections translates this stanza very freely:

Helga sits at her chamber door –
God only my heart from sorrow can sever!
She seweth the same seam o’er and o’er.
Let me tell of the sorrow that lives for ever!4

And a rendering of this ballad in Fraser’s Magazine for January, 1865, departs even further from the original:


  1. Collected Works, IX, 208.
  2. Danske Viser, edd. Abrahamson, Nyerup, and Rahbek, III, 353.
  3. Collected Works, IX, 203.
  4. Note has been cut off from the original printed page.


She sat in her bower, with eyes of flame,

(My sorrow is known to God alone.)
Bending over the broidery frame,
(And oh there liveth none to whom my sorrow may be told)1

Later in the same ballad Morris translates the lines

“Aldrig var det saa dyb en Dam,
Min Broders Hest jo over svam.”2


“No deepest dam we came unto
But my brother’s horse he swam it through”;3

but Robert Buchanan and the translator in Fraser’s Magazine take great liberties with the text, for one says,

“Through deep fords the horse can swim;
He drags me choking after him,”4

and the other relates that

“The deep ice-rivers were red with gore,
As over them we and the wild horse tore.”5

Finally, at the opening of “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” in a stanza already commented upon in another connection, the original says,

Det var Jomfru Elselille,
Hun var saa sorrigfuld,6
and Morris translates
It was the Maiden Else
She was fulfilled of woe;7
but George Borrow in his Romantic Ballads states,
In her bower sat Eliza;
Rent the air with shriek and groan.8

  1. LI (1855), 89.
  2. Danske Viser, III, 356.
  3. Collected Works, IX, 204.
  4. Ballad Stories, p. 18.
  5. Fraser’s Magazine, LI (1855), 89.
  6. Danske Viser, I, 210.
  7. Collected Works, IX, 210.
  8. Page 48.

Morris’s ballad renderings make it clear that he keenly appreciated the quiet beauty, simplicity, pathos, and reticence of the Scandinavian folk songs. This understanding of the art of the ballads together with his inherent ability as a poet enabled him to produce translations which are remarkably close in spirit and tone to the originals and which at the same time possess real poetic value of their own.

During the period 1871 to 1876, which we are now considering, Morris prepared not only the ballad renderings just discussed by also a great number of saga translations. Very few of these renderings, however, were ever published at this time. In 1871, in the March and April issues of the Dark Blue, he presented to the public an English version of the Friðpjófs saga hins fra͜ekna;1 in 1875 he republished this saga, together with five other short Old Norse tales, in a volume called Three Northern Love Stories, and other Tales.2 These are the only saga translations that he printed from 1871 to 1876, -  in fact, from 1871 to 1891.

In his “Story of Frithiof the Bold” Morris followed the longer and better known of the two recensions of the saga. He does not state on which edition of this form of the tale he based his rendering, but very likely he used the first of the two texts in volume II of Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda;3 this volume, as I have already…

  1. I (1871), 42-58 and 176-182.
  2. For a discussion of this volume, see below, pp. 192-196.

Pages 61-100. According to Islandica, V (1912), 13, there were five texts available to Morris in 1871: Nordiska Kampa Dater, ed. Bjőrner, No. 6; Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda, II, 61-100; Ibid., II, 488-503; F. E. C. Dietrich, Altnordisches Lesebuch (Leipzig, 1843), pp. 116-130; and Hermann Lűning, Altnordische Texte (Zűrich, 1859), pp. 6-21. The text given in Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 488-503 is that of the shorter older form of the saga; the other four versions are of the longer recension. The texts in Fornaldar Sőgur, I, 61-106, in Dietrich’s Altnordisches Lesebuch, and in Lűning’s Altnordische Texte are practically identical, and any of them could have been the… (Note cut off from bottom of page).

pointed out, was in his library at his death.1

When Morris printed this translation in the Dark Blue, he presented it as entirely his own work; but when he republished it with only a few changes together with five other sagas in Three Northern Love Stories, he stated on the title page that the renderings in this volume were the result of collaboration between Magnússon and himself, and made no special comment on the authorship of the translation of the Friðpjófs saga. It is not known whether the rendering was originally produced by Morris alone and was later revised by Magnússon when it was republished in 1875, or whether the earlier translation also was the work of both men and the absence of Magnússon’s name in the Dark Blue is entirely without significance. That Morris received aid from Magnússon in preparing the first version as well as the second seems, on the whole, very likely, for when we compare this translation with the Old Norse, we find that it is remarkably close and exact. Very few alterations, as I just stated, were made when the story was printed again in 1875, and in only three cases were actual mistranslations corrected;2 most of the changes simply introduce archaic words of forms, or

  1. See below, p. 1000.
  2. The following mistranslations in the Dark Blue are corrected in the Three Northern Love Stories: “Hall of the Gods” (in the Dark Blue, I, 47, 11.18-19, 47, 1.33, and 56, 1.37; Collected Works, X, 54, 1.24, 55, 11.4-5, and 68, 11.10-11; and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 70, 11.20-21, 71, 1.6, and 86, 11.2-3);     “‘Go, Thief, get thee some other harbor than in our guest hall’” (in the Dark Blue, I, 178, 11.19-20; Collected Works, X, 74, 11.12-13; and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 93, 11.5-6); and “‘…give him a goodly mantle, and be kind to him…’’ (in the Dark Blue, I, 178, 1.36; Collected Works, X, 74, 1.31; and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 93, 11.23-24). Throughout the version in the Dark Blue Morris incorrectly designates Frithiof’s home as “Sogni” instead of “Sogn.”


offer slightly more exact renderings.1 It seems extremely improbable that Morris could have produces this very literal translation entirely unaided in 1871. Very likely Magnússon prepared the first draft as usual and Morris afterwards wrote out his own rendering on the basis of Magnússon’s version, making a few minor errors which Magnússon may never have had a chance to correct or which he overlooked if he actually did revise the work.

As in the case of the ballad translations, there is of course a possibility that Morris produced this rendering without Magnússon’s aid but was guided by some previous translation. The Friðpjófs saga had already been turned into English by George Stephens, his rendering of the saga appearing in 1839 in the same volume as his English version of Bishop Tegnér’s poetical version of the tale.2 We know that Morris was familiar with this work for H. Buxton Forman, speaking of another matter in his Books of William Morris, refers to a letter he received from Morris in the winter of 1873 ‘returning a copy of George Stevenson’s Frithiof which I had borrowed for him….”3 Morris may easily have seen                                                                                                                                 

  1. As examples of changes introducing more literal translations see the following passages: Dark Blue, I, 48, 11.35-36: Collected Works, X, 56, 1.20: and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 72, 1.25; Dark Blue, I, 49, 11.3-4: Collected Works, X, 56, 1.32 – 57, 1.1: and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 73, 11.8-11; and Dark Blue, I, 49, 1.13: Collected Works, X, 57, 1.10: and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 73, 11.20-21.
  2. Esaias Tegnér, Frithiof’s Saga, A Legend of the North, tr. G[eorge] S[tephens] )Stockholm and London, 1839), pp. 1-39.
  3. Page 82. The name “Stevenson’s” is evidently a mistake for “Stephens’s.”


this book as early as 1871. However, a comparison of Morris’s translation with Stephens’s shows that Morris was almost certainly not dependent upon the work of his predecessor in any way. In the first place, Stephens’s rendering, as he himself states, is based mainly on the text in Bjorner’s Nordiska Kämpa Dater,1 which. As I have already said, differs in many cases from the text Morris used.2 Furthermore – and this fact is much more important – several passages which are the same in the Kämpa Dater and in the Fornaldar Sőgur are given entirely different interpretation by Morris and Stephens, sometimes Morris, sometimes Stephens, being the more exact.3 Finally, I should like to point out that none of the mistranslations which occur in Morris’s version in the Dark Blue but were corrected in the Three Northern Love Stories are found in Stephens’s rendering, or, as a matter of fact, in any of the Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and German translations.4

  1. Frithiof’s Saga, tr. Stephens, p. 2.
  2. As examples of such differences see the following passages: Frithiof’s Saga, tr. Stephens, p. 6, 11.11-12: Dark Blue, I, 44, 11.22-23: Kämpa Dater, No. 6, p.5, col. 1,11.14-15; and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 66, 1.12; Frithiof’s Saga, tr. Stephens, p.9, 11.4-5: Dark Blue, I, 46, 11.15-16: Kämpa Dater, No. 6, p. 9, col. 1, 11.7-9: and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 69, 11.8-9; and Frithiof’s Saga, tr. Stephens, p. 9, 1.9: Dark Blue, I, 46, 11.20-21: Kämpa Dater, No. 6, p. 9, col. 1, 11.14-15: and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 69, 11.13-14.
  3. For examples of cases in which Stephens is more exact, see the following passages: Frithiof’s Saga, tr. Stephens, p. 14, 11.26-27: Dark Blue, I, 50, 11.1-2: Kämpa Dater, No. 6, p. 15, col. 1, 11.29-31: and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 75, 11.1-2; Frithiof’s Saga, tr. Stephens, p. 14, 11.28-29: Dark Blue, I, 50, 11.3-4: Kämpa Dater, No. 6, p. 15, 11.31-33: and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 75, 11.3-4; and Frithiof’s Saga, tr. Stephens, p. 17, 11.4-12: Dark Blue, I, 51, 11.22-30: Kämpa Dater, No. 6, p. 18, col. 1, 11.23-33: and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 77, 11.16-25. For examples of cases in which Morris is more exact than Stephens, see the following passages: Frithiof’s Saga, tr. Stephens, p. 16, 11.3-4: Dark Blue, I, 50, 1.41: Kämpa Dater, No. 6, p. 17, col. 1, 11.15-16: and Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 76, 11.13-14; and Frithiof’s Saga, tr. Stephens, p. 19, 11.20-21: Dark Blue, I, 53, 1.7: Kämpa Dater, No. 6, p. 17, col. 1, 1.22: and Fornaldar Sőgur, Ii, 80, 1.10.
  4. For a list of these translations, see Islandica, V (1912).


Very likely Morris did not borrow Stephen’s book because he wanted to use it as a guide in his rendering of the Icelandic saga, but because he wished to become acquainted with Tegnér’s poem on the same subject. We know that Morris was familiar with this work, for in a note at the opening of his translation of the Friðpjófs saga in the Dark Blue he says, “This tale is the original of the Swedish Bishop Tegnér’s ‘Frithiof Saga,’ a long modern poem, which has a great reputation, but bears little enough relation, either in spirit or matter, to its prototype.”1 It is almost certain that Morris was not so proficient in Swedish that he could read this long narrative poem in the original; there were of course many English renderings of the work available at this time, but inasmuch as we know that he borrowed Stephens’s translation in the early seventies, it is fairly safe to assume that it was on the basis of this rendering that he formed the opinion expressed in this note.

Although no saga translations were published from the spring of 1871 to 1875, we know that Morris was extremely active during these years in turning Icelandic sagas into English. Almost all our information regarding this work, except for a few references in letters, comes from the illuminated manuscripts he used to produce recreation at this time. I have already on several occasions referred to Morris’s activity as an illuminator.2 As I have stated before, he began this work as early as 1856, but did not complete any painted book until 1870; from that year until 1875 or

  1. I, 42.
  2. See above, pp. 9 and 109.


1876, however, he spent all his leisure time in writing out and decorating manuscripts, and produced during these years an astonishingly large number of such books. Many of them are copies of sagas he had rendered out of the Icelandic.

On the basis of one of these manuscripts we know that by the end of 1871 Morris had translated the Kormáks saga Øgmundssonar and had begun his English version of the Heimskringla. This manuscript, which is now in the private library of Sir Sydney Cockerell of Cambridge, England, and which I have had the privilege of examining, contains, in translation, the whole of the Kormáks saga, one page from the opening of the Heimskringla, eighteen stanzas of “Hafbur and Signy,” and two pages of the Friðpjófs saga; according to a note by Sir Sydney Cockerell at the beginning of the book, the “paper on which everything in this volume is written bears a watermark dated 1870 and the date of the skript[sic] is not later than 1871.”1 The last two selections in this book are not important

  1. This manuscript, measuring 16 1/8 by 10 3/8 inches, is bound in three-quarters light green leather. On the cover we find in gilt the following words: “The Story of Kormak the Son of Ogmund, Hafbur and Signy. And Fragments of Frithiof the Bold and Heimskringla,” The back bears the words “MS. Wm Morris.” On the recto of the first of the two flyleaves we find the following note in the hand of Sir Sydney Cockerell”

“An unpublished translation by William Morris of the Saga of Kormak son of Ogmund, written out by him and given to me after his death by Mrs. Morris. It is uniform with a manuscript of the Frithiof Saga belonging (1898) to Mr. C. Fairfax Murray, of which two waste leaves are bound at the end of this volume – the Frithiof MS was sold at Sotheby’s 7 July 1919, with added decoration by Luoise Lessore and gilding by Graily Hewitt.
“The paper on which everything in this volume is written bears a watermark dated 1870 and the date of the skript[sic] is not later than 1871.”

The pages bearing the writing are divided into two columns. Each sheet is numbered only once. “The Story of Kormak the Son of


for the purposes of this study, for we know from other sources that Morris had translated “Hafbur og Signy” and the Friðpjófs saga by the end of 1871 and both renderings in their entirety have been published; the first two selections, however, are of special interest.
Morris’s translation of the Kormáks saga was never printed; in fact, it is only through this illuminated manuscript and a few waste leaves1 that we know that he prepared a rendering of this tale. The basis for his version must have been the Kormaks saga sive Kormaki OEgmundi dilii vita, published in Copenhagen in 1832, for this was the only text printed at this time. His translation covers the whole of the saga, but does not include any of the “Fragmenta carminum” found at the end of this edition. I have compared the rendering with the original, and find that it is accurate and similar in style to Morris’s other saga translations.

(Continuation of note 1, page 180)      Ogmund” runs from page 1to the top of the first column on the verso of page 21. Page 22 is blank. On the recto of page 23 we find Chapter I and part of Chapter II of the Heimskringla; the verso of this sheet is left blank. On page 24 Morris has written out part of his translation of “Hafbur og Signy”; the writing covers the recto, and ends in the middle of the first column on the verso. On pages 25 and 26 we find a fragment of Morris’s rendering of the Friðpjófs saga. The passage opens with the words ‘forked beam, and ran into the prow” from Chapter VI; it runs from the top of the first column on the verso recto of page 25 to the bottom of the second column on the verso of page 26, ending with the following two lines of Visa III in Chapter IX:
“That Biorn and I
Betwixt us have borne….”
At the bottom of the inside of the back cover is written the note “Bound by Douglas Cockerell,” and below this is stamped “1898.”

  1. See below, page 182, note 2.


It is likewise very interesting to learn that Morris had begun his rendering of the Heimskringla as early as 1871, as the illuminated page of the opening of the Yngling saga included in Cockerell’s manuscript indicates. This very lengthy work, which he was not to complete until more than twenty-five years later, seems to have occupied his attention throughout this period; in a letter dated February 11, 1873, he writes, “My translations go on apace, but I am doing nothing original….I certainly enjoy some of the work I do very much, and one of these days my Heimskringla will be an important work.”1 Other illuminated fragments of the Heimskringla rendering also exist. In the private library of the late Sir Emery Walker of Hammersmith, London, there is an illuminated manuscript which contains various short selections, among them nineteen pages of the opening of the Heimskringla, covering “The Preface of Snorri Sturluson” and almost twenty-five chapters of the Ynglinga saga; those pages that bear a watermark are dated 1870, and the script is similar to that in Cockerell’s manuscript, so that very likely these leaves also were written out in 1871.2 At the time of her death Miss May Morris had in her posses-

  1. Mackail, William Morris, I, 291.
  2. This manuscript measures 16 1/8 by 10 ¼ inches. It is bound in three-quarters brown leather. The front cover bears the following words in gilt: “Fragments Translated Written Out and Decorated by William Morris from Lancelot de Lac The Saga of Howard the Halt The Heimskringla etc.” On the inside of the front cover there is pasted a slip of paper bearing the words “From the Library of Emery Walker No. III The Terrace Hammersmith.”

There are five flyleaves. The pages bearing the writing are divided into two columns. The translation of the “Lancelot du Lac” runs from page 1 to the bottom of the first column on the recto of page 8. In this part of the manuscript each sheet is numbered only once. Pages 9 and 10 are blank. The rendering of


sion two vellum leaves which bear no title but contain part of Chapter XXI, the whole of Chapter XXII, and the opening of Chapter XXIII of Morris’s translation of the Haralds saga hárfagra.1 There is writing on both sides of the pages, and the leaves are numbered 35, 36, 37, and 38; evidently they were originally part of an illuminated manuscript of the whole of the Haralds saga hárfragra. The script used here is larger than in the other two Heimskringla manuscripts, and is somewhat different in character; probably these leaves were prepared at a later date.

Although his work on the Heimskringla must have occupied much

(Continuation of note 2 on page 182)            the Hávarðar saga begins on page 11, and extends to the top of the first column on the recto of page 19; in other words, it covers 16 ¼ pages, with two columns on a page with 40 lines in a full column. The next page is left blank. From this point on, the pages are numbered on both sides in the regular way, and the numbering begins anew. The translation of the Heimskringla comes next, running from page 1 to the bottom of the first column on page 19. The next page contains a portion of the Kormáks saga rendering. Then are inserted a few pages covered with decorations but no writing. Finally, there is a vellum leaf containing part of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.
At the bottom of the inside of the back cover we find the date “1902.”
Throughout the manuscript, those pages that bear a watermark are dated 1870.

  1. These pages measure 9 ¾ by 8 ½ inches. For a reproduction of two of them, see below, pp. 968 and 970.


of his attention during the years 1871 to 1872, he nevertheless found time for several other saga-renderings. We learn from a letter written December 8, 1873 that by that time he had read the Viglundar saga, the Heðins saga ok Hőgna, the Hróa páttr heimska, and the porsteins páttr stangarhőggs; in the letter, just mentioned, Morris describes the material he intended to include in the volume of translations which he was then planning to publish but which did not appear until 1875 under the title Three Northern Love Stories, and says,
It [the book] stands thus now as I intended at first: the Story of Gunnlaug the Worm-tongue, printed in the Fortnightly some years back; the Story of Frithiof the Bold, printed before in the Dark Blue; the story of Viglund the Fair, never before printed: these ‘three Northern Love Stories’ will give the name to the book, but to thicken it out I add three more short tales; Hrol the Fool, Hogni and Hedin, and Thorstein Staff-smitten; the first of these three a pretty edition of a ‘sharper’ story and the same as a tale in the Arabian Nights. The second a terrible story; a very well told, but late version of a dark and strange legend of remote times. The third simple, and not without generosity, smelling strong of the soil of Iceland, like the Gunnlaug.1

Moreover, an illuminated manuscript shows us that three months later – namely, by the end of February, 1874 – he had translated three more fairly long sagas, - the Ha͜ensa-póris saga, the Sandamanna saga, and the Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings. His rendering of these three tales is written out and decorated in a very beautiful script of 224 pages, which is now in the Fitzilliam Museum, Cambrdige, England; Morris did not date the work, but a note at the end, evidently in the hand of Sir Sydney Cockerell, points out a “letter to Mr. C. Fairfax Murray shows that this book was finished in February 1874.” The sheets that are watermarked all bear the

  1. Mackail, William Morris, I, 300.


date 1870.1 None of these translations were published until 1891, when all three appeared in the first volume of The Saga Library.2
The last of these three tales, the Hávarðar saga, it should

  1. This manuscript, measuring 10 by 7 ¾ inches, is bound in three-quarters light brown leather. The front cover bears the title “The Story of Hen Thorir The Story of the Banded-Men The Story of Haward the Halt Translated and Engrossed by William Morris.” On the back are the words “Icelandic Stories.” On the inside of the front cover is pasted a slip bearing the statement “Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge Presented by Lady Burne-Jones 1909.” The two flyleaves at the beginning are blank.

“The Story of Hen Thorir” begins on page 1 and extends to page 56. Page 57 is left blank. “The Story of the Banded-Men” runs from page 58 to page 131. Page 132 is left blank. “The Story of Haward the Halt” begins on page 133 and ends in the middle of page 240. Pages 241, 242, 243, and 244 contain “A gloss in rhyme on the story of Haward, by William Morris.” Morris seems to have originally intended to form a separate book out of the last of these three sagas, “The Story of Haward the Halt,” for in this tale the page numbering originally began with “1”; when the work was incorporated in the larger manuscript, the pages were renumbered, but the last page of the “Gloss,” which should be page 244, has only the original number 112.
On the first of the two flyleaves at the end we find the followings note in ink:
“The three Stories in this book were translated from the Icelandic by William Morris and Eíríkr Magnússon. They were written out, and all the illuminated letters were designed and painted, by William Morris, about the year 1873. He then gave the book to me, and I now give it to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, in memory of him.
Georgiana Burne-Jones. Sep:18:1909.”
Underneath is written in pencil, apparently in the hand of Sir Sydney Cockerell, “A letter to Mr. C. Fairfax Murray shows that this book was finished in February 1874.”

  1. See below, p. 352. I should also like to point out that other illuminated manuscripts of two of these tales still exist, but these books do not throw any further light on the date of the translations. At the time of her death Miss May Morris possessed a copy of “The Story of the Banded-Men,” in which the whole saga is written out but only a very small part of the illuminating is completed. The Sir Emery Walker manuscript which I have already mentioned (see above, p. 182, n.2) contains a little over sixteen pages of “The Story of Howard the Halt,” covering almost nine chapters of the tale. Neither manuscript is dated; in the first one the paper is marked 1869 and in the other it is stamped 1870.


be noted, was one of the Scandinavian works which Magnússon and G. E. J. Powell had intended to publish in an English form before Magnússon began collaborating with Morris. As I have already pointed out, Magnússon wrote out a renderings of this tale and handed it over to Powell for revision in 1863, but the latter never completed his share of the work so that it could be printed; even as late as 1869 and 1870 references in letters show that they were still planning to publish it.1 Probably Magnússon by that time realized that it was useless to wait longer for Powell, and so put his literal translation in the hands of Morris.

The story of Haward became one of Morris’s favorites among the shorter Icelandic tales; he once wrote to Theodore Watts-Dunton, in a letter which evidently accompanied a presentation copy of Volume One of the The Saga Library, “Seriously I hope you will like it. The Howard Saga, I think the best short saga after G…2. and the other 2 are very good.”3 In the Fitzwilliam Museum illuminated manuscript of “The Story of Hen Thorir,” “The Story of the Banded-Men,” and “The Story of Haward the Halt,” we find at the end “A gloss in rhyme on the story of Haward, by William Morris.” In this gloss, which consists of fifty-eight lines in heroic couplets, Morris briefly retells the main events of the tale; the comments that he makes on the characters and their deeds in the course of this poetical summary show that he was deeply moved by this old story of wrong made

  1. See aboc, p. 41, and Einarsson’s “Eirikr Magnússon and his Saga-Translations,” p. 21.
  2. “G…” evidently stands for Gunnlaugs saga.
  3. These two sentences are taken from an excerpt given in a description of five Morris letters in English Literature of the 19th & 20th Centuries. No. 511 (London: Maggie Brothers, 1928), p. 263, item 1515.


right even in the face of overwhelming odds, and reveal that he sincerely sympathized with old Haward in his troubles and weakness. Note, for example, the following passage towards the end, in which he compares the change in Haward’s fortunes to a beautiful dream:

A dream methinks all this by someone told,
Of many griefs in all defeat grown old;
A dream of lying down unloved, alone,
Feeble, unbeauteous, but by mocking known,
And waking up a famous man and fair,
Well-loved, most mighty, bold all deeds to dare;
Happy to bring the hardest thing to pass;
Nought left save longing of the wretch one was:
Of lying down most loth to wake again,
And waking up to wonder what was pain –
A dream of wrong in one night swept away
And Baldur’s kingdom come with break of day.1

Another Icelandic work which Morris seems to have translated by the end of 1874 is the Haldórs páttr Snorrasonar. Three pages of an illuminated manuscript of his rendering of this story, called by him “The Tale of Haldor,” are now in the private library of Sir Sydney Cockerell; as is pointed out in a note on the inside of the front cover of the book in which these pages are bound, this selection is written out in the same script as that used in the Fitzwilliam Museum manuscript just discussed.2 There are two “pa͜ettir” concerning this Haldor, one dealing with Haldo and Einar pambarskelfir, the other with Haldor and King Harald Harðráði;3 it is the first of these that Morris translated. He wrote out only about forty lines

  1. In quoting this passage I have departed from the manuscript in capitalizing the first word in 11. 2, 4, 6, 7, and 9 and in inserting a comma after “told” in 1. 1 and a period after “day: in 1. 12.
  2. These pages are bound in a book measuring 8 ¾ by 8 inches. The main part of the book consists of the beginning of a catalogue of Morris’s library; this catalogue, a note in Cockerell’s hand on the inside of the front cover points out, was “probably made about 1890.” For an account of a more complete catalogue of Morris’s books, see below, pp. 345-346.
  3. See Jonsson’s Den Oldnorske og Oldislandske Lietteraturs Historie, II, 541, and Islandica, I (1908), 42.


in the illuminated manuscript, and so it is difficult to determine which text of this “páttr” he was following in his rendering;1 however, even this short passage shows that he certainly did not use the version in Volume III of the Flateyjarbók2 and that very likely he did not base his English version on the text in the Saga Ólafs Tryggvasonar published in 1689,3 but it does not indicate whether he followed the version in Volume III of Fornmanna Sőgur or that in Volume I of Flateyjarbók.4 All these books, it should be noted, were in his library at his death.5 This translation was never published and is not mentioned in any of the studies of Morris. I should also like to point out that Morris’s knowledge of Old Norse literature must have been very extensive, since he read and translated such minor and very slightly known tales as this one and the last three included in Three Northern Love Stories; probably he read this account of Haldor because this man was the son of Snorri the Priest, with whom Morris had become acquainted in the Eyrbyggja saga at an early date.

Another illuminated manuscript which was likewise probably produced in the early 1870’s contains about one-fourth of Morris’s rendering of the Vápnfirðinga saga. This translation, like that of the

  1. According to Islandica, I (1908), 42, there were four texts of this “páttr” available in 1874: Saga Ólafs Tryggvasonar (Skálaholt, 1689), II.315-321; Fornmanna Sőgur (Copenhagen, 1825-1837), III, 152-174; Flateyjarbók (Christiania, 1860-1868), I, 506-511; and ibid., III, 428-431.
  2. The following passages in this version, for example, differ from the corresponding passages in the three other texts, and in these cases Morris followed the others: III, 428, 11.26-28, 33-34, and 36; and 429, 11.10-11.
  3. On p.316, col. 1, 11.20-21, this edition has “Dotter Hakonar Jaris,” but the texts in Fornmanna Sőgur and in Flateyjarbók, I, have “dóttir Hákonar jaris illa” and “dotter Hakonar jalls illa” and Morris has “daughter of Earl Hakon the Evil.”
  4. His use of the form “Haldor” points to the Fornmanna Sőgur, for this edition spells the name with on “l” but the Flateyjarbók, I, 506-511, has “Halldorr.”


Halldórs páttr, was never published, and is not mentioned in any of the Morris studies. The manuscript is now in the private library of the late Sir Emery Walker of Hammersmith, England.1 The rendering, as usual, is very literal, with an archaic coloring. Evidently the translation was based on the text in Nordiske Oldskrifter, the only version printed at that time.2 The Porsteins páttr stangarhőgga, which we have already seem that Morris had read by the end of 1873,3 is a continuation of this saga; very likely he had translated the saga proper also by that time.

Finally, I should like to point out that three other saga translations that we know Morris prepared – namely, his renderings of the Heiðarvíga saga, of the Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, and of the Norna-Gests páttr – may have been produced during the period 1871 to 1876. The first of these works was not published by Morris until 1892, when it appeared in the second volume of The Saga Library.4 The other two Morris himself never printed, but manu-

  1. This manuscript, measuring 7 ¾ by 9 ¾ inches, is bound in three-quarters dark brown leather. The front cover bears the following title, in gilt letters: “Some Chapters of the Story of the Men of Weaponfirth with other Fragments of Manuscript and Decoration by William Morris.” On the inside of the front cover is pasted a slip with the words “From the Library of Emery Walker No. III The Terrace Hammersmith.” The five flyleaves are blank.

“The Story of the Men of Weaponfirth” runs from page 1 to the bottom of page 18, with 16 lines on each page. Next come 3 blank pages, and then are inserted 3 small vellum leaves on which Morris has written out a fragment of a Latin poem. This piece is followed by 4 more blank pages, and then another page is inserted, this one bearing short English and Latin sentences, evidently written out as trials. The come a few other fragments, and finally 3 more blank leaves. At the bottom of the back cover is imprinted the date “1902.” None of the pages in the book have dated watermarks.

  1. V, 1-32.
  2. See above, page 184.
  3. See below, pages 356-357.


scripts of parts of both these translations are extant,1 and one of these manuscript renderings, comprising forty chapters of the Egils saga, Miss Morris published in 1936 in her William Morris: Artist Writer Socialist.2 All of these translations are undated, but, as I stated above, there is reason to believe that they were prepared in the early 1870’s. In the first place, various allusions to Norse customs that Morris introduced in his poem “Anthony,” which, as I shall show later, he seems to have written shortly after 1870, indicate, though they by no means definitely prove, that he was familiar at that time with the Heiðarvíga saga and the Egils saga.3 Moreover, as I shall make clear in Chapter IV, the verse form Morris uses for his English versions of the “vísur” in The Story of the Heath-Slayings points to its being an early work.4 Finally, it should be noted that, as we shall see in the next chapter, Morris did no translation work from the late 1870’s until

  1. See May Morris, William Morris, I, 470 and II, 611.
  2. I, 564-636. These forty chapters constitute about one-third of the whole saga. At his death in 1896 Morris possessed two editions of the Egils saga – namely, Egils-saga, sive Egilli Skallagrimii vita (Copenhagen, 1809) and Sagan af Agli Skallagríms-syhi, ed. Einar Pórðarson (Reykjavík, 1856); see below, page 1001. The differences between the two are few and very unimportant, but they seem to indicate that in the main, at least, Morris was following words or passages in this text with the corresponding passages in Morris’s translation and in the 1809 edition: p. 1, 1.5(“Hrafnistu”), 1.7(í pann tíma í landinu”), 1.15 (“Őlvir”), p.2, 1.18 (“Őlvir”), 1.29 ( “pórir”), and p.3, 11.2 and 5 (“Őlvir”). Note, however, that in the heading of Chapter II, Morris uses “Aulvir,” as the 1809 edition does.
  3. See below, pages 223, 226, and 227, and accompanying notes. I should also like to point out here that according to Dr. Einarsson (in his “Eiríkr Magnússon and hi Saga-Translations,” p.21), Magnússon and Powell had planned to produce an English version of this saga also, but as in the case of the rendering of the Hávarðar saga, although Magnússon supplied Powell with a literal draft, the latter never completed his revision of Magnússon’s work so that it could be published. The fact that Magnússon had prepared a translation of the Egils saga before he met Morris makes it likely that he handed this rendering over to Morris and that Morris began working on this saga at an early date.


1890, and when he resumed his translating at that time, he seems to have devoted all his attention to finishing or revising renderings he had begun in the 1870’s; with the exception of The Story of the Heath-Slayings, all the translations he printed in The Saga Library are works we definitely know he had prepared or at least begun in the period 1868 to 1876. None of this evidence is of course conclusive, but it all indicates that these saga-renderings were produced in the period now under discussion.1

  1. I should like to point out here that there is reason to believe that Morris translated still other sagas, although here again we do not know whether, if he did read them, he did so now or in the period 1889 to 1896, when he resumed his translation work after a lapse of some twelve years in the Catalogue of a portion of the Valuable Collection of Manuscripts, Early Printed Books, &c. of the late William Morris, of Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, which will be sold by Auction, by Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge on Monday, the 5th of December, 1898, and Five Following Days, Item 848 on page 84 is described as follows:

“Saga. Islendinga Sogur udgivne eptir gamle Haandskrifter af det kngelige nordiske Oldskrift-selskab (some Ms. Slips of translations and notes by Wm Morris in vol II), 2 vol. green morocco gilt, y. e.
Kiobenhavn, 1843-47”
Morris’s copy of this collection of sagas is mentioned twice in the Book-Auction Records, I, Pt. 1 (1902-1903), 281 and II (1904-1905), 288; in Volume I the following account of it is given: “Islandinga[sic] Sőgur, the second volume containing throughout marginal translations and notes Morris, and 15 foolscap leaves of paper containing translations in the hands of Erikr Magnusson and Morris, mor., 2 v., 1843.” According to the reference in Volume II of the Book-Auction Records -  the latest mention of the work that I have been able to find -, these two volumes were sold March 22, 1905 to “Cockerell.” I have unfortunately not been able to locate this purchase; Sir Sydney Cockerell has informed me that it was not he who bought the set, and has told me that he knows nothing about it.
Volume Two of Islendinga Sőgur contains the following sagas: Harðar Saga Grímkelssonar Ok Geirs, Ha͜ensa-póris, Sagan af Hrafni Ok Gunnlaugi Ormstúngu, Saga af Víga-Styr Ok Heiðarvígum, Kjalnesínga-Saga, and Viðba͜etir: páttr af Jőkli Bússyni, Harðar Saga Grímkelssonar (Brot), Orð ok Talsha͜ettir úr Sőgubroti af Víga-Styr Ok Heiðarvígum, and Griðamál ok Trygðamál. The second, third, and fourth of these sagas Morris translated and published, in each case basing his rendering on the text in this volume (see above, pp.52, 184-185, and below pp. 354 and 357); if the description in the Book-Auction Records is correct and there are marginal translations and notes throughout the volume, Morris must have turned the other sagas into English also, although these renderings were never printed and nothing whatsoever is known about them.


Although Morris translated so many sagas in the early 1870’s, he published only one small volume of Icelandic tales during these years; this was Three Northern Love Stories, and other Tales, which appeared in June, 1875.1 The first two sagas which he included here, “The Story of Gunnlaug the Worm-Toungue and Raven the Skald” and “The Story of Frithiof the Bold,” he had already printed in periodicals, as I have pointed out before;2 both these tales he and Magnússon now carefully revised before republishing them in book form.3 I have already commented in detail upon these two translations. The third tale of love is “The Story of Viglund the Fair,” a rendering of the Víglundar saga, a late fictitious narrative. Morris almost certainly based his translation of this work on the text in Nordiska Oldskrifter.4 However, the melody which he introduced in Chapter Eleven for the song that Ketilrid sings when she thinks that Viglund has drowned5 is not found in this edition or in the only other text available in 1873; this tune he evidently inserted because, as he notes in his Journal of his first visit to Iceland in 1871, he had heard it played on an Icelandic violin at one of the farms at which

  1. See Forman, Books of Morris, p. 82. As I have already pointed out, these tales had been translated by the end of 1873 (see above, p. 184).
  2. See above, p. 52 and p. 175.
  3. See above, pp. 53 and 176 and the Athena͜eum, No, 2690(May 17, 1879), pp. 632-633.
  4. According to Islandica, I(1908), 105-106, there were two editions of this saga available in 1873: Nockrer Marg-Frooder Søgu-pa͜etter Islendinga, pp. 15-33 and 187-188 and Nordiske Oldskrifter, XXVII, 47-92. A comparison of the following passages in Nordiske Oldskrifter with the corresponding passages in the other edition and in Morris’s translation shows definitely that Morris was following the text in Nordiske Oldskrifter: XXVII, 47, 11.3, 10, 12-13, 15, and 19-20 and 48, 11.5-6 and 9-11. This book was in Morris’s library at his death (see below, p. 1000).
  5. Collected Works, X, 98-99.


he stayed on this trip.1 These three tales of love, “The Story of Gunnlaug,” “The Story of Frithiof,” and “The Story of Viglund,” make up more than three-fourths of the book; the remainder consists of three very short tales or “pa͜ettir.” “The Tale of Hogni and Hedinn” is a translation of Sőrla páttir, or Heðins saga ok Hőgna; Morris seems to have used the text given in Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda.2 “The tale of Roi the Fool” is an English rendering of Hróa páttr heimska; the two texts of this story existing in 1873, one of which is found in Fornmanna Sőgur and the other in the Flateyjarbók, differ so very slightly that it is impossible to determine with certainty which one served as the basis of Morris’s work, but it seems that he followed the former.3 The last story is “The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Smitten,” a translation of porsteins páttr stanagarhőggs, which is a continuation of the vápnfirðinga saga; the text given in Nordiske Oldskrifter of this “páttr” was the only

  1. See Collected Works, VIII, 151.
  2. According to Islandica, V(1912), 41, there were four editions of this work available to Morris in 1873: Saga Olafs Tryggvasonar (Skalaholt, 1689), II, 49-58; Sagan af Heidini of Hogna. – Historia duorum regum Hedini et Hugonis, ex antiqua Lingua Norvegica. Per Dn. Ionam Gudmundi in Latinum translate [Upsala, 1697]; Fornaldar Sőgur, I, 389-407; and Flateyjarbók, I, 275-283. The second of these four editions I have not had an opportunity to examine; however, since it was not in Morris’s library at his death and is an extremely rare work, it is very unlikely that he used it. A comparison of the other three texts with Morris’s translation shows that Morris almost certainly did not base his rendering on the 1689 edition and very likely did not follow the text in the Flateyjarbók. Compare, for example, the following passages in Fornaldar Sőgur with the corresponding passages in the other two editions and in Morris’s translation: I, 394, 11.14 and 22; 395, 11.2, 4, 13, 17, and 22; 397, 11.4 and 16; 399, 1.27; and 400, 1.2. All of these works except the 1697 edition were in Morris’s library at his death (see below, pp. 1000 and 1002).
  3. According to Islandica, III(1910), 32, there were two editions available in 1873: Fornmanna Sőgur, V, 252-266 and Flateyjarbók, Ii, 73-80. It is impossible to determine definitely which text Morris used, but it seems somewhat more likely that he followed the version in Fornmanna Sőgur. Compare, for example, the following passages in Fornmanna Sőgur with the corresponding passages in the Flateyjarbók and in Morris’s translation: V, 258, 1.13 and 261, 1.23. Both editions were in Morris’s library.


one published by 1873.1 In the case of the last four sagas, Morris’s renderings are the only English versions ever printed.2

At the beginning of this collection of six short Icelandic tales we find a very brief Preface with comments on the general nature of each story, and also a chronological table of the main events in “The Story of Gunnlaug.” At the close of the book are two notes; in one of them Morris presents a two-page translation of the story of Hogni and Hedinn as it appears in Chapter L of the “Skáldskaparmál,” thus giving his readers an opportunity to compare this short account with the much more detailed version given in the Sőrla páttr, which he had translated in the text. There are also at the end two indexes of characters and places mentioned in these six sagas.

The book met with almost unqualified approval in the contemporary reviews. All the critics were loud in their praises of the accuracy and general style of the rendering, and freely recommended the volume to their readers.3 As was to be expected, most of the reviewers, recognizing the superior merits of “The Story of Gunnlaug,” placed this tale far above any of the other sagas in the book, and hailed it as one of the treasures of the world’s literature. One critic even devoted his whole article to this saga, merely mentioning the names of the other five tales.4 Edmund Gosse, whose review is by far

  1. V, 48-56. See Islandica, I(1908), 116.
  2. See Islandica, I(1908), 106 and 117; III(1910), 32; V(1912), 41; and XXIV(1935), 72 and 75.
  3. See, for example, the Saturday Review, XL(1875), 90.
  4. See the Spectator, XLVIII2(1875), 1068-1069.


the most scholarly and acute, says of this story.

…it claims admiration for a rounded and finished form, a passionate perfection of style, a fullness of detail without an iota of triviality or thinness, which distinguish it above all its fellows. Without the grandeur of “Njála,” the romantic verve of “Grettis,” the fullness of humanity of that “Laxdaela” which we can only hope Mr. Morris may yet find time to render for us, the “Gunnlaug” has a concise picturesqueness, a purely artistic perfection, which place it at least as high as these, perhaps higher.1

“The Story of Frithiof” also was warmly praised, but “The Story of Viglund” was generally described as being distinctly inferior to the first two “love stories.” Mr. Gosse even went so far as to say, “With all deference to Mr. Magnússon’s learning and Mr. Morris’s taste, we feel doubtful whether they were justified in occupying so much time and space with a saga so late and so poor as this.”2 However, both Gosse and one of the other critics took pains to point out that the songs in this story were particularly beautiful; Gosse wrote, “The ‘Viglundarsaga’ is understood to be inelegant and unclassical in language….The best parts of the work are the passages in verse, which bear marks of an earlier and a far more gifted hand….We would take this opportunity of pointing out how especially beautiful are Mr. Morris’s versions of these short poems.”3 The other three tales in the book were dismissed by the reviewers with only a few words. It is of course not surprising that this collection of stories, unlike the other two saga translations that Morris and Magnússon had published in book form, was highly praised by the critics, for these six short tales, especially the first three, in view of the fact that the characters and action portrayed in them were much

  1. Academy, VIII(1875), 54.
  2. Ibid., VIII, 54-55.
  3. Ibid., VIII, 55. See also the Athena͜eum, No. 2490(July 17, 1875), 75.


closer to modern life, were much more easily understood by the nineteenth century Englishman than the Vőlsunga saga or the Grettis saga.

During the period of Morris’s life which we are now considering, when Morris was devoting himself almost entirely to Scandinavian studies, he became so intensely interested in Iceland and its literature that he determined to make a tour of the country even though he realized that such a trip would be accompanied by severe hardships and real dangers. Early in July, 1871, Morris left England for Iceland in the company of Eiríkr Magnússon, C.J. Faulkner, and W.H. Evans. The party first sighted land at Berufjőrðr in the southeast, and then sailed along the southern coast to Reykjavík. After spending a few days in the capital city, they set out to the southeast for the purpose of visiting Bergthorsknoll and Lithend; then they headed north proceeded through wild, rugged territory up to the northern coast; at Hnausar they turned south, riding back to Reykjavík along the western shore of Iceland, through the district richest in saga-associations. Morris and his friends returned to England early in September.
Even this extended trip, however, did not completely satisfy Morris’s longing for the land which was the main scene of the sagas he loved so well, and he soon began planning for a second visit. Two years later, in February, 1873, he wrote to a friend, “Iceland gapes for me still this summer: I grudge very much being away from the two or three people I care for so long as I must be, but if I The hero and “landnáms-man” of the vale is Ingimund the Old and most of the steads Thorstein shows us have reference to him; at the first we come to Ás[where] lived Hrolleifr, the rascal he protected, and who slew him; … Thorstein points out a sandy spit running into the river which is the traditional place of the deadly wounding of Ingimund….3

As Miss Morris points out in a footnote, these incidents are described in the Vatnsda͜ela saga.4 It is still more surprising to discover a few pages later that he is familiar with the Finnboga saga ramma: he describes Borg as “the place of the Saga of Finnbogi the Strong; in its present condition rather a poor characterless story; but with one touching part in it where the wife of Finnbogi dies of grief for the slaying of her favourite son by a scoundrel.”5

Undoubtedly the two tours increased Morris’s knowledge of the

  1. Collected Works, VIII, 96.
  2. Ibid., VIII,  154.
  3. Ibid., VIII, 90-91.
  4. Ibid., VIII, 90, note 1.
  5. Ibid., VIII, 94.


can only get away in some sort of hope and heart I know it will be the making of me….”1 In July of that year he set sail again for Iceland, accompanied this time only by C.J. Faulkner. Morris and his friend landed at Reykjavík, made a brief visit again to Njál district, and then set off in a northeasterly direction through the heart of Iceland; at Dettifoss, far up in the northeastern corner of the island, they turned west, and when they reached the Blandá they began travelling south, passing between Longjőkull and Arnarfellsjőkull on their way back to Reykjavík. On this second journey they visited very few saga-steads, most of their time being spent in wild, uninhabited country. They returned to England early in September.

During both his trips Morris kept a diary. The first one he rewrote when he came home, turning it into a finished, literary account of his experiences and impressions; the second diary he never revised. Neither the journal of the first journey nor the diary of the second was published during Morris’s lifetime, but they were both printed by Miss May Morris in 1911 in Volume VIII of the Collected Works.2 Both accounts- but particularly the first one- are very well written and are extremely interesting; they have a special importance for the present study because of the light they throw on the extent of Morris’s acquaintance with saga-traditions at this time.

  1. Mackail, William Morris, I, 291.
  2. Morris gave the copy which he made of the first diary to Lady Burne-Jones; in 1922 her son and daughter, Sir Philip Burne-Jones and Mrs. Mackail, presented the book to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, where it is now deposited.


Thus, very frequently in his description of the places that he and his friends visited, Morris shows in a striking manner that he knew the sagas very thoroughly and that he clearly remembered incidents and even details mentioned in these narratives. For example, when he is writing of their journey in the northeastern part of Iceland near Midfirth and is telling of their approach to Midfirth Neck, he notes, “Just as we turn out of the valley on to the neck, we come on a knoll, the site of Swala-stead, where Vali of the Bandamanna Saga was murdered….”1 A few pages later, when he is describing the district around Ramfirth, he refers to Thorodd-stead as “the dwelling-place and death-place of Thorbiorn Oxmain, who slew Atli Grettir’s brother and was slain by Grettir in his turn.”2 In his account of their ride past the head of Swanfirth, he says, “ …we rode down the other side of the firth till we came to Vadil’s-head where Arnkel the Priest, the good man of Erybyggia, is buried; … down here also Thorolf Lamefoot, Arnkel’s father was burned and so partly got rid of.”3 Of Swordfirth he writes,

Then we all rode away together passing by a little creek that Thorlacius pointed out to us as Sword-firth (Vigrafiőrðr) the scene of that ueer fight in Erybyggia where Freystein Rascal is killed, and often mentioned in that Saga: I remembered what a much bigger place I had always thought of for that place, where the very skerry in the middle is named after the fight, and called Fight-skerry.4

  1. Collected Works, VIII, 97.
  2. Ibid., VIII, 102.
  3. Ibid., VIII, 118.
  4. Ibid., VIII, 124-125. For further passages revealing Morris’s intimate knowledge of the sagas see ibid., VIII, 62, 11.17-21; 85, 11.29-31; 135, 11.23-24; 194, 11.1-2; and 196, 11.24-25.


He even remembers the family relationship of various characters: he refers in one passage to Áseirgsá as “the home of Ásgeir Madpate, father of Hrefna and uncle of Grettir’s father,”1 and in his account of Burgfirth he reminds his readers that “Egil lived at Borg, and his son Thorstein, father of Helga the Fair….”2

Moreover, he not only reveals an intimate familiarity with the more famous sagas, which we already know that he had read, but he also shows that he was acquainted with some of the less important tales, which we should hardly expect him to have studied. Thus, when he and his friends are travelling in the northwestern part of Iceland, on their way from Grímstunga to Hnausar, Morris writes,

[gap pp. 200-207]

[200] saga-traditions considerably. On several occasions we are told that the guides supplemented the stories in the sagas by local traditions. For example, in describing Swala-stead, to which I have already referred, Morris says, “Víðalin told us of it that many stories were current of it and of Swala’s witchcraft, and repeated a rhyme that says how the day will come when the big house of Swala-stead shall be lower than the cot of Víðidalstongue.”1 A few pages later he says that when they were riding at the head of Hvammfirth, an old parson at whose home they had made a brief stop pointed out the places of interest in that locality:

Then we went out and he showed us above the house Auð’s thing-stead and doom-ring, and close by the temple of those days; though Auð herself was a Christian, and would have herself buried on the foreshore between high and low watermark, that she might not lie wholly in a heathen land: they show you a big stone on the beach that they call her gravestone: but ‘tis covered now by the tide.2

Moreover, in many cases Morris’s visits to the scenes of the sagas seem to have changed his conception of tales he already knew and to have helped him to understand the characters and their actions more fully. Thus, when he is describing the horrible aspect of the mountains as they are passing Skialdbreið on their outward journey in 1871, he writes that “…just over this gap is the site of the fabulous or doubtful Thorisdale of the Grettis-Saga; and certainly the

  1. Collected Works, VIII, 97.
  2. Ibid., VIII, 111. See also ibid., VIII, 141, 11.2-5.


the corresponding passages in the other text and in The Saga Library: X, 3, 1.1; 4, 1.10; 4, 1.19; 4, 11.21-22; 5, 1.24; 6, 1.5; 6, 1.7; and 6, 1.14.