Scandinavian Elements in the Works of William Morris - CH 3
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
Chapter III - The Period of Morris’s Public Activity and Final Return to Literature: 1877-1896
After Sigurd the Volsung had appeared late in 1876, Morris did not produce or publish any adaptations or renderings of Norse material until late in the 1880’s. the reason for his failure to produce anything Scandinavian during these eleven or twelve years is that shortly after he had finished Sigurd the Volsung he was drawn into public life, and during the next decade he gave himself up to his new interests almost as completely as he had devoted himself to the literature and culture of the North in the period 1871 to 1876. The new activities that absorbed so much of his attention at this time were, in brief, the Eastern Question Association, the Society fo the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and Socialism. However, although he produced no purely Scandinavian work during these years of strenuous public life, it is clear that the Northern material with which he had been dealing was still very much in his thoughts, for when we examine the lectures, addresses, and newspaper and periodical articles that he prepared in connection with these activities, we find that even in writing or speaking on these entirely alien subjects, he fairly frequently introduced references to Scandinavian matters. I should like now to review briefly the main facts of Morris’s life during this period, calling attention as I do so to these scattered allusions that the made to the life of the North.
In 1876 Morris, along with many other Englishmen, was deeply stirred by the reports of horrible atrocities committed in
Bulgaria by the Turks as a result of the rebellion of some of the Balkan states against Turkish rule; when it became apparent that the English government would follow its usual policy of supporting Turkey and maintain her rights in Europe, even, perhaps, to the extent of going to war with Russia, who was already assuming a very hostile attitude toward Turkey and who actually declared war the following April, a number of Englishmen banded themselves together into what they called the Eastern Question Association, in order to stir up public opinion against the attitude of the English government and to rose sympathy for the Balkan rebels. In the work of this organization Morris was extremely active during this and the next year; he served as treasurer of the society, and freely gave his time to further the cause both by writing and by lecturing.1
Only one very small detail of Morris’s work for the Easter Question Association reflects his interest in Scandinavia. For the meeting of this organization in Exeter Hall on January 16, 1877, he wrote a ballad called “Wake, London Lads!” to the tune of “The Hardy Norseman’s Home of Yore.”2 The song which provided the melody is a short ballad of two stanzas, in English, describing the ancient Vikings’ love for the sea.3 Its melody, I find, is, except for very slight variations, the same as that of one of the most popular songs of Norway,- “For Norge, kja͜empers fødeland”;4 its words, however is
- Mackail, William Morris, I, 347*351 and 360-362.
- Ibid., I, 360-361, and May Morris, William Morris, II, 571-573.
- “The Hardy Norseman’s Home of Yore” may be found in Hea… Songs (Boston, 1910). P. 219.
- For this song see Norges Melodier. 500 Norske Sange for med Underlagt Tekst (Copenhagen and Leipzig: Wilhelm Hansen Mus.. Forlag, [n.d.] ), I, 46.
not a translation from the Norwegian, the Norwegian piece having three stanzas, and consisting of a toast to the glories of Norway. It is unfortunately not definitely known whether it was Morris who selected this Scandinavian air for his “Wake, London Lads!”; but it seems to me very likely that the choice of the melody was his, for if he was asked to write a political song for the meeting, he was probably permitted to select the tune to which he must adapt his words. Moreover, “The Hardy Norseman’s Song of Yore” does not seem to have been a very popular song in the Victorian Age; I have been unable to find it in any of the numerous collections of vocal music published at that time that I have examined. It is tempting, and I believe not entirely unjustifiable, to assume that it was Morris himself, his mind being at this time filled with Scandinavian material, who selected this stirring Norwegian air for a song which was intended to rouse the moral indignation of the Londoners again the foreign policy of their government.
During the time that Morris was working for the Eastern Question Association, he was also taking an active part in organizing the Society for the protection of Ancient Buildings. He had long been incensed at the ruthless demolition and at the so-called “restoration” of old buildings that was going on in England; he was finally roused to action in the beginning of March, 1877, by the report of the proposed restoration of the Minster of Tewkesbury. In response to a letter that he wrote to Athena͜eum suggesting the formation of an organization which should strive to protect old buildings from any alteration except such as was strictly necessary for their preservation, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, or the
“Anti-Scrape,” as it was usually called, was set up in the spring of 1877. Morris took a vital interest in the work of this Association throughout the rest of his life; although he and his friends did not succeed in saving from alteration or destruction all the monuments for which they fought, many priceless relics of the past which would otherwise have been lost were preserved for us as a result of their activity.1
On Dcember 4, 1877, Morris delivered a lecture on “The Lesser Arts” before the Trades Guild of Learning in London;2 this event was very important, for it marked the beginning of Morris’s activity as a public lecturer, first on questions of art and later on the subject of socialism,- an activity which he carried on all through the eighties and even into the nineties. He seems to have first come into demand as a lecturer on art, partly as a result of the attention he attracted as fervid supporter of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and partly as a consequence of the reputation he had gained for himself as a craftsman of the very highest order. That Morris was successful in his role of public speaker is clearly proved by the great number of lectures that he was asked to deliver all over England during these years; one of his biographers says, concerning Morris’s abilities as a speaker,
In the printed sentences you read the eager, persuasive accent, so convincing because so convinced. On the platform he stood, say his friends, like a conqueror, stalwart and sturdy, his good grey eyes flashing or twinkling, his voice deepening with feeling, his gesture and speech sudden and spontaneous, his aspect that of an insurgent, a fighter against custom and orthodoxy.3
- Mackail, William Morris, I, 339-346.
- Ibid., I, 359.
- Elisabeth L. Cary, William Morris: Poet. Craftsman. Socialist., (New York and London, 1902), p. 157.
In his early lectures we find no allusions to Scandinavian history and culture, but in the addresses delivered in the eighties we frequently meet with such reference. The first one occurs in a talk dating from 1881. In speaking on “Art and the Beauty of the Earth” at Burslem Town Hall on October 13, 1881, Morris contrasted the conditions prevailing in the Middle Ages, when men took pleasure in their work and therefore produced objects of art, with the situation in the modern world, when men must labor under very unhappy circumstances and hence cannot make anything beautiful; the far-superior medieval art, he said, flourished in “the days when Norwegian, Dane, and Icelander stalked through the streets of Micklegarth, and hedged with their axes the throne of Kirialax the Greek king….”1 With the service of the Northmen in the Varangian guard at Constantinople during the Middle Ages we have seen that Morris had long been familiar.2
In a lecture on “The History of Pattern-Designing” delivered the following year, in 1882, in behalf of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, we meet with another Scandinavian allusion. Here, by way of introducing a discussion of the development of Persian art, Morris briefly retold the story of the revolt of the Persians from the rule of the Parthians and the subsequent birth of the Persian kingdom, and then said,
Now as to the art of these kingdoms. That of the Parthians must be set aside by treating it in the way which was used by the worth Norwegian merchant in writing of the snakes in Iceland; there was no art among the Parthians, no native art, that is to say, and scarcely any borrowed art which they made quasi-native.3
- Collected Works, XXII, 159.
- See above, pp. 22-23, 26, and 28.
- Collected Works, XXII, 224.
Morris referred again to this “worthy Norwegian merchant’ who wrote of the snakes in Iceland in an article he composed for the periodical To-day the following year;1 the work that he must have had in mind in both these cases is Niels Horrebow’s Natural History of Iceland.2 He mentioned this treatise by name many years later in a remark of a similar nature in News from nowhere; in this book, which describes how a man of the late nineteenth century, evidently Morris himself, dreamt one night that he was living a hundred years later in a Socialist England, one of the members of the new nation tells the dreamer that in this reformed state there is no such thing as politics, adding, “ ‘If you ever make a book out of this conversation, put this in a chapter by itself, after the model of old Horrebow’s Snakes in Iceland.’”3 Horrebow’s Natural History of Iceland, originally written in Danish under the title Tilforladelige Efterretninger om Island med et nyt Landkort og 2 Aars Meteorologiske Observationer,4 is, as Horrebow himself states in his Preface, a careful revision, with numerous additions of his own, of that part of Johann Anderdon’s Nachrichten von Island, Grönland und der Strasse Davis5 which deals with Iceland. In his book Horrebow discusses, among other subjects, the minerals, beasts. Birds. And fishes of Iceland, devoting one chapter to each species; in the English translation of Horrebow or Anderson and not in any of the other renderings of the two books, one chapter headed “Concerning snakes”
- See below, p. 282.
- (London, 1758).
- Collected Works, XVI, 85.
- ([Copenhagen,] 1752).
- (Hamburg, 1746).
consists of only one brief sentence: ‘No snakes of any kind are to be met with throughout the whole island.”1 It was clearly this chapter in the English version of Horrebow’s book to which Morris referred in the passage quoted above from News from Nowhere, and it was very likely this same treatment of the snakes in Iceland to which he alluded in his lecture on “The History of Pattern-Designing” and in his article in To-day. To be sure, in both earlier references Morris ascribes the account of the Icelandic reptiles to a “worthy Norwegian merchant,” and Niels Horrebow was born in Copenhagen and was a distinguished Doctor of Laws.2 The description does not fit the original author, Johann Anderson, either, for he was born in Hamburg, apparently of Swedish parentage, and, like Horrebow, was a jurist of great eminence.3 However, there is not, to the best of my knowledge, any similar account of
- Natural History of Iceland, p. 91. In Anderson’s and Horrebow’s original works and in all the other translations, reasons for the absence of snakes in Iceland are also presented in this chapter; in the English translation this extra material is treated very briefly in a footnote. For this chapter in the other works see Anderson, Nachrichten von Island, p. 106; Anderson, Efterretninger om Island, Grønland og Strat Davis (Copenhagen, 1748), p. 100; Anderson, Histoire Naturelle de l ‘Islande, du Groenland, du Détroit de Davis, [tr. Gottfried Sellius] (paris, 1750-1754), I, 222; Anderson, Beschryving van Ysland, Groenland en de Straat Davis, tr. J. D. J. (Amsterdam, 1756), pp. 87-88; Horrebow, Tilforladelige Efterretninger om Island, p. 240; Horrebow, Zuverlasige Nachrichten von Island (Copenhagen and Leipzig, 1753), pp. 275-276; and Horrebow, Nouvelle Description Physique-Historique, Civile et Politique de l ‘Islande, [tr. Jacques Philibert Rousselot de Surgy and Meslin] (Paris, 1764), I, 326.
- See R.[asmus] Nyerup and J. E. Kraft, Almindeligt Litteraturlexicon for Danmark, Norge, og Island (Copenhagen, 1818-1820), I, 272.
- For an account of Anderson see the Preface to his Nachrichten von Island.
the snakes in Iceland by a Norwegian merchant or by anyone else, so that, in view of the fact that Morris alludes to Horrebow’s work by name in an almost identical reference in a somewhat later composition, it seems extremely likely that he had in mind the chapter on snakes in the English translation of Horrebow in his first two remarks also and simply made a mistake in his description of the author.
During the late summer and early fall of 1882 Morris’s interest in Iceland took a decidedly practical turn. As a result of a very cold, wet spring and summer that year, the Icelanders were threatened with a serious famine unless outside aid should reach them before winter; as soon as reports of this danger came to England, Morris and his friends organized an Iceland Relief Fund Committee, in order to raise money with which to buy provisions to send to those in need. During August and September Morris worked hard for the Committee by making fervid appeals to his friends and, through the medium of the newspapers, to the public for assistance; in one of these newspaper letters, which is quoted by Mackail, he paid a high tribute to the Icelanders, eulogizing them as
a kindly, honest, and intelligent people, bearing their lot, at the best a hard one, with singular courage and cheerfulness, and keeping up through al difficulties in their remote desert (for such indeed is the land in spite of tis beauty and romance) an elevation of mind and a high degree of culture, which would be honourable to countries much more favored by nature.1
By means of these activities the Committee succeeded n raising a fairly large sum of money, part of which was used to purchase grain, hay, and other supplies for the starving live stock; and early in October Eiríkr Magnússon sailed to Iceland with the money and
1. Mackail, William Morris, II, 77-78.
provisions, with permission to distribute them as he saw fit.1 Magnússon’s report to the Committee on his return shows that the assistance of the English in many cases met very pressing needs and was everywhere sincerely welcomed.2
Early in 1883 Morris took a very important step: on January 17th of that year he joined the Democratic Federation. As his biographers have pointed out, Morris’s conversion to the cause of Socialism was very slow and gradual. Even as early as 1876 he had begun to show sympathetic interest in the plight of the working classes. His work for the Eastern Question Association during that year and the next threw him into close contact with various radical groups in London; a manifesto which he issued in behalf of this organization, directed to the working men and urging them as a mass to refuse to be led into an unjust war merely to satisfy the wishes of certain classes which hated them, contain, as Mackail says, “his later socialist teaching as yet folded in the germ.”3 In the early 1880’s, when he began to lecture on art, he gradually evolved the idea that all the goods produced to-day were lacking in artistic value because they were made by men living and working under very unpleasant and unhappy circumstances, and that art could be improved only by the overthrow of the present unjust organization of society and a return to the conditions prevailing during the Middle Ages, when each man, producing a complete piece of work,
1. For a more detailed account of the work of Morris and Magnússon in behalf of the Iceland Relief Fund see Mackail, op. cit., II, 77-79 and Collected Works, XIV, xvii-xix.
2. See Eiríkr Magnússon, The Distress in Iceland. Mansion House Relief Fund. Report Read at a Meeting of the Mansion House Committee on December 11, 1882 (London, 1882).
3. Mackail, William Morris, I, 340.
took pleasure and pride in his own labor. Little by little he began to conceive of this remaking of society as a great cause, for the furtherance of which he must give up all his other interest in life. Even before he became a member of the Democratic Federation, he considered the work of the Socialists so important that he sold a great number of his rare and well-loved books to raise money to support the movement; during the three years immediately following his definite enrollment with the Socialists, he sacrificed everything for the sake of this new interest, even neglecting his business to the extent of endangering its success. Morris joined the Democratic Federation early in 1883, as I stated above, but he did not long remain a member of this group, for late in 1864 he and some of his friends withdrew from this organization on account of internal dissension, and united in what they called the Socialist League. Morris continued to work assiduously for the cause during the next five years as a member of this new group, making liberal contributions both in poetry and prose to the Commonweal, the official journal of the League; but we find that during this period his devotion to Socialism gradually became less complete and exclusive, and that he began once again to take more than a passing interest in his business and in literature. After November, 1890, when he found it again necessary to break away from his comrades, the majority of them having become anarchists, and together with a small number of his closest friends he formed the Hammersmith Socialist Society, his Socialist activities
rapidly became less and less time-consuming, and during the last four or five years of his life, although he never lost faith or interest in the cause for which he had been working, other pursuits forced his Socialism definitely into the background.1
Karl Litzenberg, in an essay called “The Social Philosophy of William Morris and the Doom of the Gods,”2 tries to show that Morris’s ideas on Socialism were influenced by his Scandinavian studies. He first calls attention to the similarity between the Socialist doctrine of the “Great Change,” which through a brief period of slaughter was to terminate the present unfair organization of society and to usher in an era of justice and peace, and the “Ragnarok” of Old Norse mythology, which the early Scandinavians believed would destroy the existing world and give birth to a new and beautiful earth, on which even Balder would be happy to live; and he then suggests that the Old Norse conception of the Day of Doom, with which Morris had been familiar since his college days, played a part in Morris’s conversion to revolutionary Socialism, with its similar belief in the rebirth of the earth through the Great Change. That the parallelism between the two ideas is close cannot be denied, and according to Mackail, Morris himself noticed the connection;3 just how far, if at all, Morris’s acquaintance with the Old Norse Ragnarok actually influenced his adoption of the view that the social ills of the present-day world could be remedied only by a complete revolution
1. For this account of Morris’s Socialism I am in the main indebted to Mackail, William Morris, I, 347-351 and II, 23-30, 62-65, and 79-245.
2. University of Michigan Publications. Language and Literature, X (1933), 183-203.
3. Mackail, op. cit., II, 24-25.
and affected his conception of the Great Change it is extremely difficult to say.
In view of what we do know definitely about Morris’s development as a Socialist, there seems to be little excuse for seeking for any Scandinavian influences on this phase of his life. As I pointed out above, Morris’s interest in the Socialistic cause in general grew out of his dabbling in politics and out of his work as an artist. That the reason – at any rate the immediate reason – for his conversion to revolutionary socialism in particular was likewise political seems to me to be clear from the second and fourth sentences in the following paragraph, which Mackail quotes from a letter Morris wrote in 1881:
I suppose you have seen about the sentence on Herr Most and read Coleridge’s most dastardly speech to him: just think of the mixture of tyranny and hypocrisy with which the world is governed! These are the sort of things that make thinking people so sick at heart that they are driven from all interest in politics save revolutionary politics: which I must say seems like to be my case. Indeed I have long known, or felt, say, that society in spite of its modern smoothness was founded on injustice and kept together by cowardice and tyranny: but the hope in me has been that matters would mend gradually, till the alst struggle, which must needs be mingled with violence and madness, would be so short as scarcely to count. But I must say matters like this and people’s apathy about them shake one’s faith in gradual progress.1
It was of course only natural that Morris, wo was thoroughly steeped in Old Norse mythology, should have noticed the similarity between the Scandinvain conception of “Ragnarok” and his belief in revolution as a means of winning peace and social justice. After he had for political reasons become a revolutionary socialist, his idea of the Great Change may have been colored by his acquaintance with Old Norse mythology; it seems to me dangerous, however,
1. Mackail, op. cit., II, 25.
to assume that there was any important connection between his socialism in general or his particular brand of socialism and his Scandinavian studies.
We have already seen that during the years that Morris was actively engaged in the work of the Eastern Question Association and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, even though he threw himself wholeheartedly into these causes in which he sincerely and deeply believed, he did not completely forget his earlier Scandinavian studies. When we examine the lectures and articles he prepared in connection with his new interest – Socialism -, we likewise find fairly frequent allusions to the life and culture of early Scandinavia, these references showing that even though his devotion to, and enthusiasm for, this new cause were still greater, the tales of the early Norsemen and his visits to Iceland were nevertheless very much in his thoughts.
The first allusion to anything Scandinavian with which we meet in this period occurs in a lecture called “Art and the People: A Socialist’s Protest against Capitalist Brutality,” which Morris delivered in 1883, the very year he joined the Democratic Federation; pointing out that the history of events is a history of “‘Kings and Scoundrels’” whereas “the history of art is made up of the patient many living naturally,” he remarked, “’There also shall we be free from the troubling of kings and scoundrels’ are the memorable words used by the freemen of Norway when they left their country at the end of the tenth century to find freedom among the terrible wastes of Iceland: but for them, the history and mythology of the North would have been forgotten.”1 The statement to which
1. May Morris, William Morris, II, 385.
Morris here referred is very likely that of Grímr in the Vatnsda͜ela saga, who, in the course of a discussion as to the advantages of leaving Norway for Iceland, said, “ ‘Er mér sagt got frá landkostum, at par gangi sjálfala fé um vetr, en fiskr I hverja vatni, skógar miklir, en frjálsir af ágangi konunga ok illra͜edismanna.’”1 With this saga we have already seen that Morris was familiar as early as 1871.2
During the next year, 1884,3 Morris prepared an autobiographical sketch for a friend, in the course of which he gave a very interesting account of his Scandinavian studies; speaking of The Earthly Paradise period, he said, “I had about this time extended my historical reading by falling in with translations from the Old Norse literature, and found it a good corrective to the maunderings side of mediaevalism.”4 A few lines later he continued,
Meantime about 1870 I had made the acquaintance of an Icelandic gentleman, Mr. E. Magnússon, of whom I learned to read the language of the North, and with whom I studied most of the works of that literature; the delightful freshness and independence of thought of them, the air of freedom which breathes through them, their worship of courage (the great virtue of the human race), their utter unconventionality took my heart by storm.5
1. Vatnsda͜ela saga, ed. Sveinn Skulason (Akureyri, 1858), pp. 26-27.
2. See above, p. 199.
3. May Morris, op. cit., II, 8-13. Miss Morris does not give the date of this account, but it must have been written in 1884, for in the course of the sketch (page 13, line 29) Morris refers to his joining the Democratic Federation “last year,” and we know that he took that step on January 17, 1883 (see Mackail, William Morris, II, 87).
4. May Morris, op. cit., II, 11.
5. Loc. cit.
In July of the same year Morris submitted an article to the periodical To-day on the current exhibition at the Royal Academy; in this discussion of contemporary art, he introduced three references to Scandinavian matters. The first one is the allusion to “the good Norwegian merchant” and the snakes in Iceland which I have already mentioned: as eh is beginning his discussion of “decorative beauty,” he remarked, “I am sorry to say the task of speaking of this quality is as easy as the good Norwegian merchant found the subject of the ‘snakes in Iceland’: for in sober truth there is not one single picture (nor has been for years) which even aims at decorative beauty….”1 As I have already pointed out, the work which he seems to have had in mind in undoubtedly Niels Horrebow’s Natural History of Iceland.2 the other two Scandinavian references in this article deal with Iceland itself, both of them revealing what a deep love for this bleak land his two visits to the island and his study of its literature had awakened in him. He referred to a certain picture as one that cannot but move anyone who has visited the northern latitudes. There is a sense about it of romance and interest in life amidst poverty and a narrow limit of action and maybe of thought, which is characteristic of a port but historic country side, and reminds me of many a morning’s awakening in a country which one may call the northern limit of history as it is certainly one of its richest treasure-houses; Iceland to wit.3
1. May Morris, William Morris, I, 231.
2. See above, pp. 272-275.
3. May Morris, op. cit., I, 231.
Concerning one of the artists who was exhibiting, he wrote, “I am not ashamed for instance to remind him of what a mine lies untouched in Iceland; I could tell him of places there as wild and strange as the background of a fairy story, every rood of which has a dramatic tale hanging by it. …”1
In the same month – July, 1884 – he delivered a lecture on “Textile Fabrics”; in the course of commenting on a certain kind of material that was woven in Europe in the Middle Ages he stated,
My own impression is that these tapisseries nostrez (judging by the context) were like the rudely flowered stuff traditionally made by the Italian peasants to-day, in the Abruzzi, for instance, and of which the Roman peasant women’s aprons are made. This impression is chiefly founded on the fact that exactly the same make of cloth is woven in Iceland for coverlets, saddle-cloths, and the like, the inference being that it was formerly in use very widely throughout Europe.2
A little later in the same lecture, while describing the design of a piece of tapestry dating from the beginning of the twelfth century, he remarked, “it is worth while noting that patterns of exactly the same character have been traditionally used in Iceland till within the last hundred years, only by that time they had got to be done by means of worsted embroidery upon linen.”3 These two remarks about weaving in Iceland were obviously the result of observation Morris had made on his tow Icelandic journeys in the early seventies.
Morris joined the Socialist League late in 1884, as I pointed out above, and during the next five years he made generous contributions to the Commonweal, the official journal of this organization. He did not introduce many Norse allusions in these articles, but
1. May Morris, op. cit., I, 232.
2. Collected Works, XXII, 281.
3. Ibid., XXII, 284.
occasionally the topic under consideration reminded him of something Scandinavian. Thus, early in 1886, in a short note called “The Husks that the Swine Do Eat,” he related that a man had recently been sentenced to a month of hard labor for stealing food from plates that he was carrying from a soldiers’ dining hall to the garbage-tubs, and then Morris exclaimed, “Ghost of William Cobbet, here is another ‘vast improvement’ for you on the Scandinavian law that decreed a thousand years ago that he who stole from necessity was to go Scot free.”1 In the laws on stealing in Magnus Konungs Laga-Baeters Gula-Thing-Laug,2 an edition of which was found in Morris’s library at his death,3 there is a provision to the effect that if a man had been unable to find work and stole because he was hungry, he should not be punished; it was evidently this passage that Morris had in mind here. The reference that he made does not of course prove that he was acquainted with this whole work, for Magnússon or some other Icelander may simply have called his attention to this interesting provision. It should be noted that in his other works he does not reveal any acquaintance with Old Norse laws beyond what he could have gained from the sagas.
Later in the same year, in the issue for November 13, 1886, he began publishing in the Commonweal a story called A Dream of John Ball; the last installment appeared on January 22, 1887. The tale was first printed in book form early in 1888.4 In this work, in which Morris represents himself as dreaming that he is in Kent at the time of the Peasants’ revolt in 1381
occasionally the topic under consideration reminded him of something Scandinavian. Thus, early in 1886, in a short note called “The Husks that the Swine Do Eat,” he related that a man had recently been sentenced to a month of hard labor for stealing food from plates that he was carrying from a soldiers’ dining hall to the garbage-tubs, and then Morris exclaimed, “Ghost of William Cobbet, here is another ‘vast improvement’ for you on the Scandinavian law that decreed a thousand years ago that he who stole from necessity was to go Scot free.”1 In the laws on stealing in Magnus Konungs Laga-Baeters Gula-Thing-Laug,2 an edition of which was found in Morris’s library at his death,3 there is a provision to the effect that if a man had been unable to find work and stole because he was hungry, he should not be punished; it was evidently this passage that Morris had in mind here. The reference that he made does not of course prove that he was acquainted with this whole work, for Magnússon or some other Icelander may simply have called his attention to this interesting provision. It should be noted that in his other works he does not reveal any acquaintance with Old Norse laws beyond what he could have gained from the sagas.
Later in the same year, in the issue for November 13, 1886, he began publishing in the Commonweal a story called A Dream of John Ball; the last installment appeared on January 22, 1887. The tale was first printed in book form early in 1888.4 In this work, in which Morris represents himself as dreaming that he is in Kent at the time of the Peasants’ revolt in 1381 and that he is spending a
1. Commonweal, II (1886), 7.
2. (Copenhagen, 1817), p. 531.
3. Please note at this point footnotes 3 and 4 have been cut off from the bottom of the page.
few hours with John Ball, the “mad priest,” and a group of his stalwart followers, one would scarcely expect to meet with any Scandinavian allusions, but there are two passages that show that even when he wrote on such subjects, his Old Norse reading was very much in his thoughts. Thus, when Morris, the dreamer, is requested to tell a story while he and his new friends are having supper at the “Rose,” he says,
“Now hearken a tale, since ye will have it so. For last autumn I was in Suffolk at the good town of Dunwich, and thither came the keels from Iceland, and on them were some men of Iceland, and many a tale they had on their tongues; and with these men I foregathered, for I am in sooth a gatherer of tales, and this that is now at my tongue’s end is one of them.”
So such a tale I told them, long familiar to me; but as I told it the words seemed to quicken and grow, so that I knew not the sound of my own voice, and they ran almost into rhyme and measure as I told it; and when I had done there was silence awhile, till one man spake, but not loudly:
“Yea, in that land was the summer short and the winter long; but men lived both summer winter; and if the trees grew ill and the corn throve out, yet did the plant called man thrive and do well. God send us such men even here.”1
It is significant that even in a dream vision Morris represents himself as selecting an Icelandic story when called upon for a tale. In the last paragraph of the passage just quoted we find Morris expressing – as he had already done in several of his early poems -2 his wonder at, and admiration for, the nobility, dignity, and courage that the Icelanders showed, even in their daily lives, although they were surrounded by innumerable physical hardships and privations. Somewhat later in A Dream of John Ball, when Morris and the priest are discussing the meaning of death, Morris remarks, “’…I mind me that in those stories of the old Danes, their common
1. Collected Works, XVI, 223-224.
2. See above, pp. 58 and 99.
word for a man dying is to say, “He changed his life”’”1 Morris is apparently here referring to the Old Norse poetical expressions “bregða fjörvi,” or “bregða lífi,” although these phrases really mean, not “to die,” but “to change, or remove from, life” and so “to kill.”2 So far as I know, there is no expression of this type in Old Norse meaning “to die.” With the metaphors “bregða fjörvi” and “bregða lífi” Morris had met several times in translating the Heimskringla and Gunnlaugs saga.3
Early in 1886, in response to a request from the Pall Mall Gazette, Morris prepared a list of his favorite books.4 Although only five of the fifty-two items are Scandinavian, these five are all of an inclusive nature, so that they actually cover most of the Old Norse literature which he had read; moreover, in the group of fifteen works or collections which he designates as “Bibles” – that is, in his own words, books which “cannot be measured by a literary standard, but to me are far more important than any literature” -, all five Scandinavian items are included. These Scandinavian works are “the Edda (including some of the other early old Norse romantic genealogical poems),” ‘Collections of folk tales, headed by Grimm and the Norse ones,” “Heimskringla (the tales of the Norse Kings),” “Some half-dozen of the best Icelandic Sagas,” and “The Danish and Scotch English Border ballads.”5 Concerning that group of books in which the Heimskringla and the Icelandic sagas are included, he said, “…almost all these books are admirable pieces of tale-telling: some of them rise into the dignity of prose epics,
1. Collected Works, XVI, 265.
2. See Cleasby and Vigfússon’s Icelandic-English Dictionary, p. 77, col. 2, s.v. “bregða,” No. A, II, 1; and Egilsson’s Lexicon Poeticum (Copenhagen,1931), p. 61, col. 2, s.v. “bregða,” No. 3.
3. See Heimskringla, ed. Unger, p. 140, 1.10b and p. 499, 1.7b; and Sagan af Gunnlaugi Ormstungu, p. 192, 1.5.
4. Pall Mall Gazette “Extra,” No. 24, pp. 10-11. The list was… (please note that the rest of this note and the last footnote have been cut off from the bottom of the page).
so to say, especially in parts. Note, for instance, the last battle of Olaf Tryggvason in Heimskringla;1 and the great rally of the rebels of Ghent in Froissart.”2
In 1887 Morris prepared a lecture on Early England. This address was never published in its entirety, but his daughter printed a number of excerpts from it in her introduction to Volume Eighteen of the Collected Works; the passages that she quoted are of particular interest for the present study because they contain some critical remarks on the Old Norse sagas, and such utterances by Morris are comparatively rare. In the course of lamenting the influence of Rome on early England – an influence from which the Scandinavian countries were free for a much longer time-, Morris said,
As far as our early literature is concerned that [i.e. the shadow of Rome] was a great misfortune. The history and mythology of Scandinavia was enshrined in the rough casket of Ireland, and though at the time when it was written the people of that island had been converted to Christianity, yet except where the subject-matter positively demands it, there is no sign of the new religion having made any practical impression on the writers, and though monks and priests took their part in this literature, work written in Latin were rare. But in England it was different; the literature was mostly in the hands of the monks…. There are in Anglo-Saxon in short none of those pieces of local history told in a terse and amazingly realistic and dramatic style which bring back to us Iceland and Norway in the eleventh century: and what is still more unlucky, we have lost the account of the mythology of the North from the Low German branch of the great Teutonic race. It is the feeblest and slenderest branch of the Goths that have been the storytellers of the race and not the Germans or the English: Odin we know in his goings out and comings in, but Wotan and Woden are but names to us.3
The preference Morris expressed here, and also in the following quotation, for early Scandinavian literature is truly significant, for there have been few men as thoroughly acquainted with, and as
1. The passage to which he is referring may be found, in Morris’s own translation, in The Saga Library, III, 365-377.
2. Collected Works, XII, xiv.
3. Please note that footnote three has been cut off from the bottom of the page.
deeply appreciative of, both the Old Norse and the Old and Middle English literatures and therefore as well qualified to judge between the two, as Morris was. He went on to say in this lecture, in describing the Battle of Senlac, that he was sorry that there is no Icelandic account of this engagement, as there is of the Battle of Stamford Bridge:
And here above all things does one regret that subjection of the native writers to monkish Latin, and longs for the story now never to be written which the English saga-man might have given us of that sad field of Hastings. And this all the more as one part of the story, and that the least important part, has been told dramatically enough by an Icelander. For Tosting, Harald’s brother, having quarreled with him and being dispossessed in consequence, sailed away north and tried to get Svein the Dane-king to fall on England; and getting the cold shoulder from him went to Harald the Terrible, king of Norway, a redoubted warrior once captain of the guard of the Greek Emperor, whom he enticed into the expedition: the story-teller gives us all the usual preliminaries of a great tragedy in the tales of the North; pithy warnings of wise men, omens of the seers and the like; and dwells at length on the victories won by the Norse Harald before the English king caught him unawares, his army without their mail coats, six miles from York: the fight that follows and the parley before it are given in the usual dramatic and generous manner of the North, and make on long that such a story-teller should have told us what followed.1
The Icelandic account of the Battle of Stamford Bridge to which Morris is here referring is most likely the one given in the
1. Collected Works, XVIII, xvii.
Heimskringla.1 With this description, which is found in the Haralds saga harðráða, Morris could have become familiar either through Laing’s translation of the Hemiskringla,2 to which he had been introduced at an early date,3 or possibly – though much less likely – from his own rendering of the original; we do not definitely know how much of his Heimskringla translation Morris had completed when he dropped his Scandinavian work in the late 1870’s, but there is good reason to believe that he had not proceeded beyond the Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar at that time.4
1. The Battle of Stamford Bridge is described in much the same form in five Icelandic works, - in the Heimskringla, ed. Unger, pp.608-622; in the Fagrskinna, edd. P. A. Munch and C. R. Unger (Christiania, 1847), pp. 134-142; in Hulda (in Fornmanna Sőgur, VI, 395-423); in the Flateyjarbók, pp. 387-397; and in the Morkinskinna, ed. C. R. Unger (Christiania, 1867), pp. 109-121. In making the remarks quoted in the text above, Morris could not have had in mind the accounts given in the last two works – that is, in the Flateyjarbók or in the Morkinskinna -, for neither one of these mentions the ominous dreams that King Harald Sigurdsson and his followers had before they set out on their ill-fated expedition. Any one of the other three accounts, however, could have served as the basis of what he here said in praise of the Icelandic style of narration; but of these three it seems most likely that it was the Heimskringla passage that he had read and was here referring to, for the Heimskringla is the best known of these works and, besides, we know that he was familiar with this history but we have no evidence to prove that he was acquainted with the other two.
2. III, 76-93.
3. See above, pp. 28-39.
4. For a discussion of the dates of Morris’s translation of the Heimskringla, see above, pp. 182-183 and below, pp. 344-348. It should perhaps be pointed out that the form of the personal names which Morris introduced into his lecture does not throw any light on the particular account of the Battle of Stamford Bridge which he had in mind. For the names “Harald the Terrible,” “Tostig,” and “Svein” found in the lecture, Laing has “Harald Hardrada,” “Toste,” and “Swend,” and Morris in his own translation (see The Saga Library, V, 157-179) uses “Harald the hard-redy,” “Tosti,” and “Svein”; the Heimskringla (in Unger’s edition) and Hulda have “Harladar harðráðr,” “Tosti,” and “Sveinn,” and the Fagriskinna has “Haraldr hinn harðráða,” “Tosti,” and “Sveinn.” Perhaps Morris was simply using the forms with which he thought his hearers would be most familiar.
In a letter written in March of the same year – 1887 -, Morris made a casual reference to Amloði, the Scandinavian original of Shakespeare’s Hamlet; in speaking of Tolstol’s War and Peace, he said, “There seems to be a consensus of opinion in these Russian novels as to the curious undecided turn of the intellectual persons there: Hamlet (Shakespeare’s I mean, not the genuine Amloði) should have been a Russian, not a Dane.”1 This remark, casual as it is, has a certain interest for the present study, for it may possibly be an indication that Morris was familiar not only with the name of the Scandinavian forebear of Hamlet but also with one of the versions of the Norse story of this ancient hero; it is rather unlikely that he would have made such a remark unless he had known the tale told in the Ambáles saga2 or the Hamlet story as it appears in the Historia Danica of Saxo Grammaticus.3 If he was acquainted with these two works at first hand, he must have read the first in Icelandic and the second in either Latin or Danish, for neither one had been translated into English by 1888;4 this fact does not, however, preclude the possibility that he was familiar with
1. Mackail, William Morris, II, 204.
2. Sagan af Ambáles Kongi, ed. Einar Dórðarson (Reykjavík, 1886).
3. I, 135-161.
4. For a bibliography of editions and translations of the Ambáles saga and of the Historia Danica, see Islandica, V (19112), 71-72 and 62-70.
these works, for he was of course able to read both Icelandic and Latin at this time.1
To be sure, the acquaintance which Morris seems to reveal in this letter with the Scandinavian Hamlet may not be based entirely – if at all - on these two works; perhaps Magnússon, or someone else who was well read in the early literature of the North, called Morris’s attention to the Scandinavian stories of this ancient hero, pointed out the differences between the Norse figure and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and, possibly, directed him to the two accounts mentioned above. In fact, the rather unusual form of the name that Morris uses makes it seems very likely that he was drawing, partly at least, on some oral source: Morris refers to the Scandinavian hero as “Amloði,” a name found neither in Saxo not in the only edition of the Ambáles saga printed in 1888, the former having “Amlethus,” and the latter, “Ambáles.”2 The Icelandic form of the name, “Amloði,” does occur in the earliest extant Scandinavian reference to Hamlet, which is found in a short poem ascribed to the Icelandic skald Sna͜ebiőrn; the second
1. His translation of Virgil’s Aeneids (see Collected Works, XI) furnishes ample proof of his knowledge of Latin. It should be pointed out here that an account of the Scandinavian Hamlet appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine for October, 1847 (Volume XXVIII (New Series), 369-374). According to the introductory remarks, the story “has been translated from the Swedish of a popular miscellany printed at Stockholm during the present year, 1847, and we are inclined to think that we have here the original Scandinavian legend or saga, which was afterwards amplified into the French and English novel….”; the account itself seems to be essentially an abstract of the Hamlet story told by Saxo. However, it is very unlikely, though of course not impossible, that Morris happened to be acquainted with this story which appeared in a magazine twenty years before he became seriously interested in Scandinavian literature. Moreover, it should also be noted that a shorter, but fairly inclusive, summary of Saxo’s account of Hamlet was presented by R. K. Porter in his Travelling Sketches in Russia and Sweden During the Years 1805, 1806, 1087, 1808 (Philadelphia, 1809), pp. 4-9, but it is likewise rather unlikely that Morris was acquainted with this fairly rare book. In neither of these accounts does the name “Amloði” occur.
2. In Sagan af Ambáles Kongi, printed by Einar Dorðarson in 1886,… (Please note that the rest of this footnote is cut off from the bottom of the page).
verse of this poem, in which the phrase “Amloða molo” occurs, Morris may very likely have read either in one of the editions of the Prose Edda1 or in the Corpus Poeticum Boreale of Vigfússon and Powell.2 However, it seems very unlikely that Morris would have connected this brief and rather puzzling reference to Amloði with the stories of Amlethus and Ambáles unless someone well versed in the lore of ancient Scandinavia had discussed the matter with him.3 Some acquaintance with the story of this Norse figure must have had, in view of the distinction he makes between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and “the genuine Amloði”; the particular source of his information it is, however, impossible to ascertain.
During 1887, the year in which the letter containing this interesting reference to Amloði was written; we also find that Morris introduced two brief Scandinavian allusions in the Commonweal. In an article called “Artist and Artisan: As an Artist Sees It,” which appeared on September 10th, he pointed out that “when art is hopeful and progressive there is plenty of it for every one and every one is in some sense an artist and … all can understand” what the artist
1. See, for example, Edda Snorra Sturlusonar, ed. Dorleifr Jónsson (Copenhagen, 1875), pp. 109-110.
2. (Oxford, 1883), II, 54-55.
3. The only account of the history of the Hamlet story published before 1888 in which the form “Amloði” is discussed is, so far as I know, Carl Save’s article “Om Hamlets Namn och Betydelsen deraf. Undersőkning” in Nordisk Universitets Tidskrift, X (1866), 87-102; it is very unlikely that Morris was acquainted with this discussion. Cleasby and Vigfússon’s Icelandic-English Dictionary (page 19, col. 2) lists “Amloði,” stating that it is “the true name of the mythical prince of Denmark, Amlethus of Saxo, Hamlet of Shakespeare,” and Egilsson’s Lexicon Poeticum [(Copenhagen, 1860) page 14, col. 1] gives the name “Amloði,” pointing out that it is the same as “Amlethus” and calling attention to the passage in the Prose Edda mentioned above, but it is improbable that these brief entries alone would have led Morris to adopt the form “Amloði” instead of “Amlethus” or “Ambáles” in referring to the Scandinavian Hamlet. The name “Amloði” occurs in some of the manuscripts of the saga, of the “rímur” concerning Ambáles, and of the Odda Annaler (see “Summary of Manuscripts” in Israel Gollancz….) (Please note that the rest of this footnote is cut off from the bottom of the page.)
does;1 and then, after citing Homer and Beowulf, he said, “No other authors have the splendid literature of our Scandinavian kinsmen, the best tale-tellers the world has seen, through whom we can to-day live with the people of Northern Europe in the tenth century, and know them, not as puppets of chivalry romance, but good fellows such as our living friends are to-day.”2 A month later, in the issue for October 8th, he referred to a number of Irish Socialists who had defended themselves with unusual courage in an encounter with the police as “champions after the heart of the old Norse story-tellers….”3
About a year later, on September 15tg, Morris referred again to Iceland in the Commonweal; pointing out that “life in a poor country is much more happy for a poor person than in a rich one,” he state,
I remember when I was in Iceland, whose poverty is deeper that most English people could conceive of, being much struck with this. In conversation with my guide, and intelligent and well-read man, I could not make him so much as the difference of lasses in civilization; and I say without hesitation that in that wretchedly poor country the people are generally happy, because they have not a trace of the degradation which our inequalities force upon the poor of a rich country.4
In an article called “Ducks and Fools,” which appeared in the issue of the Commonweal dated April 6, 1889, we find Morris making an interesting comparison between the way in which the elder ducks in Iceland were robbed of their down and the manner in which the poor
1. May Morris, William Morris, II, 494.
2. Loc. cit.
3. The Commonweal, III (1887), 321.
4. Ibid., IV (1888), 289.
people, in his opinion, were deprived of their property by the rich in a capitalistic society; the article deserves to be quoted in its entirety:
When I was in Iceland, I was told about the habits of the elder ducks, which breed in great quantities in the little islets scattered about the firths there, and also of their treatment. They, of course, get their own living; they are pretty good to eat, but not very good; so they are not allowed to be shot, because they produce valuable down, which can be got at by the following process: They make their nests on the ground in the above-mentioned islets; the duck half strips her breast of the down to line her nest; this down is at once collared from the nest by those who are privileged to do so according to law. Then the duck pulls off the rest of her down, as she is anxious to sit and hatch; comes the legal owner of the down, and takes that also. Then comes the drake and half strips himself; this also the legal owner takes, grumblings because the drake’s down is coarser, and also because his game is over; for now the poor devils of ducks would not hatch their eggs unless the drake were allowed to line the nest with all that remains to him. Therefore this time the down is not taken; the eggs are allowed to be hatched, so that in due time they may fulfil the function of their lives, and produce down for others’ use. Moral: Ducks are obliged to stand this from Icelanders; but why Englishmen should stand similar usage from Englishmen is a curious question.1
A few months later Morris made some interesting comments in the Commonweal on Ibsen. Referring to the unfavorable reception that “A Doll’s House” had received from the critics, he states,
It is not difficult of explanation: whatever may be the demerits of “A Doll’s House” as an acting play (by the way, if it is different from an ordinary modern play it must be better…) – I say in any case it is a piece of the truth about modern society clearly and forcibly put. Therefore clearly it doesn’t suit the critics, who are parasites of the band of robbers called modern society. Great is Diana of the Ephesians! But if my memory serves me, her rites were not distinguished for purity.
I note that the critics say that Ibsen’s plays are pessimistic; so they are – to pessimists, and all intelligent person who are not Socialists are pessimists. But the representation of the corruption of society carries with it in Ibsen’s works aspirations for a better state of things, and that is not pessimism. Therefore Socialists recognize in them another token of the new dawn.2
In connection with these remarks on “A Doll’s House,” I should like to
1. Commonweal, V (1889), 107.
2. Ibid., V (1889), 193.
call attention to the account Miss Morris gives, in one of her Prefaces, of her father’s opinion of Ibsen and his fellow-Norwegian Bjőrnson; after commenting on her father’s strong dislike of the theatre in general, she states,
My poor father! We made him go to Ibsen performances too, when Ibsen appeared on the horizon. One or two of the plays that he either read or saw acted amused him, and of others he admitted the value, but he viewed the stir and current of life around him too sanely and far-sightedly to be ever carried away by a backeddy, and Ibsen’s art (or art-lessness) left him unmoved in the long run.
Ibsen naturally calls up Bjőrnson [sic] , and in passing I will not how highly he spoke of the latter’s little story Synnové Synbakken [sic] . Something in the quality of it touched him exceedingly when he first read it, and indeed there is a certain kinship between such tales and his own latest romances. The taciturn life in constant struggle with Nature, and sober rejoicing in her not lightly yielded gifts; the sweetness of the little maid and the shy wooing under difficulties, the “queerness” of some of the minor characters, the grave spaciousness of the Northern mountain-country with its miniature patches of human mirth here and there: you can recognize in all this what it was that appealed to him and was familiar.1
In the same year that he commented upon Ibsen in the Commonweal – that is, in 1889 -, Morris delivered a lecture on “Gothic Architecture,” in the course of which he referred briefly to the institution of the Varangian Guard in Constantinople during the Middle Ages; as he is describing the way in which the Crusades carried Byzantine art to the West, he pointed out that this movement from the East to the West did not actually begin with the Crusades, for there
“was a thin stream of pilgrims setting eastward long before, and the Scandinavians had found their way to Byzantium, not as pilgrims but as soldiers, and under the name of Vo͜erings a bodyguard of their blood upheld the throne of the Greek Kaiser, and many of them, returning home, bore with them ideas of art which were not lost on their scanty but energetic populations….2
I have already called attention to several earlier allusions in
1. Collected Works, XXII, xxviii-xxix. See also May Morris, William Morris, I, 90.
2. May Morris, op. cit., I, 276.
Morris’s works to the Varangian Guard.1
The most interesting lecture of all remains to be discussed; this talk, which may Morris says was delivered “to a Socialist audience,” has never been published in its entirety, but copious extracts from the address were printed by Miss Morris in her William Morris: Artist Writer Socialist.2 The date of the lecture is not known, but it must have been delivered in the eighties or early nineties, and I shall therefore discuss it at this point. It is a very important document for the present study, for it shows that Morris was extremely well acquainted with all the important Icelandic sagas; moreover, the account of the sagas given here is by far the fullest discussion of Old Norse literature by Morris that has come down to us.
At the opening of the extract from this lecture that Miss Morris printed in 1936, Morris is pointing out to his audience that in Iceland in the Middle Ages manual labor was not considered a disgrace, and that in the sagas even the chieftains are represented as working with their hands; he says,
...one chief is working in his hay-field at a crisis of his fortune; another is mending a gate, a third sowing his corn, his cloak and sword laid by a in a corner of the field: another is a great house-builder, another a ship-builder; one chief says to his brother one eventful morning: “there’s the calf to be killed and the viking to be fought. Which of us shall kill the calf, and which shall fight the viking?”3
It is of course impossible to ascertain with certainty just which character Morris is referring to in each of these cases, but some, at
1. See above, pages 22-23, 26, 28, and 272. In this same lecture there are three other allusions to Scandinavian matters, all of which, however, are very brief and unimportant (see May Morris, op. cit., I, 274, 1.31; 275, 1.3; and 279, 1.16).
2. I, 449-453.
3. I, 449.
least, of these figures can be fairly definitely identified. The first man referred to may be Gisli Thorgautson, whom Bardi fell upon and slew one day while he was mowing haw, as the Heiðarvíga saga tells us;1 or he may be Arnkel, in the Eyrbyggja saga, whom Snorri the Priest and his men attacked and killed one night when he was bringing home his hay in the moonlight.2 In his second example, Morris alludes to a chieftain who was mending a gate at a crucial moment of his life. I do not know of any such situation in the sagas; perhaps Morris had in mind Arnkell of the Eyrbyggja saga, who, a year before he was slain by Snorri as I have just mentioned, was attacked by Thorlief while he was busy working on the outer door of his house.3 The chief who sows his corn, with his sword and cloak laid in a corner of the field, is almost certainly Gunnar of the Njáls saga, whom Otkell rode upon and injured with his spurs while he was so engaged.4 The “great house-builder” may be Uspak of the Eyrbyggja saga, who turned his stead into an almost impregnable fortress.5 the “ship-builder” whom Morris had in mind may be either Skallagrim in the Egils saga or Thorolf, the brother of Skallagrim, both of whom were famous as makers of ships.6 Finally, the two chiefs whose conversation concerning the killing of the calf and the viking is referred to at the end of the passage quoted
1. Saga Library, II, 227-229.
2. Ibid., II, 97-100.
3. Ibid., II, 94-95.
4. Tr. Dasent, I, 170.
5. Saga Library, II, 158, 11.18-20; 166, 11.1-4; and 168, 1.16-170, 1.22.
6. May Morris, William Morris, I, 582, 11.14-16 and 24-25 and 619, 1.2.
are Gisli and Thorbjorn, the sons of Thorkel Goldhelm, the occasion of this remark being described in the opening chapter of the Gísla saga Súrssonar.1
Morris next discusses the position of women in medieval Iceland, calling attention to fact that Icelandic women are often considered a blow or an insult a sufficient cause for divorce.2 There are numerous accounts in the sagas of divorces for such reasons; two of the most striking cases, both of which Morris undoubtedly know and to which I have already referred in my discussion of the dramatic fragment “Anthony,” are Thordis’s divorce from Bork in the Eyrbyggja saga because of the fact that he had struck her when she tried to slay his guest Eyolf,3 and Gudrun’s separation from Thorvald, her first husband, in the Laxda͜ela saga, for the simple reason that he became impatient at her demands for expensive jewelry and boxed her ears.4
The next point that Morris considers is the courage of the early Norsemen. “Tears,” he says, ‘are not common in Northern stories, though they sometimes come in curiously as in the case of Slaying Glum, of whom it is told that when someone of his exploits was at hand he was apt to have a sudden access of weeping, the tears rattling on the floor like hail-stones; this of course was involuntary and purely physical.”5 In this passage we meet with the first definite reference in the works of Morris to the Víga-Glúms saga.6 The characteristic of Glum to which he here refers is described early in the story, shortly
1. Tr. Dasent, pp. 4-5.
2. May Morris, William Morris, I, 450.
3. Saga Library, II, 23 and 25.
4. Page 87.
5. May Morris, op. cit., I, 450.
6. From this and the other allusions Morris makes to this tale it cannot be determined whether he read the saga in the original or in the translation by Sir Edmund Head (London and Edinburgh. 1866)… (Please note that the rest of this footnote is cut off from the bottom of the page.)
before Glum slays Sigmund.1 Morris goes on to say in his account of the courage of the early Scandinavians that normally the Norsemen gave no expression to their grief or pain. When Grettir comes home from abroad, for example, and learns that his father and brother are dead and he himself outlawed, he sings a stave and continues to be merry.2 Again, “Ingiald of the Wells, when he hears of the death of Njal, falls down in a faint and the blood gushes out of his ears and nose; when he comes to himself, he reproaches himself for behaving like a weak women.”3 Here Morris makes a slight mistake, for it was Ingiald of the Wells but Thorhall Asgrimsson who acted in this way at the news of the burning of Njál.4 Finally Morris tells how a certain chief came home from a fight and bade his thrall undress him; when the boy could not pull off his master’s breeches, the youth exclaimed, “ ‘…you sons of Snorri may well be thought great dandies if you wear your breeches so tight.’ The chief bids him feel up his thigh, and lo there is a broken arrow-shaft nailing his breeches to him, of which he scorned to complain.”5 Morris here almost certainly had in mind the story told about Thorod Thorbrandson in the Eyrbyggja saga.6 According to the account given there, however, it was Snorri the Priest who dis-
1. The Story of Viga-Glum, tr. Head, p.30.
2. May Morris, op. cit., I, 450. For the scene to which Morris is referring, see Collected Works, VII, 112.
3. May Morris, op. cit., I, 450.
4. See Burnt Njal, tr. Dasent, II, 196-196.
5. May Morris, op. cit., I, 450.
6. Saga Library, II, 128-129.
 [notice about Harvard]
 very touching story of Ingimundr and Hrolleifr from the Vatnsda͜ela saga, a tale which seems to have moved him a great deal. Old Ingimundr, while acting as peace-maker, is wounded by Hrolleifr, an ungrateful wretch, but he goes home without telling his sons of his injury so that Hrolleifr may have time to escape; and he dies alone in his high-seat before the young men return to the hall.1 Morris says that he cannot refrain from relating the sequel of this story:
Ingimund had two freedmen to whom he had given land; and when the news of his death came to one of them he drew his “sax” or short sword and saying, “If Ingimund is dead, the world is not good for me,” he stabbed himself mortally, and before he died pulled out the weapon and, giving it to the messenger, said, “Take this to so and so (the other freedman), and tell him what you have seen”: and so died; and when the messenger gave the sax to the other he followed his example at once.2
Morris’s account of Eyvindy and Gautr’s reception of the news of Ingimund’s death, it should perhaps be pointed out, is somewhat more dramatic than it is in the original, for the saga merely states that Eyvindr slew himself by falling on his sword, and it does not say that Eyvindr sent his sword to Gautr.3
Morris continues his discussion of life in medieval Iceland by pointing out that the “Northmen were not above using the weapons of
May Morris, op. cit., I, 451-453. For the account of this episode in the original see Vatnsda͜ela saga, pp. 50-52. Morris’s abstract of this scene in the saga is not strictly accurate: he states that Ingiumndr told no one of the wound, but the saga says that when Ingimundr came home he revealed his condition to one of the young servants and asked the lad to go to Hrolleifr and tell him to flee at once, before Dorsteinn and Jőkull, Ingimund’s sons, should have time to kill him in revenge for their father’s death.
May Morris, op. cit., I, 452.
For the account in the original see the Vatnsda͜ela saga, pp. 52-53.
deceit in their struggles for life and fortune…”;1 he refers briefly to “old Slaying Glum, who, skillful in oaths like Autolycus, swore himself off in Court.”2 Morris is here referring to the very ingenious oath which Glum swore in regard to the slaying of Thorvald; the oath was so phrased, that by a slight shift in accent, the meaning could be entirely changed. As Glum repeated it, the oath meant that he had not killed Thorvald; but he did not perjure himself, for what he really did say was that he had slain him, as he had actually done.3
At the end of the quotations that Miss Morris prints from this lecture by her father, Morris calls attention to the Norseman’s worship of fame, and translates one of the two famous stanzas on fame in the “Hávamál”:
Waneth wealth and fadeth friend,
And we ourselves shall die;
But fair fame dieth nevermore,
If well ye come thereby.4
However, he hastens to add,
…this was not the worship of success; on the contrary, success that came without valour was somewhat despised: says the Sagaman, e.g., “The Knytlinga were very lucky men, but not very valorous.”…The practiced reader of a saga always knows when he is drawing near to the death of the hero, for the style heightens, the tale-teller remembers more poetry, and a kind of halo seems to
May Morris, op. cit., I, 452.
Ibid., I, 452-453.
See The Story of Viga-Glum, pp. 102-104.
May Morris, op. cit., I, 453. For the original of the stanza that Morris has translated from the “Hávamál” see Sa͜emundar Edda hins Fróőa, ed. Grundtvig, p. 53, stanza 76.
gild the presence of a man who is now about to make his fame safe forever.1
Finally, I should like to point out that at some time during the period we have been considering, Morris seems also to have written the short poem called “State-Aided Emigration in 889” which Miss Morris thinks was the result of her father’s discussion of schemes of emigration in the Commonweal, Morris depicts the departure, evidently for Iceland or other islands in the west, of a whole family of Norwegians – grandparents, parents, young men and women, children, and thralls -, in order that they may escape the distasteful rule of King Harald. Morris is not, so far as I know, describing any specific embarkation referred to in the sagas. He tries, however, to make his imaginary scene realistic by giving all the characters mentioned typical Scandinavian names, such as Rut, Rolf, Thora, Asny, Asta, Biorn, Brand, and Gudrun. We also find him introducing into the poem a great many kennings – some of them borrowed from Old Norse poetry, some coined for the occasion; thus, he refers to the ship, ready to be launched, as “the Wood’s Daughter” and “the Maid of the Tree,” to battle as the “spear-drift,” to the ocean as “the pathless wet meadow-land,” and to the boats in the sea as “pasturing bisons oar-driven.” The poem is written in heroic couplets, four couplets making a stanza; there are five stanzas in all.
May Morris, op. cit., I, 453.
Ibid., I, 466-467.
In the course of the late 1880’s, as I pointed out above,1 Morris gradually gave up his active participation in the work of the Socialist movement, and began once again to take an interest in art and literature for their own sake. The first original work he produced during this decade which was not directly inspired by his devotion to Socialism was A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark, a long story in prose and verse which appeared in December, 1888.2 The new form of literary expression that Morris tried in this work must have appealed to him considerably, for this book was followed by a series of seven stories of a similar nature, these eight prose romances, The House of the Wolfings, The Roots of the Mountains, The Story of the Glittering Plain, Of Child Christopher and Fair Goldelind, The Wood Beyond the World, The Well at the World’s End, The Water of the Wondrous Isles, and The Sundering Flood, constituting practically all of his creative writing during the eight remaining years of his life. It is well known that all these tales in varying degrees, both in regard to form and substance, were influenced by the early Icelandic literature which Morris had studied with such zeal a decade earlier and which, judging from the facts presented in the preceding pages, we can be sure he had continued to study, with less exclusive devotion undoubtedly but nevertheless with affection and admiration, during the leisure moments of the years of his public activity; Scandinavian features in the
See above, pages 277-278.
Forman, Books of Morris, p. 140.
plots and in the general form of these romances have been pointed out and discussed in all the more important treatments of Morris’s literary works, the most extensive discussion of this matter being found in Arthur Biber’s Studien zu William Morris’ Prose-Romances.1 The influence of the sagas on these tales was, however, far greater than has been indicated in these works; in my discussion of these eight prose romances in the following pages, I shall try to point out all the significant Scandinavian elements in these stories, in order to make clear how very extensive the influence of Morris’s Northern studies upon these tales really was.
The first of these works, The House of the Wolfings, which describes one of the conflicts between the Goths and the Romans in the early centuries of the Christian Era, is the romance which beats the most marks of Morris’s close familiarity with the sagas. In the first place it should be noted that the very form of this work recalls to a certain extent the Icelandic tales; as Mackail remarks, “The use, as the vehicle of the story, of a mixed mode of prose and verse, was…suggested by the Icelandic sagas, but used in a fresh and quite delightful way.”2 Even more striking is the influence of
(Greifswald, 1907). Biber’s study is really concerned with an examination of the vocabulary and style of the tales; but in commenting on Scandinavian terms and expressions found in these romances, he indirectly calls attention to institutions, customs, beliefs, and ideas of the early Norsemen that Morris introduced into his stories.
Mackail, William Morris, II, 213-214. To be sure, the Icelandic sagas were not unique in mingling prose and verse. As several critics have pointed out (see, for example, the Academy, XXXV (1889), 85 and the Athena͜eum, No. 3229 (September 14, 1889), 348)m this method of telling a story was used in other early forms of literature, such as the “cantefable,” of which the best example is of course Aucassin et Nicolette; however, in this matter of form, Morris’s tales are really closer to the sagas then to the “cantefables,” for as the reviewer in the Athena͜eum (page 349) says, while : in the ‘cantefable’
the sagas upon the general tone of the romance; Miss May Morris, comparing this work with the one that followed – The Roots of the Mountains -, describes this saga atmosphere well:
The House of the Wolfings is entirely conceived in the spirit of the Sagas, certain phrases in it, such “and Thiodolf bore Throngplough to mound with him,” carrying one to the Northern heroic times; it belongs to the Sagas in its remoteness, its breadth of handling and absence of elaborated detail. There is more of the epic quality about it: the thread of fate weaves in and out of the human action, the men and women speak little, and that with stern high courage, about personal griefs and loves, and the Hall-Sun is a more truly heroic figure than any of the gracious women in The Roots of the Mountains.1
When we examine the romance in detail, we find that Morris not only imitated the sagas in the form and general style of his tale, but that he also introduced into his story many feature of Norse life, drawing primarily on the saga accounts for his information regarding these details. For example, many of the terms relating to the government of the Goths remind us of the sagas. As Biber points out, the Goths in the tale, like the early Scandinavians,
(Continuation of note 2 on page 305) the prose portions are…a kind of rough-and-ready setting for the verses, the prose of the Icelandic sagas is as polished as verse, and, indeed, has a movement finer than a metrical one,” and in this respect Morris’s tale resembles the Icelandic sagas very closely. For an account of the way in which the use of a combination of prose and verse as a medium of expression in the Old Norse sagas seems to have developed, see Henry Adams Bellows, The relations between Prose and Metrical Composition in Old Norse Literature (unpublished Harvard doctoral dissertation, 1910), especially pages 125-126, 334-338, and n – t. For a similar discussion in regard to the Irish sagas, see Marie L. Edel, The Relations between Prose and Metrical Composition in Early Irish Narrative Literature (unpublished Radcliffe doctoral dissertation, 1935), especially pages 1-4, 70-76, 190-196, and 235-237.
Collected Works, XVII, xv. See also ibid., XIV, xxv and Mackail, op. cit., II, 214-215.
call their assemblies “Things”1 or “folk-motes,”2 the meeting-place of a Thing is termed a “Thing-stead,”3 and at the Thing we find a “Doomring.”4 References to “Things,” “folk-motes,” and “Thing-steads” are so common in Old Norse literature that it is not necessary to trace Morris’s acquaintance with these names to any definite source. The term “domhringr,” the name given to the circle of stones within which the judges sat at all Scandinavian Thing-steads, occurs less frequently, but, as I have previously stated, is found in several of the sagas Morris had translated.5 It should also be pointed out that at one of the Thing-steads of the Goths, as it is described in The House of the Wolfings, there is a Hill-of-Speech;6 in introducing this feature Morris very likely had in mind the Old Norse “pingbrekka,” the mound at Scandinavian Thing-steads from which speeches and announcements were made. It is not surprising that Morris was familiar with the “pingbrekka,” for it is frequently mentioned in the sagas7 and he had also seen the mound for the Speaker at Law on the Hill of Laws at Thingvellir in 1871.8 There
Biber, op. cit., p. 85.
Loc. cit. Biber states that the term “folk-mote” occurs in these prose romances, but does not give any references; for occurrences of the name in The House of the Wolfings see the Collected Works, XIV, 7, 1.19; 50, 11.1-2; 58, 1.8; 144, 1.27; 159, 1.22; 166, 1.7; and 194, 1.22. Of course the terms “Thing” and “Mote” are used not only in Old Norse but in other early Germanic languages as well, but these names occur extremely frequently in the Icelandic sagas and it was almost certainly his study of the sagas which led Morris to introduce these designations here.
Biber, op. cit., p. 85. For other references see Collected Works, XIV, 7, 1.22; 54, 1.23; 158, 11.11 and 37; and 159, 11.4, 7, and 13.
Biber, op. cit., p. 84. For occurrences of the term in The House of the Wolfings see the Collected Works, XIV, 7, 1.26 and 159, 1.22.
See above, page 242.
Collected Works, XIV, 69, 1.6 and 159, 1.22 and 32.
See, for example, The Saga Library, II, 154, 1.30 and 155, 1.14, and Sagan af Agli Skallagrimssyni, p. 219, 1.12.
Please note that note 8 is cut off from the bottom of the page
is also one brief allusion in the tale to the “hallowing” of the Thing;1 I shall postpone my discussion of this early Scandinavian custom until I treat the next romance, The Roots of the Mountains, where this practice is described in detail.2
Very apparent, moreover, is the influence of the sagas on Morris’s account of the large hall in which the chief men of the Wolfings lived.3 As Charles Elton in his review of the tale in the Academy points out, this building with its two rows of pillars going lengthwise down the hall dividing it into a nave and two aisles, the sleeping-places in the aisles, and the three hearths down the center of the room with a luffer or smoke-bearer above each one, resembles very closely the typical Icelandic “skali,” as it is described by Morris and Magnússon in their notes to the translation of the Grettis saga.4 Another striking Scandinavian feature not mentioned by Elton is the designation of the two doors of the hall as the Man’s door and the Woman’s door.5
We also find that Morris introduced into his story several terms relating to Norse methods of warfare. In his study Biber lists several passages containing allusions to “fighting if the hazelled field”;6 with this Norse practice we have already on several occasions seen that Morris was familiar.7 Another Norse fighting custom
Collected Works, XIV, 58, 1.13.
See below, pages 322-325.
For the description of this hall see Collected Works, XIV, 5, 1.33 – 7, 1.17.
Academy, XXXV (1889), 85. For Morris and Magnússon’s account in the Grettis saga see Collected Works, VII, 228-230.
Collected Works, XIV, 5, 1.38 and 6, 11.11-13.
Biber, op. cit., p. 87.
See above, pages 226 and 242.
which is found in The House of the Wolfings but which is not pointed out by Biber or by other scholars is the circulation of the “war-arrow” among the tribes of the Goths as a means of calling out the army;1 most likely the Heimskringla, in which the “orboð” is mentioned repeatedly,2 was the source of Morris’s information regarding this practice.
Very numerous are the allusions made in the tale to the gods and the lesser supernatural beings of the early Scandinavians. Throughout the story we find references to Odin3 or the Father of the Slain,4 Frey,5 Tyr,6 the Norns,7 the Disir,8 the Anses,9 Valhalla,10, Godhome,11
See Collected Works, XIV, 8, 1.24; 12, 11.1-8 and 16-2; 13, 11.10-11; 51, 1.8; and 1961 11.1-2.
See, for example, The Saga Library, III, 176, 243, 273-274, 292, 293, and 309. In one passage (Collected Works, XIV, 12) Morris gives a very full description of this “war-arrow,” the source of which I have not been able to ascertain:
“I bear the shaft of battle that is four-wise cloven through,
And its each end dipped in the blood-stream, both the iron
And the horn,
And its midmost scathed with the fire….”
See below, page 310, note 2.
See Collected Works, XIV, 57, 1.3; 68, 1.8; and 204, 1.1.
See ibid., XIV, 49, 1.28.
See below, pages 310, note 7; 311, notes 5 and 6; 312, note 1; and 313, note 1.
See Collected Works, XIV, 111, 1.24.
See ibid., XIV, 171, 1.28.
See ibid., XIV, 107, 1.30.
See below, page 310, note 3.
See Collected Works, XIV, 73, 1.8; 104, 1.14; 107, 1.27; 108, 1.19; 111, 1.21; 172, 11.13 and 15; and 204, 1.4.
and Ragnarők;1 the names “Odin” and “Valhalla” occur usually in such Old Norse expressions for “dying” as “wending to Odin’s home”2 and “going on the road to Valhall.”3 The Valkyries are alluded to in the epithet “Chooser of the Slain,” which is applied to one character in the story.4 We also find the Old Norse term “Vala” used in one case for a seeress.5 With all this material Morris had undoubtedly become acquainted through Thorpe’s Northern Mythology and Mallet’s Northern Antiquities. I should also be noted that in his description of the sacrifices to the gods – the killing of the horses, the collecting of the blood, the sprinkling of the blood upon the people, and the eating of the flesh not given to the gods -, Morris seems to have had the sacrifices of the early Scandinavians in mind, for he follows closely the accounts given in the sagas with which we know he was familiar.6
Especially numerous and interesting are the allusions found in the tale to the god Tyr. Again and again Morris refers to the Goths as “the sons of Tyr” or “the children of Tyr.”7 In using these kennings
See Collected Works, XIV, 206, 1.36 – 207, 1.1. Ragnarők is not mentioned by name, but there can be no doubt that Morris is referring to the Old Norse Ragnarők in the account he gives in these lines of the end of the world.
See ibid., XIV, 57, 11.1-2; 100, 11.10-11; and 168, 1.6.
See ibid., XIV, 195, 11.30-31. For examples of the use of such expressions for “dying” in Old Norse works see The Saga Library, III, 70, 11.10-11; 155, 11.13-14; and 191, 11.9-12 and 15-18.
See Collected Works, XIV, 20. 11.19-20.
See ibid., XIV, 53, 1.26.
Morris’s description is to be found in Collected Works, XIV, 70, 11.26-37. One of the best saga accounts is that in the Hákonar saga hins goða (see The Saga Library, III, 165); see also Mallet, op. cit., pp. 111-113.
See Collected Works, XIV, 68, 1.19; 69, 1.23; 80, 1.9; 97, 1.3; 115, 11.28-29; 117, 1.32; 125, 1.15; 145, 1.4; and 160, 11.12 and 26.
he may have had in mind the epithet “Týs áttungr,” which is applied to a chieftain as a mark of distinction in the Ynglingatal in a passage with which Morris was almost certainly acquainted through his translation of the early part of the Heimskringla,1 and also in the Haleygiatal,2 which it is less likely that he knew; this phrase “Týs-áttungr,” according to Cleasby and Vigfússon’s Icelandic-English Dictionary, means “the offspring of the gods,” “Tyr” being used here as “the generic name of the highest divinity.”3 It is also possible that Morris was referring to Tyr specifically as the god of war, and that he introduced the expression “sons of Tyr” as a synonym for “warriors”; as Magnússon states in one of the Indexes in Volume VI of The Saga Library, the name “Tyr” was often “used in kennings to signify a man, a warrior.”4 In one case Morris seems to be alluding definitely to Tyr as the ruler over battle, for in a song of victory that he represents the Goths as singing, we learn that the enemy came to the slaughter,
“Yeasaying the dooming of Tyr of the fight.”5
Some of the references to Tyr are not entirely clear. Thus, we read in one passage that Thiodolf, the leader of the Goths, did not want any of the Romans to escape, “but would give them all to Tyr….”6
See Heimskringla, ed. Unger, p. 25, 1.16.
See Corpus Poeticum Boreale, I, 253, 1.42.
Page 647, col. 1, s. v. “Týr.”
Page 223. The first interpretation seems more likely to be the correct one. In one case (Collected Works, XIV, 68, 1.8) the Goths are addressed, not as the “children of Tyr,” but as the “Children of Slains-father”; since the “Slains-father” is Odin, this expression would mean “children of Odin” or, more loosely, “children of the gods.” If the two expressions are synonymous – and they seem so to be used -, “children of Tyr” must be used in the sense of “offspring of gods,” not as “warriors.”
Collected Works, XIV, 184, 1.4.
Ibid., XIV, 98, 1.25.
The context makes it almost certain that Morris is employing the expression “to give them to Tyr” to signify “to slay them”; but this metaphor, so far as I have been able to ascertain, is never used in Old Norse. Extremely puzzling is the expression “the Stone of Tyr,” which occurs in a poem dealing with a victory of the Markmen, the Goths, over the Romans:
“They drew the sword in the cities, they came and struck the stroke
And smote the shield of the Markmen, and point and edge they broke.
They drew the sword in the war-garth, they swore to bring back.
God’s gifts from the Markmen houses where the tables never lack.
O Markmen, take the God-gifts that came on their own feet
O’er the hills through the Mirkwood thicket the Stone of Tyr to meet!”1
This phrase, “the Stone of Tyr,” which is not to be found in early Scandinavian poetry,2 may possibly refer to “Throng-plough,” the mighty sword of Thiodolf, the leader of the Goths, or to the weapons of the Goths as a whole.3 Interesting also is the allusion made to Tyr by Arinborn, the captain of the Bearing host, who, deeply incensed by the Romans’ burning of the Bearing hall, foolishly urges a small band of Goths to fall upon the superior forces of the enemy at once, instead of waiting for the main body of the army to arrive on the scene; he asks ironically, “Yea if the Bearing women be all slain, yet shall not Tyr make us new ones out of the stones of the waste to wed with the Galtings and the fish-eating Houses? – this is easy to be done forsooth.
Collected Works, XIV, 79.
It is not listed in Egilsson’s Lexicon Poeticum (Copenhagen, 1931) under “týr” (page 576, col. 1).
Perhaps the phrase “the Stone of Tyr” is simply a misprint for “the Sons of Tyr.”
Please note that page 313 could not be found.
of this story and that told in the opening chapter of Sorla páttr, which Morris had translated and published in Three Northern Love Stories in 1875.1 There Freyia, passing a cave, is filled with a burning desire to possess a collar on which four dwarfs are working; they agree to give her this treasure if she will lie on night with each; at this point the similarity ends, for in this tale the goddess yields fully and as a result wins the desired object without the attachment of any malediction. There is no exact Norse parallel to the second part of Morris’s story, but the uttering of curses by dwarfs upon people who have in some way mistreated them is a rather common occurrence in the semi-mythological tales of the North; in concluding this episode as he did, Morris may not only have been guided by a desire to keep the character of the Wood-Sun unspotted, but may also have had in mind the curse which the dwarf Andvari laid upon his gold when Loki forced him to give it up,2 or the curse which the dwarfs Dulin and Dvalin fastened upon the sword Tyrfing, which Svafrlami had compelled them against their will to forge.3 It should also be pointed out that in representing the Wood-Sun as rendering the dwarf helpless by het setting a “sleep-thorn” in him, Morris is likewise borrowing from Scandinavian legends; the use of a “sleep-thorn” plays a prominent part, for example, in the story of the Volsungs.4
To his study of the sagas we can also fairly safely attribute the fact that he represents one of the characters, the Wood-Sun, as possessing “the power and craft of shape-changing.”5 In the Old
See Collected Works, X, 127.
See ibid., VII, 320-321.
For an account of Morris’s acquaintance with the story of Tyrfing, see above, pages 137-139.
See, for example, Collected Works, VII, 336, 1.18.
Ibid., XIV, 104, 11.26-27. See also ibid,, XIV, 40, 11.25-34.
Norse literature we find that one of the powers ascribed to Odin was the ability to alter his shape and to travel whithersoever he wished in this assumed form, and that he shared this gift with some of the lesser deities, who were thus also said to be “hamrammr.”1 Of course, as Morris and Magnússon state in a note regarding this subject in Volume II of The Saga Library, the belief in shape-changing “is not peculiar to the North, though few people’s literature is so full of it as the Icelandic….”2 That it was the Scandinavian accounts of this belief that led Morris to introduce it here and also in later tales seems rather likely in view of the fact that in The Roots of the Mountains he refers to a woman thought to be gifted with this power by the unusual term “skin-changer,”3 which is the name he had used for such people in his translations of saga allusions to this belief.4
Less important are the other details apparently borrowed from the sagas. Thus, on two occasions in the tale we meet with brief references to the drinking of “the Horn of Remembrance” or “the Cup of Renown”;5 in introducing these allusions Morris very likely had in mind the very common early Scandinavian custom of drinking a cup to the memory of some dead ancestor or chieftain, the draining of this cup of memory, or “minni,” being often accompanied by the
For saga references to this belief, see, for example, Morris’s translation of the Vőlsunga saga (in Collected Works, VII, 302, 1.21 – 303, 1.29), The Saga Library, II, 167, 11.9-12 and the note on p. 292, and ibid., III, 18, 11.5-10 and 268, 1.20 – 269, 1.21.
See Collected Works, XV, 52, 1.14.
See, for example, Collected Works, VII, 302, 1.24. In their original publication of their Vőlsunga saga translation, Morris and Magnússon inserted an interesting note at this point on “skin-changers,” but this note was omitted when the rendering was reprinted in the Collected Works; for the note see The Volsunga Saga, tr. Magnússon and Morris, with introduction by N. Halliday Sparling (London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, and New York, 1906), p. 46.
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swearing of oaths.1 It was likewise undoubtedly his study of the sagas that led him to represent certain weapons of the Goths as being covered with runes,2 and that caused him to apply the term “howes” to the burial mounds of the Goths.3 It is also not at all unlikely that the song which one of the old warriors sings over the body of the hero Thiodolf4 was suggested to Morris by the “kva͜eði” which Eyvind Skald-spiller composed on the death of King Hakon the Good and which closes the Hákonar saga goða in the Heimskringla,5 for in both compositions we have a rather similar account of the death of the hero in battle, his approach to Valhalla, and his reception by the gods. Moreover, we also find Morris introducing allusions here, as he had already done in several earlier works, to the custom of swearing oaths over the Yule Boar6 and to the use of “peace-strings” on swords.7 Finally, one other very prominent Scandinavian feature of the tale,- one which is commented upon by Biber in his study – must be pointed out, and that is the nomenclature. As Biber says, in The House of the Wolfings “sind die Namen fast durchweg aus dem Altnordischen űbernommen…. Wenn sie kein altnordisches Äquivalent haben, so sind sie doch jedenfalls
For saga references to this custom, see The Saga Library, III, 58, 11.12-28; 165, 1.31 – 166, 1.3; 171, 11.5-7; and 272, 1.5 – 273, 1.6.
See Collected Works, XIV, 56, 11.28-29 and 128, 11.14-15.
See Collected Works, XIV, 38, 1.18; 105, 11.3 and 4; and 145, 1.4; and The Saga Library, III, 4, 1.24; 23, 11.15-22; 43, 1.18; and 97, 11.19-29.
See Collected Works, XIV, 203, 1.1 – 204, 1.20.
Saga Library, III, 189-193.
See Collected Works, XIV, 49, 11.26-31 and above, pages 238-239.
See Collected Works, XIV, 112; 11.21-22; 113, 1.13; and 206, 11.32-33; and above, page 141.
in altnordischem Sinne gebildet.”1 This matter is fully discussed by Biber, and needs no further comment here, except for one name. Morris refers to a mountain as “Braodshield-fell.”2 It seems to me very likely that in giving it this name he had in mind “Skialdbreið” in Iceland, a prominent peak which he had passed both on the outward and homeward journeys during his tour of Iceland in 1871.3 In Morris’s next romance also we find a mountain named “Shield-broad.”4 There, in his first mention of it, he says that the men, as they travelled over the mountains, caught sight of “a low peak spreading down on all sides to the plain, till it was like to a bossed shield, and the name of it was Shield-broad.”5 In the Journal he kept of his first Iceland tour he describes “Skialdbreið” in very similar terms, for he says, “…we see ahead…the wide spreading cone of Skialdbreið (Broad-shield) which is in fact just like a round shield with a boss….”6
Before leaving this tale, I should like to point out that in one of the verse forms Morris used for the poetical passages which he introduced here and there throughout the story, he was almost certainly imitating the metre of early Germanic poetry. In the great majority of his verse interludes, Morris employed hexameter couplets, the verse form of his Sigurd the Volsung, but in four cases he used stanzas made up of four, six, or eight two-stress
Studien zu William Morris’ Prose-Romances, p. 76.
Collected Works, XIV, 64, 1.36.
See, for example, ibid., VIII, 76-79 and 165-167, passim.
See ibid., XV, 307, 11.4 and 16; 308, 11.28-29; and 309, 1.6 and 10.
Ibid., XV, 307.
Ibid., VIII, 76.
lines followed by six four-stress lines.1 The nature of the feet varies considerably, but they are usually anapests or iambs. The rhythmical effect of this metre is a similar to that of the early Germanic four-accent lines with a definite break in the middle. This resemblance to the early poetry of the North is heightened by the free use of alliteration and by the occasional introduction of a kenning. In one respect, however, Morris departs entirely from early usage, for he rhymes every two lines, thus giving the stanza a certain smoothness which is entirely foreign to the early poetry. Finally, it should be pointed out that if in these particular verse passages Morris was imitating in a general way the form of early Germanic poetry – and there seems to be little doubt that he was so doing -, we cannot of course definitely attribute his use of this metre to his study of Old Norse poetry, for he undoubtedly was acquainted with Anglo-Saxon verse also, which employs the same metrical pattern; however, at this time he had not made any close study of Old English poetry, but, as we have seen, he had turned into English a great deal of early Icelandic poetry, so that it is much more likely that it was the Eddic and skaldic verse that he knew which led him to use this particular verse form. The following stanzas may serve as an example of this metre:
“‘Have ye not heard
Of the ways of Weird?
How the folk fared forth
Far away from the North?
And as light as one wendeth
Whereas the wood endeth
When of nought is our need,
And none telleth out deed,
So Rodgeir unwearied and Reidfari wan
The town where none tarried the shield-shaking men.
All lonely the street there, and void was the way
- See Collected Works, XIV, 44, 1.13 – 45, 1.8; 128, 1.6 – 129, 1.6; 183, 1.27 – 184, 1.32; and 203, 1.1 – 204, 1.20.
And nought hindered our feet but the dead men that lay
Under shield in the lanes of the houses heavens-high
All the ring-bearing swains that abode there to die.’”1
Near the end of the tale we find a short poem of six two-stress lines which resembles the early poetry even more closely, for here there is no rhyme:
“Now, now, ye War-sons!
Now the Wolf waketh!
Lo how the Wood-beast
Wendeth in onset.
E’en as his feet fare
Fall on and follow!”2
I have tried to show in the foregoing discussion that the influence of the Icelandic sagas upon The House of Wolfings, both in form and substance, was considerable. Very marked is the influence that this body of literature exerted upon Morris’s next prose romance also, The Roots of the Mountains, which was begun in January, 1889, about a month after The House of the Wolfings appeared, was completed in October, and was in the hands of the public in November of the same year.3 In this story, which is laid in an indefinite location at an equally vague time and which describes an attack made by several tribes of noble, stalwart men, the most notable being the Tribe of the Face and the Tribe of the Wolf, upon an encroaching race of a decidedly inferior nature called the dusky Men, the number of Scandinavian details is equally as great as – if not greater than – in the first; but this tale as a whole has less of the saga atmosphere, for, as compared with the first, it is less heroic and elevated in tone, the expression lacks much of the terseness and restraint that was prominent in The House
- Collected Works, XIV, 44.
- Ibid., XIV, 180.
- See ibid., XV, xi-xii.
of the Wolfings, and throughout the tale we find more warmth, color, and sentiment. Mackail says of this work,
For combination and balance of his qualities it may perhaps be ranked first among his prose romances. It has not the strength of its predecessor, “the House of the Wolfings,” nor the fairy charm of its successor, “The Wood beyond the World.” But in its union of the gravity of the Saga with the delicate and profuse ornament of the romance, it may perhaps take the first place among the three as a work of art.1
When we compare Morris’s later romances with the first two, we find that this change in style from the method of the sagas to that of the romances becomes more and more pronounced, so that in the last tales that came from his pen we have pure romance. Oliver Elton in his A Survey of English Literature: 1780-1880 describes this development thus:
The tales change in character. The process from Jason to Sigurd begins to be reversed. The romances begin in a saga-like and a more heroic manner, and end in a softer and more shimmering one. The comparative precision of time, place, and trappings in The House of the Wolfings contrasts with the dateless enchanted land of the last unfinished story, The Sundering Flood. This recession from reality may be described as a movement from epic to romance.2
I shall comment further upon this change in connection with the later romances.
As I have already said, we find a host of Scandinavian details introduced into The Roots of the Mountains. As in the first romance, a number of the terms used in connection with the legislative and
- William Morris, II, 227.
- IV, 49.
judiciary activities of the people described are reminiscent of the sagas. Almost countless are the references to the “Thing,”1 the “Folk-thing,”2 the “Gate-thing,”3, the “Thing-stead,”4 the “Mote,”5 the “Folk-mote,”6 the “man-mote,”7 the “Mote-stead,”8 the “Mote-field,”9 the “Mote-hall,”10 the “Mote-house,”11 the
- See Collected Works, XV, 166, 11.3, 25, and 37; 167, 1.5; 178, 1.16; 180, 1.2; 181, 1.26; 182, 11.13, 25, 26 and 32; and 185, 1.3.
- See ibid., XV, 409, 1.19.
- See ibid., XV, 156, 1.34; 159, 11.14-15; 165, 11.22 and 24; 167, 1.9; 178, 11.10 and 13-14; 218, 1.23; 231, 1.25; 242, 1.9; and 287, 1.15.
- See ibid., XV, 166, 1.15; 182, 1.16; 223, 1.20; 370, 1.29; and 371, 1.1.
- See ibid., XV, 273, 1.34; 279, 11.16 and 18; and 282, 1.35.
- See ibid., XV, 9, 11.21 and 23; 120, 1.33; 122, 1.19; 124, 1.6; 130, 11.34-35; 167, 11.6 and 34; 168, 11.2-3; 176, 11.11 and 26; 177, 1.32; 178, 1.9; 185, 1.2; 219, 11.3, 11, and 37; 222, 1.37; 223, 1.33; 227, 11.23-24 and 26; 238, 1.16; 248, 1.12; 253, 1.16; 254, 11.5, 27, and 35; 255, 11.5, 6-7, and 12; 273, 11.24 and 28; 274, 1.9; 279, 11.1-2, 5, 8, and 13; 281, 11.4-5; 284, 11.1-2 and 5; 300, 1.37; 292, 11.7 and 31-32; 316, 1.11; 317, 1.9; 320, 1.35; 379, 11.11-12; 380, 11.8 and 30; and 382, 1.14.
- See ibid., XV, 368, 11.27-28.
- See ibid., XV, 4, 1.19; 11, 1.29; 19, 1.4; 273, 11.29-30 and 35; 274, 1.8 and 24-25; 275, 1.1; 278, 1.10; 283, 1.16; 301, 11.10 and 16; 320, 1.32; 374, 1.21; and 406, 11.2-3.
- See ibid., XV, 290, 1.21.
- See ibid., XV, 9, 1.10.
- See ibid., XV, 320, 11.4-5; 321, 11.1-2; 342, 1.21; 343, 1.15; 352, 11.1, 9, and 17; 353, 1.12; 356, 11.30-31; 357, 1.32; 370, 11.23 and 32; 371, 1.17; 382, 1.35; 406, 1.13; and 409, 1.16.
“Doom-ring,”1 and the “Speech-mound.”2 Furthermore, in many of the accounts that Morris gives in this tale of the procedure followed at the various “Things” and “Motes,” he draws upon Scandinavian sources. Thus, on two occasions he describes in detail the ceremony of “hallowing the Thing”; the second account, which is the longer one, runs thus:
So the Alderman fell to hallowing in the Folk-mote: he went up to the Altar of the Gods, and took the Gold-ring off it, and did it on his arm; then he drew his sword and waved it toward the four airts, and spake; and the noise and shouting fell, and there was silence but for him:
“Herewith I hallow in this Folk-mote of the Men of the Dale and the Sheepcotes and the Woodland, in the name of the Warrior and the Earth-god and the Fathers of the kindreds. Now let not the peace of the Mote be broken. Let no man rise against man, or bear blade or hand, or stick or stone against any. If any man break the Peace of the Holy Mote, let him be a man accursed, a wild-beast in the Holy Places; an outcast from home and hearth, from bed and board, from mead and acre; not to be holpen with bread, nor flesh, nor wine; nor flax, nor wool, nor any cloth; nor with sword, nor shield, nor axe, nor plough-share; nor with horse, nor ox, nor ass; with no saddle-beast nor draught-beast; nor with wain, nor boat, nor way-leading; now with fire nor water; nor with any world’s wealth. Thus let him who hath cast out man be cast out by man. Now is hallowed-in the Folk-mote of the Men of the Dale and the Sheepcotes and the Woodlands.”
Therewith he waxed his sword again toward the four airts, and went and sat down in his place.3
- See Collected Works, XV, 4, 1.20; 9, 1.22; 101, 1.26; 102, 11.11 and 13; 110, 1.17; 113, 1.26; 115, 1.26; 123, 11.25 and 36-37; 124, 11.1 and 28; 129, 1.2; 172, 11.5-6; 264, 1.14; 274, 1.16; 291, 1.33; 294, 1.3; 301, 1.12; 370, 1.29; and 408, 11.23 and 27.
- See ibid., XV, 4, 11.20-21 and 11, 1.10. All these terms, it should be pointed out, do not occur in the sagas: Cleasby and Vigfússon’s Icelandic-English Dictionary does not list any Old Norse words for “Gate-thing,” “Folk-mote,” “Mote-stead,” “Mote-hall,” and “Mote-house.” These names were evidently coined by Morris in the saga manner. As I stated above in my discussion of The House of the Wolfings, the terms “thing” and “mote” occur so frequently in the sagas that it is not necessary to seek for any definite source for Morris’s information regarding these institutions; for suggestions as to the basis of his knowledge of “doom-rings” and “Speech-mounds,” see above, page 242 and page 307.
- Collected Works, XV, 279. For another account of the hallowing of a Thing, see ibid., XV, 167, 11.12-19.
In the early literature of Scandinavia there are numerous references to this custom of “hallowing the Thing,”1 but there is not, so far as I know, any complete description of the ceremony, so that for his accounts Morris must have drawn to a great extent upon his own imagination. One detail, the chieftain’s wearing of the gold-ring on his arm, is frequently mentioned in the sagas; one of the best descriptions of this ring is to be found in the Eyrbyggja saga,2 which was either the first or the second work that Morris translated from the Icelandic. His account of the Alderman’s waving his sword “toward the four airts” at the beginning and at the end of the ceremony seems, however, to be his own invention, for this detail is not mentioned in the Scandinavian accounts. Moreover, the speech of the Alderman is apparently in great part Morris’s own. The formula or formulae that were used in opening the ancient Scandinavian Things are not given in the sagas or the early Scandinavian lay-books. However, there is an Old Norse formula fairly similar to Morris’s, which is called the “tyrgðamál,” or the “speech of truce”; this is presented in full in two of the sagas which we know Morris translated into English.3 It is not at all unlikely that he had this Old Norse oath in mind when he composed the speech of the Alderman, for in the “tyrgðamál” we find a rather
- See, for example, The Saga Library, I, 80 and 82.
- Ibid., II, 8. See also ibid., II, xxxii-xxxiii and 29-30; Mallet’s Northern Antiquities, pp. 109, 291, and 292; and the Corpus Poeticum Boreale, I, 403 and 422.
- The “tyrgðamál” is presented in the Eyrbyggja saga and the Grettis saga. For Morris’s translation of this oath see The Saga Library, II, 245-246 and Collected Works, VII, 178-179.
similar punishment promised to anyone who should break the peace, and the nature of the punishment is here graphically described, as in the passage from Morris, through the piling up of concrete, vivid images, most of which are grouped together in alliterative phrases. Thus, in Morris’s translation of the “tyrgðamál” we read,
“This is the beginning of our speech of truce, that God may be at peace with us all; so also shall we be men at peace between ourselves and of good accord, at ale and at eating, at meets and at man-motes, at church-goings and in king’s house….Knife we shall share and shorn meat, yea, and all other things between us, even as friends and not foes….But he of us who tramples on truce settled, or fights after full troth given, he shall be so far wolf-driven and chased, as men furthest follow up wolves, Christian men churches seek, heathen men temples tend, fires flare up, earth grows green, son names a mother’s name, ships sail, shields glitter, sun shines, snow wanes, Fin skates….
“He shall shun churches and Christian men, God’s houses and men’s, and every home but hell….
“Now are we at one, and at peace wheresoever we meet on land or on water, on ship or on snowshoe, on high seas or horseback:
Oars to share
Thoft or thole plank
If that be needful.
…Let him have the grace of God who holdeth the truce, but him have God’s grame who riveth rightful truce…..1
At one of the Things described in The Roots of the Mountains, a chieftain who is momentarily carried away by his ire forgets the sanctity of the assembly and draws his sword, but before he can strike a blow he is quieted by calmer spirits; for this “troubling of the Peace of the Holy Thing” he pays a fine.2 Breaking the peace of the Thing seems to have been a fairly common
- The Saga Library, II, 245-246. The “tyrgðamál” very likely influenced two other passages in The Roots of the Mountains, the speech of the Alderman in the hallowing of another assembly (in Collected Works, XV, 167, 11.12-19) and Gold-mane’s wish for the happiness of Folk-might and the Bride (in ibid., XV, 265, 1.36 – 266, 1.2). In introducing these alliterative formulae Morris may also have had in mind stanzas 85-87 of the “Hávamál” and stanzas 15-17 of the “Sigrdrífumál,” were alliterative phrases are piled up in a similar manner.
- Collected Works, XV, 182, 11.9-37 and 279, 1.36 – 280, 1.15.
occurrence in Scandinavia; there are a number of references to this offence in the sagas.1
In the description that he gives in The Roots of the Mountains of the treatment of the crime of “manslaying” in this early state, Morris also introduces several customs often mentioned in the sagas. Thus, when Folk-might, the chief of an alien tribe, is driven by the force of necessity to plunder the home of a miserly member of the House of the Face, and in so doing slays a man, he leaves his spear in the wound “so that he might be known hereafter, and that he might be said not to have murdered Rusty but to have slain him.”2 Such was the usual procedure in early Scandinavia also, according to the sagas.3 As a result of this robbery and killing, Folk-might, who is then unknown to all but one of the members of the tribe of the Face, is outlawed;4 later, when Folk-might and some of his followers come to one of the Folk-motes of the House of the Face to seek the aid of this tribe against the Dusky Men, Folk-might confesses his guilt and offers to make atonement, either by paying a fine, “handselling self-doom” to his accuser, or by accepting a challenge to “Holmgang.”5 The punishing of robbery or
- See, for example, The Saga Library, II, 14-17; Burnt Njal, tr. Dasent, II, 270-284; and Sagan af Agli Skallagrímssyni, pp. 123-127.
- Collected Works, XV, 63, 11.33-34. See also ibid., 64, 11.31-34.
- See, for example, Gisli the Outlaw, tr. Dasent, p. 43.
- See Collected Works, XV, 65, 11.3-6.
- See ibid., XV, 281, 1.19 – 282, 1.6.
manslaughter by a sentence of outlawry or by the imposition of a fine is repeatedly mentioned in the sagas,1 these being the usual penalties inflicted not only in medieval Scandinavia but among all the early Germanic tribes; definitely Scandinavian, however, are the “handselling of self-doom” and the “challenging to Holmgang.” “Hansel,” se Biber, who comments on these two expressions, points out in the section of his study called “Supren des Altnordischen,” is explained in one of the indexes to Volume I of Morris and Magnússon’s Saga Library as “the customary sign manual to a binding contract in an illiterate age,” and the term”self-doom” is defined at the end of Volume II of the same series as “a sort of legal surrender at discretion by the offender.”2 Both words, “handsala” and “sjalfda͜emi,” occur frequently in the sagas Morris knew.3 With the institution of “Holmgang” we have already seen that Morris was familiar.4
As I pointed out above, Folkmight offers to pay a fine for his slaying of Rusty; this offer being accepted, he is condemned to “pay a full blood-wite…, that is to say, the worth of three hundreds in weed-stuff in whatso goods thou wilt.”5 In stating the amount of the fine in these terms Morris is making use of one of the common early Scandinavian units of measure; as Vigfússon explains in his Dictionary, the word “hundrað” was often used to signfy “a hundred and twenty ells of the stuff wadmal, and then simply value to that amount….”6 However,
- See, for example, The Saga Library, I, 63-64 and II, 65, 101, and 131.
- Studien zu William Morris’ Prose-Romances, p. 86.
- See, for example, The Saga Library, I, 102, 1.18; 109, 11.20 and 22; 110, 11.7 and 9; and 139, 11.6 and 25; and II, 23, 1.31; 24, 1.30; 25, 1.7 and 75, 1.3.
- See above, page 226.
- Collected Works, XV, 282, 11.26-27.
- Page 293, col. 1, s. v. “Hundrað,” B. For examples of allusions,
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Vigfússon goes on to say, “In olden times a double standard was used,-the wool or wadmal standard…and a silver standard….It is probable that originally both standards were identical;…the wool standard is the usual one, but in cases of weregild the silver standard seems always to be understood….”1 Thus, although Morris was obviously trying to imitate the early Scandinavian custom, he departed slightly from the usual practice in expressing the amount of the fine in terms of “hundreds in weed-stuff.”2
In my treatment of Morris’s first romance I pointed out that the hall in which Morris represents the Wolfing men as living is very similar to the typical early Scandinavian hall.3 In The Roots of the Mountains he does not present any complete description of the home of the Tribe of the Face, but from the scattered regerences to “the hearth amidmost the hall,” the dais around the hearth, the “thwart-table,” the two doors “at the lower end of the hall…going into the butteries, and kitchen, and other out-bowers,” and the loft used as a sleeping chamber above these doors, it seems that he had the Norse type of structure in mind, although he introduced a few essentially non-Scandinavian details, such as stone-vaulting and stone pillars.4
- Page 2293, col. 1, s.v. “Hundrað,” B.
- For saga references to the paying of “weregild” see, for example, Burnt Njal, tr. Dasent, I, 121, 125, and 133.
- See above, page 308.
- For references in the tale to the hall see Collected Works, XV, 13, 11.20-27; 14, 1.28 – 15, 1.24; 17, 1.29; 17, 1.35 – 18, 1.4; 158, 11.1-4; 217, 11.18-20; 218, 1.32; 244, 11.7 and 13; and 247, 1.33.
One typically early Scandinavian domestic object which he mentions for the first time in The Roots of the Mountains is the “shut-bed.” Biber points out that according to one of the indexes in Volume I of The Saga Library, “shut-bed,” which occurs in The Story of Howard the Halt, is Morris’s translation of the Old Norse “lokrekkja,” which Vigfússon glosses as “a ‘lock-bed,’ a locked bed-closet, in ancient dwellings.”1 Morris represents the “shut-beds” as projecting from the sides of the hall, just as in early Scandinavian buildings.
Only one of the war-customs mentioned in The Roots of the Mountains is definitely Norse. This is the circulation of the “war-arrow” as a summons to arms,2 – a practice which I have already discussed in my comments on the Scandinavian elements in The House of the Wolfings.3 Often mentioned in the sagas, though it was by no means limited to the Scandinavian countries, is another war-custom described in this romance, - the “Weapon-show,”4 – which Vigfússon explains as “..a meeting where all the franklins had to appear and produce for inspection the arms which every man was lawfully bound to have….”5
In The House of the Wolfings we found frequent allusions to several of the deities and lesser supernatural beings of the early Scandinavians. In The Roots of the Mountains only one Norse god is men-
- Studien zu William Morris’ Prose-Romances, p. 86. Biber gives only one example of the use of this word in The Roots of the Mountains, but it occurs several times; see Collected Works, XV, 15, 1.4; 40, 11.2-3; 48, 11.16-17; 56, 1.10; 72, 1.8; and 76, 1.27.
- See Collected Works, XV, 219, 11.32-35 and 221, 1.8. One tribe uses a “war-arrow” tied to a spear as banner; see ibid., XV, 225, 11.34-37; 276, 11.5-6; 277, 11.32-33; and 293, 11.34-35.
- See above, pages 308-309.
- For references to the “Weapon-show” in The Roots of the Mountains, see Collected Works, XV, 219, 1.35; 223, 1.29; 224, 1.1 – 232, 1.18; 250, 1.15; 255, 1.1; 274, 1.6; and 276, 11.2-3. For saga references to the “vápnaping,” see Njála (Copenhager, 185), p. 155, 1.11 and the Flateryjarbók, II, 429, 11.12-13.
Please note that note 5 is cut off from the bottom of the page.
tioned – namely Thor; and he is always referred to by the epithet “the God of the Earth,” – never by his own name.1 So far as I know, this particular expression is never employed for Thor in the Old Norse prose and poetry.2 However, the epithet is perfectly intelligible and its use is entirely justified, for according to the Prose Edda, Thor was the son of Odin and the Earth,3 he was considered to be, as Vigfússon says, “…the friend of mankind, the defender of the earth, the ehavens, and the gods, for without Thor and his hammer the earth would become the helpless prey of the giants…,”4 and he was alluded to by early Scandinavian poets by such phrases as “Iarðar burr,” “Iarðar sonr,” “Hlóðynjar mőgr,” “Fiőrgynjar burr,” “grundar sveinn,” and “Miðgarðz veorr.”5 We also find that one of the Old Norse customs relating to the worship of Thor is imitated in this tale; Morris refers on several occasions to people making “the sign of the Earth-god’s Hammer,” over their food before beginning to eat.6 In heathen Scandinavia, as Magnússon states in Volume VI of The Saga Library, “men who confessed believing in nothing but their ‘might and main’ were in the habit, before quaffing festive cups, to make over them the sign of Thor’s hammer.”7 A particu-
- See Collected Works, XV, 17, 11.12-13; 71, 11.17-18 and 29; 104, 11.18-19; 124, 11.7, 16, 19, and 25; 128, 1.35; 161, 1.32; 167, 11.18-19; 258, 1.29; 279, 1.15; 291, 1.34; and 368, 11.31-32 and 37.
- It should be pointed out that the expression “Land-áss” does occur in a pem ascribed to Egil Skallagrímsson (see Corpus Poeticum Boreale, II, 72, 1.16); but this phrase cannot really be considered a parallel to, not the source of, Morris’s “the God of the Earth.” In the Corpus Poeticum Vigfússon and Powell translate the line in which this expression occurs as “May the god of the land[Thor] loathe the tyrant who defiles the sanctuaries!”; and in An Icelandic English Dictionary (page 371, col. 2, s. v. “land-áss) Vigfússon defines the term as “the guardian god of the land.”
- See Mallet, Northern Antiquities, p. 406.
- An Icelandic-English Dictionary, P. 743, col. 2, s. v. “Dórr,” A.
- See Corpus Poeticum Boreale, II, 464. These epithets occur in poems included in the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, works which Morris knew.
larly interesting allusion to this practice occurs in the Saga Hákonar goða in the description of a blood-offering held at Ladir: when King Hakon, who has accepted Christianity ahead of his people, makes the sign of the cross over his cup, his heathen subjects grumble in disapproval, but Earl Sigurd, the faithful counsellor of Hakon, calms them by stating that it was the sign of the hammer that the king made over his drink.1
Aside from these references to Thor there are comparatively few allusions to Norse mythology in The Roots of the Mountains. Occasionally we come across the term “Chooser of the Slain,” as in the first romance.2 Moreover, in the description of the Hall of the Wolf we learn that a certain shield was “painted with the green world circled with the worm of the sea”;3 by this “worm of the sea” Morris must mean the “Miðgarðsormr.”4 In Gold-mane’s remark to his beloved that she is as beautiful as if she had “come down from the golden chairs of the Burg of the Gods,”5 Morris is apparently referring to Asgard.6 Somewhat more frequent are the allusions to the “trolls”;7 Morris’s trolls, it should be pointed out, are not the giants which the Prose Edda tells us that Thor was in the habit of combating, but the powerful, ugly, evil spirits which the early Christianized Norsemen believed inhabited the woods and mountains.8 Very interesting is the statement
- See The Saga Library, III, 169.
- See Collected Works, XV, 139, 1.23; 141, 1.14; and 296, 1.34; and above, page 310, note 4.
- Collected Works, XV, 356, 11.4-5.
- For accounts of the “Miðgarðsormr” that Morris very likely knew, see above, page 241, note 2.
- Collected Works, XV, 140, 1.37.
- For references to accounts of Asgard, see above, page 29, note 3.
- See Collected Works, XV, 59, 1.27; 169, 11.26 and 29; 195, 1.35; 198, 1.4; 204, 1.36; 353, 1.3 and 355, 1.31.
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 that the Dusky Men, when they were defending themselves in the Mote-house of the Wolf, even climbed up on the roof, where they “were riding the ridge and mocking like the trolls of old days”;1 in making this comparison Morris almost certainly had in mind the account in the Grettis saga of how Glam rode the house-roofs at Thorhall-stead.2
Although very few of the deities of the heathen Norsemen are mentioned, the religious background of the tale is decidedly early Scandinavian. In my comments on the ceremony of “hallowing the Thing,” I mentioned the golden ring which the Alderman wore on his arm. There a number of other allusions to this ring in the story; as in the sagas, it usually lies on the altar, but the pries or Alderman must always have it on his arm or on other holy occasions, and anyone making a particularly sacred vow or oath must take it in his right hand.3 Moreover, we are told that the men of that Tribe of the Face frequently held “…great feasts and made offerings to the Gods for the Fruitfulness of the Year, the Ingathering of the Increase, and in Memory of their Forefathers. Natheless at Yule-tide also they feasted from house to house to be glad with the rest of Midwinter, and many a cup they drank at those feasts to the memory of the fathers…”4 In ascribing these customs to the people of his story, Morris very likely had in mind some of the saga-accounts of the early Norse sacred festivals. In the chapter called “Of Odin’s Law-Making” in The Story of the Ynglings, for example Snorri Sturluson states, “Folk were to
- Collected Works, XV, 353.
- See ibid., VII, 83, 11.12-13; 84, 11.3-4; 87, 1.27; and 88, 11.29-31.
- See ibid., XV, 17, 1.16; 124, 11.4-6, 9, 10, 12-14, and 26; 128, 11.34-35; and 368, 11.24-36. For references to saga accounts of this ring see above, page 323, note 2.
- Collected Works, XV, 9, 11.25-31.
hold sacrifice against the coming of winter for a good year; in midwinter for the growth of the earth; and a third in the summer that was an offering for gain and victory.”1 The Norse practice of drinking to the memory of one’s ancestors I have already discussed in my treatment of The House of the Wolfings.2 Another early Scandinavian custom of a sacred nature which is alluded to in the first romance3 is mentioned on several occasions in The Roots of the Mountains and is in one case described in detail: this is the custom of swearing oaths on the Holy Boar of Yule.4 Once Morris refers to the Holy Beast as the Boar of Atonement,5 evidently in imitation of the Old Norse “Sonargőltr,” this term being thus interpreted by scholars at the time.6
There remain a few Scandinavian features of a miscellaneous nature to be commented upon. The first four I shall treat are mentioned by Biber in his study. At the end of my discussion of The House of Wolfings I quoted some of Biber’s comments on the Norse character of the personal and place-names used in that tale;7 in regard to The Roots of the Mountains Biber points out that many of the names Morris introduced into this romance are likewise of Scandinavian origin, but he finds that the Norse influence on the nomenclature is not so extensive in this story as in the first.8 Moreover, Biber
- The Saga Library, III, 20. For further accounts of these customs see Mallet, Northern Antiquities, pp. 110-111, 113, and 196, and the Corpus Poeticum Boreale, I, 404.
- See above, pages 315-316.
- See above, page 316.
- See Collected Works, XV, 67, 11.16-17; 70, 1.1 – 71, 1.32; 108, 11.10-20; 184, 11.8-12; 281, 11.12-13 and 17-19; and 405, 11.23-24.
- See ibid., XV, 72, 1.5.
- In 1892, in an article in Beiträge zur Geschitchte der Deutschen Sprache und Literatur, XVI, 540-544, Eduard Sievers pointed out that this interpretation of “Sonargőltr” is wrong.
- See above, pages 316-317.
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notes, as most of the other critics of Morris who have dealt with this work have also done, that the descriptions of the mountain scenery in this tale – and even to a greater extent in some of the later ones – undoubtedly owe much of their vividness to the firsthand acquaintance with the landscape of Iceland which Morris had gained on his two visits to that country.1 In presenting specimens of such descriptions, Biber gives only one reference to The Roots of the Mountains, but there are several passages in this story containing pictures of typical Iceland scenery.2 Of less importance are the other miscellaneous matter I should like to mention here. In his discussion of “Spuren des Altnordischen” Biber lists the word “skids,” which occurs in the sense of “ski” several times in The Roots of the Mountain, both alone and in the combination “skid-strap”;3 Morris evidently used this word in imitation of the Old Norse term “skíð,” which he had occasionally met in his saga translations.4 The term “skin-changer,” the use of which Biber attributes to Morris’s Scandinavian studies,5 I have already discussed.6 It also seems to me rather likely that Morris’s description of a certain character as “a lucky man” because his enterprises turned out well7 is the result of his familiarity with the early Scandinavian
- Op. cit., p. 72.
- See Collected Works, XV, 1 , 1.3 – 2, 1.28; 99, 1.20 – 101, 1.24; 305, 1.11 – 307, 1.27; 308, 11.3-9; 309, 1.3 – 310, 1.20; 310, 1.35 – 312, 1.21.
- Studien zu William Morris’ Prose-Romances, p. 87. For other references to “skids,” in addition to those mentioned by Biber, see Collected Works, XV, 77, 11.3 and 6; 1, 1.18; ad 82, 1.33.
- See, for example, Sagan af Agli Skallagrímssyni, p. 33, 1.11 and 177, 1.22.
- Op. cit., p. 85.
Please note that notes 6 and 7 are cut off from the bottom of the page.
belief, often alluded to in the sagas,1 that every man was accompanied through life by a “hamingja,” or guardian spirit, and that in some cases the power of these “hamingjur” was greater than in others, so that some men were known as especially lucky and might even share their gift of luck with others on particular occasions. Also to be attributed to Morris’s study of the sagas is his use of the term “hundred” to signify one hundred and twenty units, as was the custom throughout early Scandinavia.2 Moreover, it is barely possible that the title of the romance, The Roots of the Mountains, which has no special significance for the tale beyond the fact that the story is laid in a mountainous country; was suggested to Morris by a phrase in The Prose Edda; in the Gylfaginning we are told that the chain with which the gods finally bound the Fenris-Wolf was fashioned by the dwarfs out of “the noise mad by the footfall of a cat; the beards of women; the roots of stones; the sinews of bears; the breath of fist; and the spittle of birds.”3 Perhaps the phrase “the roots of stones” made a special appeal to Morris’s imagination, and was in his mind when he named his second romance The Roots of the Mountains. Finally, I should like to point out that in two of the verse interludes which Morris introduces into this tale,4 he uses the verse form which I discussed in my comments on The House of the Wolfings;5 in these poetical
- See, for example, the Heimskringla, tr. Laing, II, 67, 1.9 and 68, 11.8 and 12-16.
- For references to “long hundreds” see Collected Works, XV, 176, 1.3; 205, 11.12-13; 231, 11.19-21; 249, 1.37; 250, 1.16; 302, 11.22-23; 317, 1.33; 364, 1.14.
- Mallet, Northern Antiquities, p. 424.
- Collected Works, XV, 341, 1.1 – 342, 1.6 and 358, 1.17 – 360, 1.14.
- See above, pages 317-319.
passages, however, he uses less alliterations and fewer kennings, so that the resemblance to early Germanic poetry is much less marked here than in the preceding romance.
Two months after the publication of The Roots of the Mountains – that is, in January, 1890,- just before he gave up his active interest in Socialism, Morris began printing in the Commonweal a tale called News from Nowhere; Or, An Epoch of Unrest, Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance; the last installment of this work, which was his greatest literary contribution to the Socialist cause, appeared in the October 4th issue of the Socialist League journal.1 This story presents an imaginary picture of the state of society in England at the opening of the twenty-first century, a few years after the Socialist Revolution is supposed to have taken place; the whole tale is put into the form of a dream or vision, which comes to a Londoner of the late nineteenth century, almost certainly Morris himself, after he has spent an evening of lively discussion at the Socialist League as to the conditions of life that would develop in the reformed state for which he and his comrades are working. One would scarcely expect to find Morris using any Norse material in a work of this nature, but he does introduce three Scandinavian allusions. One of these, the reference to Horrebow’s Natural History of Iceland, I have already discussed.2 The second is a brief mention of a Norwegian folktale. In the course of a discussion between the dreamer and old Hammond, a historian of the new state, concerning the changes in everyday life that have been brought about
- See Mackail, William Morris, II, 231.
- See above, pages 272-275.
by the Revolution, they raise the question of the position of women in this reformed society, and the dreamer expresses surprise at finding the women waiting on the men in the homes; at this point Hammond bursts out,
“…perhaps you think housekeeping an unimportant occupation, not deserving of respect. I believe that was the opinion of the ‘advanced’ women of the nineteenth century, and their male backers. If it is yours, I recommend to your notice an old Norwegian folklore tale called How the Man minded the House, or some such title; the result of which minding was that, after various tribulations, the man and the family cow balanced each other at the end of a rope, the man hanging half-way up the chimney, the cow dangling from the root, which, after the fashion of the country, was of turf and sloping down low to the ground. Hard on the cow, I think. Of course no such mishap could happen to such a superior person as yourself,” he added, chuckling.1
The tale in which Morris here indirectly shows such keen delight is obviously the one which Dasent calls “The Husband Who Was To Mind the House” in his Popular Tales from the Norse;2 it was very likely in this collection that Morris had read the story. The third allusion is of a different nature. In the course of the conversation just referred to between Hammond and the dreamer, the former refers to W.E. Gladstone, the great statesman of the Victorian age, as “one Gladstone, or Gledstein (probably, judging by this name, of Scandinavian descent)….”3 According to his biographers Gladstone was of pure Scottish descent as far back as his ancestry can be traced;4 of course the family may originally have come from Scandinavia, many of the early Norse invaders having settle in Scotland. The fact that Morris suggests “Gledstein” as a variant of “Gladstone” indicates that he knew that
- Collected Works, XVI, 60.
- (Edinburgh, 1859), pp. 321-324.
- Collected Works, SVI, 110.
- See, for example, John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (London, 1903), I, 8-9.
in the earliest extant reference to the family, dating from the late thirteenth century, the name appears as “Gledstanes.”1 However, I can see no reason for his stating that the name suggests that the family was Scandinavian in origin, for both the first element, “glad-“ or “gled-,” which is supposed to be the same as “glede,”2 meaning “kite,” and the second element, “stone,” or “stein,” are common Germanic.3
While his News from Nowhere was appearing in the Commonweal, Morris published in another periodical, the English Illustrated Magazine, his third prose romance, called The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men.4 I have already pointed out that critics have noticed in the prose romances of Morris a gradual but definite movement from the style of the romance to that of the epic. The Story of the Glittering Plain reveals a distinct advance in this direction; as Mackail says of the work,
…it is…notable as marking the full and unreserved return of the author to romance. In “The House of the Wolfings,” and even to some degree in “The Roots of the Mountains” also, there had been a semi-historical setting, and an adherence to the conditions of a world from which the supernatural element was not indeed excluded, but in which it bore such a subordinate place as involved no violent strain on probability. Here the imagined world is of no place or time, and is one in which nothing is impossible. The dreamer of dreams has returned to that strange Land East of the Sun, mingled of Northern saga and Arabian tale, through which the Star-Gazer had passed two and twenty years before in the days of “The Earthly Paradise”….5
- Morley, op. cit., I,, 9.
- See Justin McCarthy, The Story of Gladstone’s Life (New York, 1897), p. 3.
- In addition to the three Scandinavian allusions commented upon in the text above, I should like to point out here that in the tale Morris occasionally uses such terms as “Mote” (see Collected Works, XVI, 88, 11.10, 17, 22, and 25), “ward-mote” (see ibid., XVI, 42, 1.20), “Mote-House” (see ibid., XVI, 24, 1.34 and 73, 1.11), and “mote-halls” (see ibid., XVI, 33, 1.6).
- The tale appeared in the English Illustrated Magazine in the June, July, August, and September issues for 1890 (see ibid., VII (1889-1890), 687698, 754-768, 824-838, and 884-900). Shortly thereafter it was published in book form.
Please note that note 5 is cut off from the bottom of the page.
As is to be expected, as Morris reverted more and more to the style of pure romance, he introduced into his tales fewer and fewer features borrowed from the Icelandic sagas. However, in The Story of the Glittering Plain, the work in which he first returned fully to romance, there are a considerable number of Scandinavian elements. Most of these details we have already met with in the first two tales or in still earlier works. For example, we find in The Story of the Glittering Plain such terms and expressions as “mote-stead,”1 “handsel,”2 “shut-bed,”3 “the Norns,”4 “the Gloom of the Gods,”5 “skin-changer,”6 “a double share of luck,”7 and “earth-yoke.”8 As in The Roots of the Mountains there are a number of extremely vivid mountain descriptions in which Morris is undoubtedly drawing on his recollections of his tours in Iceland; one passage in which one of the characters in the story reveals his affection for his rugged land very likely expresses the devotion Morris himself felt towards Iceland and the love which he knew the Icelanders bore towards their stern home:
“Nay, I love the land. Belike thou deemest it but dreary with its black rocks and black sand, and treeless wind-swept dales; but I know it in summer and winter, and sun and shade, in storm and calm.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 323, 11.32-33 and above, page 321.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 289, 1.27 and above, pages 325-326.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 230, 11.13, 34, and 35; 235, 1.32; 241, 11.18 and 29; 277, 1.4; 287, 1.37; 288, 1.7; 292, 1.9; and 317, 1.36. See also above, page 328.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 308, 1.30 and above, page 309.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 248, 11.28-29 and above, page 241.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 224, 1.21; 318, 11.34-36; and 321, 11.21-22. See also above, pages 314-315.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 224, 11.21-25 and 253, 1.9. See also above, pages 333-334.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 309, 11.1-3; 318, 1.10; and 319, 11.16-31. See also above, pages 239-240. It should perhaps also be pointed out that the alliterative formula found in a speech of the hero of the tale (in Collected Works, XIV< 256, 11.31-37) was probably imitated from the Old Norse “tyrgðamál,” as similar for-
Please note that the rest of note 8 and note 9 is cut off from the bottom of the page.
And I know where the fathers dwelt and the sons of their sons’ sons have long lain in the earth. I have sailed its windiest firths, and climbed its steepest crags; and ye may well wot that it hath a friendly face to me; and the land-wights of the mountains will be sorry for my departure.”1
We also find in The Story of the Glittering Plain several new allusions to Scandinavian customs, beliefs, and traditions. Thus, one of the characters in the tale remarks that if he and his companions should injure Hallblithe, who, although he is their deadly enemy, has dared to come to their hall in search for his beloved, “his head on our hall-gable should be to us a nithing-stake….”2 The raising of a “nithing-stake” was a common way for a man in medieval Scandinavia to bring evil upon an enemy. The account given in the Egils saga of how Egil set up a “nithing-stake” against King Eric and Queen Gunnhilda is one of the best saga-descriptions of the custom; the saga-man says that Egil erected a pole on a mountain peak, and set the head of a horse on the stake, uttering these words as he did so:
- Collected Works, XIV, 319, 11.8-15. When Morris referred at the end of the quotation given above to the “land-wights of the mountains,” he very likely had in mind the “land-va͜ettir” so often mentioned in the Old Norse literature, although of course the early Scandinavians are not the only people who have believed in the existence of guardian spirits of the land. For Scandinavian allusions to “land-va͜ettir” see Thorpe, Northern Mythology, I, 116-117 and the Corpus Poeticum Boreale, I, 419-420. See also the quotation from the Egils saga presented at the bottom of this page.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 312.
Sagan af Agli Skallagrímssyni, p. 137. The translation is that given by Thorpe in his account of this custom in his Northern Mythology, I, 219-220.
Morris is almost certainly referring to the opening episode of the Ragnars saga loðbrókar ok sona hans when he represents a young princess in his story, who is pining away because of unrequited love, as exclaiming,
“‘Yea, why is the earth fair and fruitful, and the heavens kind above it, if thou comest not to-night, nor to-morrow, nor the day after? And I the daughter of the Undying, on whom the days shall grow and grow as the grains of sand which the wind heaps up above the sea-beach. And life shall grow huger and more hideous round about the lonely one, like the ling-worm laid upon the gold, that waxeth thereby, till it lies all round about the house of the queen entrapped, the moveless unending ring of years that change not.’”1
The “ling-worm” referred to must be the “lyngormr” which the princess Thora, according to the Ragnars saga loðbrókar, received from her father; the little dragon, which Thora laid on some gold in a box, grew so large, we are told, that it had to be placed out-of-doors, and then it continued to grow until it encircled the house in which Thora was shut up, so that she was actually imprisoned until Ragnar killed the dragon and rescued her. With this tale Morris had undoubtedly long been familiar, for it is told in Thorpe’s Northern Mythology,2 which he read as a student at Oxford.
I should also like to point out that it is extremely likely that Morris gave to the land of everlasting youth which plays an important part in the tale the names “the Land of the Glittering Plain,”3 “the Land of Living Men,”4 and “the Acre of the Undying”5 in imitation of the
- Collected Works, XIV, 266.
- I, 108-109.
- See, for example, the title of the tale and Collected Works, XIV, 211, 1.36 – 212, 1.1; 212, 11.15-16; 228, 11.27-28; 233, 11.23-24 and 34; 234, 11.1-2; 243, 1.13; 244, 11.16-17 and 24; 245, 11.24-25; 246, 1.9; 248, 1.29; 248, 1.38 – 249, 1.1; 249, 11.15, 20, and 32; 251, 1.2; 253, 1.12; etc.
- See, for example, the title and ibid., XIV, 212, 1.5; 226, 11.35-36; 253, 1.27; etc.
- See ibid., XIV, 249, 1.1; 253, 11.22-23; 22, 11.5-6; and
Please note that the rest of note 5 is cut off from the bottom of the page.
terms “Gla͜esisvellir,” “jőrd lifanda manna,” and “Ódáinsakr,” which are used for Paradise in some of the Scandinavian mythical-heroic sagas. Only one of these names, so far as I am aware, is found in a saga that we definitely know Morris had read,1 and none of the other tales in which they occur, - the Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks konungs,2 the Eiríks saga viðfőrla,3 the Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar,4 the Helga páttr Dórissonar,5 the Dorsteins páttr ba͜ejarmagns,6 and the Bósa saga-7 had been translated into English before 1890.8 However, Morris must by this time have attained a high degree of proficiency in reading Icelandic, and it is not at all unlikely that he had at some time read some of these sagas in the original, either by himself or with the aid of Magnússon. They were all in his library at the time of his death.9 It is also possible that he had become familiar with these terms through treatises on Scandinavian and Germanic mythology, such as R. B. Anderson’s translation of Viktor Rydberg’s Teutonic Mythology10 and theGrimm’s English rendering of Jacob Grimm0’s Deutsche Mythologie by Stallybrass.”
- The name “Gla͜esisvellir” is found in the Norna-Gests páttr, which, as I have already pointed out, Morris is known to have translated, - in part, at least; see above, pages 189-191. For occurrences of the name in the Norna-Gests páttr, see the Flateyjarbók, I, 347, 11.3-4.
- See Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda, I, 411, 11.11 and 15; 442, 1.22; 444, 1.9; and 452, 11.10-11.
- See the Flateyjarbók, I, 29, 1.11; 31, 11.34 and 35; 32, 1.3; and 34, 11.6 and 27.
- See Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda, III, 519, 1.11.
- See Fornmanna Sőgur, III, 136, 1.22; 138, 1.5; 139, 1.14; and 140, 1.5.
- See ibid., III, 183, 11.1-2 and 12; 194, 1.23; and 196, 1.30.
- See Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda, III, 208, 1.7; 210, 1.16; 214, 1.5; 215, 1.6; 216, 1.20; 217, 1.17; 218, 11.1-2; 219, 1.2; 228, 11.8-9; and 233, 1.8.
- See Islandica, V (1912), 22-26, 12, 20, 21, 60, and 10-11.
- See notes 1-7 on this page and below, page 1000.
Please note that note 10 is cut off from the bottom of the page.
In regard to the personal names used in this tale, Biber points out that only one, the name of the hero, Hallblithe, is Scandinavian in character.1 Finally, I should like to call attention to the fact that in two of the poems in the story, Morris uses the metre which, in my discussion of the first two romances, I have commented upon as being slightly imitative of early Germanic poetry.2
It seems that it was in this same year -1890- that Morris resumed his work as a translator of Old Norse sagas. Before passing on to a discussion of this activity, which was to occupy a considerable amount of his attention during the next four years, I should like to mention briefly a letter which Morris wrote to the Times early in September, voicing his approval, as Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, of the pleas made by another correspondent in the columns of the Times for the preservation of the Hanseatic Museum in Bergen, Norway. Morris had not visited the Scandinavian peninsula, so that he knew nothing at first hand about this building; nevertheless, the concern he felt over the fate of this relic from the days of the Hanseatic League in Norway was the result not only of his love for ancient buildings in general but also of his interest in this particular structure as a monument of the Middle Ages in Scandinavia. He wrote, in part,
It ought not to be forgotten, too, that, great as the possessions of the Scandinavian peoples are in ancient literature, they have little to spare of examples of ancient art. The removal of the Hanseatic House from Bergen would be a most serious loss to the good town, and would so be felt by all visitors. As a student of
- Studien zu William Morris’ Prose-Romances, p. 78.
- See Collected Works, XIV, 239, 1.20 – 241, 1.10 and 313, 1.9 – 314, 1.20. See also above, pages 317-319 and 334-335.
Scandinavian literature and history, as well as a lover of ancient architecture, I hope I may be excused for appealing through your columns to the citizens of Bergen and begging them to resist this perverted love of one’s neighbour’s archa͜eological wealth.1
During the period of his intense public activity and even in the first years of his return to literature Morris seems to have done no saga-translating. In his Life of William Morris the first reference Mackail makes to any such work after the time of Morris’s ardent Socialism occurs in a quotation from a letter which Morris wrote on July 8, 1890: “I have undertaken to get out some of the Sagas I have lying about. Quaritch is exceedingly anxious to get hold of me, and received with enthusiasm a proposal to publish a Saga Library….”2 As I shall show later, Morris seems originally to have planned to make The Saga Library much greater in scope than it is actually is, but the saga-translations which he did include in this collection and which we can accordingly be sure that he was referring to in the statement just quotes are “The Story of Howard the Halt,” “The Story of the Banded Men,” and “The Story of Hen Thorir,” which appeared in the first volume, “The Story of the Ere-Dwellers” and “The Story of the Heath-Slayings,” which he printed in the second volume, and The Stories of the Kings of Norway, which filled Volumes III, IV, and V. Almost all of these saga-renderings, as we have already seen, had been prepared many years before. Thus, the first three of these works were translated by Morris and Magnússon in the early seventies.3 The Eyrbyggja saga was one of the first, if not the very first, of the Icelandic tales that the two collaborators turned into English.4
- No. 33, 113(September 10, 1890), p. 12.
- II, 247.
- See above, page 184.
- See above, pages 47-52.
The exact date of the translation of the Heiðarvíga saga is not known, but, as I have explained above, it was very likely prepared during the period 1871 to 1876.1 Morris’s English rendering of the Heimskringla was begun as early as 1871,2 but was not completed in 1890, when he resumed his saga-translating.3 Evidently his work on the Icelandic sagas during the years 1890 to 1895 consisted in revising and preparing for publication the tales already translated and in finishing his English version of the Heimskringla. As I have previously stated, his translation of the Eyrbyggja saga seems to have been subjected to a very extensive revision before it was published in 1892, for the printed text differs considerably from the holograph manuscript of 1868; in fact, the whole rendering must have been rewritten, for the original manuscript could not have been the immediate source of the published work.4 I have not seen the holograph manuscripts of the other tales in the first two volumes of The Saga Library, so that I cannot determine how thoroughly they were revised for publication; probably Morris found less to alter in these translations, for at least three of them,-and very likely the rendering of the Heiðarvíga saga also, were produced after he had become an experienced translator.
Morris’s rendering of the Heimskringla demands a few words of special comment. As I pointed out above, he had no completed this translation when he gave up his literary activities in the late 1870’s and turned to public life, but none of the studies of Morris state
- See above, pages 189-191.
- See above, page 182.
- See below, pages 344-348.
- See above, page 49 and below, pages 516-517.
how much of this work he had finished when he dropped it at that time. So far as I know, the only available information bearing upon this question is found in two manuscript catalogues of Morris’s library, both of which are now in the private collection of Sir Sydney Cockerell of Combridge, England. One of them is a holograph manuscript in two hands;1 according to a note on the inside of the front cover, evidently written by the present owner, this “Catalogue of the library of William Morris at Kelmscott House, Upper Mall, Hammersmith was begun in 1890 by his elder daughter Jenny and was continued in the same year and in 1891 (H 72-91) by Morris himself….”
- This manuscript measure 12 ¾ by 8 inches. On the inside of the front cover we find the following note in Cockerell’s hand:
“This Catalogue of the library of William Morris at Kelmscott House, Upper Mall, Hammersmith was begun in 1890 by his elder daughter Jenny and was continued in the same year and in 1891 (H 72-91) by Morris himself. In 1892(Nov.) I was employed to make a more elaborate Catalogue of the manuscripts and incunabula, and this last does not contain the numerous books acquired by Morris in the last five years of his life.”
On the recto of the first of the three flyleaves is written “Sydney C. Cockerell – given me by Mrs. Morris after her husband’s death.” The catalogue begins on the fourth page, which is a sales-sheet from Bernard Quaritch of London, and runs through page 91; page 92 is blank, but the catalogue is continued on page 93. The first page, the sales-sheet, is not numbered. At the end of the book the three flyleaves are blank; but on the inside of the back cover is pasted a slip of paper bearing the autograph of William Morris, and at the bottom of this cover, in the lower left-hand column, is written “Bound by Katherine Adams at Broadway Worcestershire 1911.”
The first part of the catalogue, from the beginning to page 72, has been prepared rather carelessly; many of the titles must have been written down from dictation, for there are numerous misspellings. On pages 72, 73, and 74 we find two handwritings, the new one being clearly Morris’s, and on pages 75 through 91 all the entries seem to have been made by Morris. The last page, page 93, appears to be in the hand that wrote the titles on the sales-sheet and the first 71 pages. All the entries except those on page 93 are numbered; there are 973 numbered entries in all.
Those pages that are watermarked are dated 1882, 1885, and 1888.
In this work item 837 on page 62 is described as “Heimskringla translation by W. Morris down to the end of Olag Tryggvason 2 vols autograph MS.” This page belongs to that part of the catalogue which, according to Cockerell’s note, was prepared by Miss Jenny Morris; the handwriting is clearly not Morris’s. If this page was the work of Morris’s daughter, it must, according to the note just quoted, have been written out in 1890. The other manuscript is an illuminated book, containing only the beginning of a catalogue of Morris’s library and a fragment of a saga-translation.1 According to a note, apparently in the hand of Sir Sydney Cockerell, on the inside of the front cover, this catalogue was “probably made above 1890.” In this list of Morris’s books the Heimskringla rendering is likewise described as “two vols” reaching down to the end of the saga of Olaf Tyrggvason.” On the basis of these two references it seems fairly safe to assume that in 1890, when Morris resumed his saga-translating, he had turned into English only the “Preface” and the first six sagas of the Heimskringla; in other words, in the late 1870’s when his interest in public life finally led him to give up his literary activities, he had completed only about one-third of his English version of Snorri’s great history of the early kings of Norwaty.
It is of course possible that Morris had begun his translation of the next saga in the series – the Ólafs saga Helga Haraldssonar-, but had not finished it; if he had completed only a small portion of this section of the Heimskringla rendering in the 1870’s, it would
- For an account of this manuscript see above, page 187.
most likely not have been kept in his library and would therefore not have been entered in a catalogue of his books in 1890. In the holograph manuscript of the Magnússon-Morris translation of the Ólafs saga helga1 we find a very interesting situation which is perhaps to be explained by assuming that the two collaborators had begun their work on this tale in the 1870’s but had put it aside during the years of Morris’s public life, and that when they decided to finish their rendering of the Heimskringla in 1890, they at first forgot their earlier work on the Ólafs saga and began anew on this story. In this manuscript Magnússon has written out the original translation, using only one side of each sheet; Morris has made his alterations in the prose between the lines of Magnússon’s version, but has put his verse translations of the “vísur” on the verso of the preceding page or on an inserted sheet. The translation runs along in the usual way up to page twenty-four. Here we find the closing lines of Chapter XX and the opening of Chapter XXI; after the first “visa” in this chapter Magnússon has left five lines blank and has then written, “All this I have done before and sent you, or I am dreaming.” Nothing more is found on this page. Next comes an inserted sheet with Morris’s verse rendering of the “visa.” On the following pages we meet again with Magnússon’s translation; here, however, he does not continue from the point he had reached at the bottom of page twenty-four, but goes back to the middle of the fourth sentence of Chapter XXI, presents a slightly different rendering of the second half of the prose passage and the “visa” found on page twenty-four, and then proceeds in the
- For an account of this manuscript, which is now in the Brotherton Library, Leeds, England, see A Selection of Books, Manuscripts, Engravings, and Autograph Letters (London: Maggs Brothers, 1928), pp. 208-209.
normal way. On this page and on the following ten and a half pages, he has written his translation of the Icelandic prose on every other line; then he reverts to his usual manner of using each line. Evidently Magnússon had produced a version of this part of the Ólafs saga at some previous time, but had now forgotten this work and therefore began a new rendering; when he reached the bottom of page twenty-four, he realized his mistake, found his earlier translation, and introduced it at this point, beginning with that page which continued the passage he had just translated although it repeated a short section. In other words, if my interpretation is correct, page twenty-six and some of the sheets following it are part of an earlier translation which Magnússon inserted here when he remembered that the translation he was now producing of the Ólafs saga was his second. Of course, we do not know how much earlier the first translation was produced. The manuscript under consideration, as I stated above, was very likely as a whole written out during the period 1890 to 1894. The first translation may have been begun more than ten years earlier –in the 1870’s- or the second rendering may have been made late in the period 1890 to 1894 and the first beginning only a year or two earlier. It seems rather unlikely, however, that Magnússon would have forgotten his earlier work, if a fairly long time had not elapsed between the two versions; in all probability he had begun a translation of the Ólafs saga in the late 1870’s, and it was this rendering he forgot when Morris resumed his translation-work more than ten years later and decided to finish his English version of the Heinskringla.
The first volume of The Saga Library, the collection of saga translations which Morris had agreed to prepare for Bernard Quaritch, appeared early in 1891.1 The translations proper are preceded by a Preface of forty-three pages, the first seven and a half pages of which, according to Magnússon’s statement in Volume VI of The Saga Library,2 were prepared by Morris. In this section Morris has presented a few facts relating to the history and literature of Iceland in order to aid the general reader in understanding the sagas to be presented in this collection; he has described briefly the events leading to the settlement of Iceland by Norwegians, the wide-spread maritime expeditions of the Icelanders and other Scandinavians, the conditions of life in Iceland which contributed to the production of an extraordinarily rich medieval literature in that country, and the outstanding qualities of the saga-style of narration.3 At the end of the discussion he has divided the Icelandic medieval literature into five groups on the basis of the subjects treated. These five divisions are, first, works dealing with mythology, such as the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda; secondly, romances “founded on the mythology,” such as the Vőlsunga saga; thirdly, “histories of events foreign to Iceland,” such as the Heimskringla; fourthly, “histories of Icelandic worthies, their families, feuds, etc.”; and fifthly, fiction sagas.
Certain remarks that Morris makes in the course of this classification are extremely interesting because of the information
- See Collected Works, XV, xxviii, 11.18-21.
- Page vii.
- It is not necessary to investigate the sources of Morris’s
Please note that the rest of note 3 is cut off from the bottom of the page.
they give concerning his original plans for The Saga Library. Thus, in commenting on the fourth group, the “histories of Icelandic worthies,” he states that “our Library will include all the most important of them”; in discussing the last division he refers to “the story of Viglund the Fair, included in the Saga Library.” At the end of his classification he remarks, “There are other important works that do not come within the scope of the Saga Library; of these are the Sturlunga Saga, the Bishops’ Saga, the Annals, religious poems like Lilja, codes of law like Grágás, and translations of medieval romances….”1 It is obvious from these statements that if Morris had lived longer, The Saga Library would have extended far beyond the five volumes that we have; it is likewise clear that to find time to translate and publish all the works which his consideration fell “within the scope of the Saga Library” Morris would have need another lifetime. There can be little doubt, for example, that he planned to print in this collection those sagas which we know he had translated during the years 1868 to 1876 but had never published,-namely, the Egils saga,2 the Kormáks saga,3 the Vápnfirðinga saga,4 the Halldórs páttr Snorrasonar,5 the Norna-Gests páttr,6 and, perhaps, the Laxda͜ela saga.7 Moreover, the mention of the Víflundar saga as being included in The Saga Library seems to indicate that he intended to republish some, if not all, of the translations from the Icelandic he
- These quotations come from The Saga Library, I, xi-xii.
- See above, pages 189-191.
- See above, pages 180-181.
- See above, pages 188-189.
- See above, pages 187-188.
- See above, pages 189-191.
- See above, pages 54-55
had already issued; if the Three Northern Love Stories, in which “The Story of Viglund the Fair” had appeared, was to become a part of this series, it seems to me almost certain that he planned to revise and republish both his rendering of the Vőlsunga saga, which he refers to specifically in his comments on the second group, and his English version of the Grettis saga, which he had produced when he was a very inexperienced translator. In connection with this discussion of the question of Morris’s original plans for The Saga Library, I should like to call attention to certain remarks on the subject that were made by an American critic in a review of the first volume in The [New York] Nation for September 17, 1891:
Mr. Bernard Quaritch has reverted to an old-time interest of his in undertaking the publication of a “Saga Library,” to consist of fifteen or more volumes, containing the leading Icelandic mythological and historical sagas….Of the works selected for publication in the new form, all but the three narratives making up the first volume of the series have been put into English before, several of them by Mr. Morris himself. That there is room for a new edition cannot be doubted, and the editors, whose previous work in popularizing Icelandic literature has secured them a well-earned reputation for brilliant translation, should find a ready welcome for their new venture.1
The writer does not indicate where he received this information, but in order to feel justified in making such definite statements, he must have drawn upon some other source than Morris’s remarks in his Preface. However, one must hesitate to give and full and unqualified credence to this account of Morris’s intentions, for one of the statements made above is obviously incorrect: the reviewer says that of “the works selected for publication in the new form, all but the three narratives making up the first volume of the series have been put into English before…,” but Morris and Magnússon’s translations of the Eyrbyggja saga and of the Heiðarvíga
- LIII(1891), 220.
saga in Volume II were the first English renderings to be printed of these tales,1 and one of the stories in Volume I – the Bandamanna saga – had already been translated into English.2 Moreover, it seems very unlikely that, except for the first volume, Morris would ever have planned to include in this collection only sagas which had already been translated. The rest of the account may perhaps be accepted; Morris probably originally expected to issue about fifteen volumes in this series, and it is not at all unlikely that he intended to make his own version of such sagas which had already been translated and published as the Víga-Glúms saga, the Dórðar saga hreðu, the Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða, and the Eiríks saga rauða.3
The rest of the Preface to Volume I of The Saga Library, this part being the work of Magnússon, consists of introductory remarks relating to the three saga translations appearing in this book. The main part of the volume is made up of “The Story of Howard the Halt,” “The Story of the Banded Men,” and “The Story of Hen Thorir,” each saga being preceded by a one-page map of the section of Iceland in which the story is laid. There is an Appendix, in which is presented “An Adventure of Odd Ufeigson with King Harold Hardradi.” Then follow fifteen pages of Notes and three Indexes, the first of Persons, the second of Places, and the third of Subject Matter. Of the three sagas translated in this volume, only the second had ever before been printed in an English form.4
- See Islandica, I (1908), 19-20 and 49-50.
- In John Coles, Summer Travelling in Iceland (London, 1882), pp. 205-229.
- For translations of these sagas prior to 1891 see The Story of Viga-Glum, tr. Head, “The Story of Thorðr Hreða (The Terror)” and “The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey’s Priest,” in John Coles, op. cit., pp. 173-204 and 230-249, and Eirik the Red’s Saga, tr. Rev. J. Sephton (Liverpool, 1880).
- As I pointed out above, the Bandamanna saga had been translated by John Coles in his Summer Travelling in Iceland, pp. 205-
Please note that note 4 is cut off from the bottom of the page.
In regard to the texts used, I should like to point out that for their “Story of Howard the Halt” Morris and Magnússon chose the version of the Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings which is presented in Volume XXVIII of Nordiske Oldskrifter,1 for “The Story of the Banded Men” they followed the text of the Bandamanna saga given in Volume X of the same series,2 and for “The Story of Hen Thorir” they used the only
- Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings, ed. And tr. G[unnlaugr] Thordarson, med et Tillaeg om Sagaen og Forklaring af Viserne, ved Gísli Brynjúlfsson, in Nordiske Oldskrifter, XXVIII (Copenhagen, 1860), 1 – 53. Magnússon says on page xxii of the Preface to Volume I of The Saga Library that in the main he and Morris followed the restoration of the “vísur” that was undertaken by Gísli Brynjúlfsson in 1860. A comparison of the translation with this text and the only other edition of the saga which, according to Islandica, I (1908), 48, existed in the early 1870’s when the rendering was produced – namely, the one in Nockrer Marg-Frooder Sőgu-Da͜etter Islendinga, pp. 38-58 -, shows, as is to be expected, that they followed the same text for their prose. Compare, for example, the following passages in Nordiske Oldskrifter with the corresponding passages in the other edition and in The Saga Library: XXVIII, 1, 1.2; 1, 1.3; 2, 1.7; 2, 1.8; 2, 11.19-21; and 3, 1.17.
- Bandamanna saga, ed. H[alldórr] Fridriksson, in Nordiske Oldskrifter, X (Copenhagen, 1850), 3 – 43. After comparing the Arnamagna͜ean and the Regius texts of this saga, Magnúson says on page xxv of the Preface to Volume I of The Saga Library that he and Morris based their translation of the former; on the preceding page he had pointed out that the Arnamagna͜ean text “was edited by H. Fridrksson at Copenhagen in 1850.” Another edition of the Arnamagna͜ean text was in existence in the 1870’s – namely, the one in Nockrer Marg-Frooder Sőgu-Da͜eeter Islendinga, pp. 1-15 (see Islandica, I (1908), 3) -, but Morris and Magnúson used the one in Nordiske Oldskrifter. Compare, for example, the following passages in Nordiske Oldskrifter with 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.
edition of the Ha͜ensa-Dóris saga then in existence,- the one prepared by Jon Sigurdsson for Volume II of Íslendinga Sőgur.1 The story translated in the Appendix deals with Odd Ufeigson, one of the main characters in the Bandamanna saga. Magnússon says in the Preface that the tale is an extract from the Morkinskinna,2 but a comparison of the translation with the version of the Odds páttr Ófeigssonar which is given in this work shows that Morris and Magnússon did not use this text exclusively; in fact, they do not seem to have limited themselves to any one of the four editions then available, but to have followed now one, now another, keeping closest perhaps to the Morkinskinna account.3
This volume of translation seems to have attracted comparatively little attention among contemporary reviewers. The longest discussion of the book was the article in the Nation to which I have already
- Pages 119-186.
- See The Saga Library, I, xxvi. For the passage in the Morkinskinna, see Morkinskinna, ed. Unger, pp. 105-109.
- The four texts of Odds páttr Ófeigssonar that were available in 1891 are (1) Solennia Aacdemica ad Celebrandum Diem XXVIII Januarii MDCCCXXI Regi Nostro Augustissimo Frederico Sexto Natalem Habenda Indict Universitatis Regiae Havniensis Rector M. Nicolaus Schow cum Senatu Academico, pp. 1-7; (2) Fornmanna Sőgur, Vi, 377-384; (3) Morkinskinna, pp. 105-109; and (4) Flateyjarbók, III, 381-386. As I state above, the two translators seem to follow now one, now another, of these texts. For example, the words “they had foul wind” (Saga Library, I, 167, 1.6) are found in texts 1 and 2, but not in 3 and 4; the sentence “And Harald Sigurdson was then king over Norway” (Saga Library, I, 167, 11.8-9) is omitted in text 1; the clause “and thereon was Einar Fly” (Saga Library, I, 167, 11.21-22) is given thus in texts 3 and 4 but not in 1 and 2, which have “par var Einar fluga með fjőlda manns”; the passage in The Saga Library, I, 167, 1.24 – 168, 1.3 is found in essentially this form in texts 1, 2, and 3 but in an entirely different form in text 4; and the concluding paragraph (Saga Library, I, 175, 11.10-17) is given thus in text 4 but not in 1, 2, and 3.
referred;1 this critic praises both Morris and Magnússon’s choice of tales and their style of translation, saying,
These stories have the robust quality of the air of the country that gave birth to their heroes. Their great dramatic power, combined with simplicity and directness of narration, has kept them fresh and virile through centuries….Boldly drawn, and characterized by keen insight into human nature, these pictures, though of a rude age, are yet free from coarseness, and the translators have happily preserved enough of the original quaint phraseology to lend a peculiar charm to this English version….2
The rest of the review consists mainly of brief synopses of the tales. Another discussion of the book appeared in the Academy two months later, after the second volume of The Saga Library had been published.3 The author, Charles Elton, finds little either to praise or to blame in the work; he devotes most of his article to a brief description of the three tales, calling attention to those features in each one which Magnússon in his Preface had pointed out as being most noteworthy. He does find fault, however, with Morris’s praise, in the Preface, of the modern Icelanders’ lively interest in the historical past of their country; Elton points out that this interest does not go directly back to the time of the events described in the historical or family sagas, for during several centuries the Icelanders neglected their native literature in favor of the far inferior metrical romances that were imported from Europe proper. Another contemporary discussion of this book that should be mentioned is that of Valtýr-Guðmundsson, which appeared in Tímarit Hins Íslenzka Bókmenntafjelags for 1892.4 Guðmundsson gives a brief account of the contents of the volume, praising particularly the index of subject matter which Magnússon had prepared.
- See above, pages 351-352.
- LIII (1891), 220.
- XL (1891), 448.
- XIII (1892), 74-76.
Most of the article is given up to a short attack on Morris and Magnússon’s use of archaic English words and constructions in their saga translations; this criticism I shall consider later, in my discussion of Morris’s style of translation.1
The second volume of The Saga Library was published in the fall of 1891.2 In this book we find first a scholarly Preface of thirty-eight pages, in which Magnússon discusses the two sagas translated in this book;3 then follow several chronological lists of events described in the stories, this material being drawn, as the editors state, partly from Vigfússon’s edition of the Eyrbyggja saga and partly from his “Um tímatal í Íslendinga sőgum.”4 In the main part of the volume is presented The Story of the Ere-Dwellers; the tale is preceded by a one-page map if the district of Iceland involved. In Appendix A there is a description of “The Children of Snorri the Priest,” a translation of an Icelandic account printed in the edition by Vigfússon already referred to; Snorri, of course, figures prominently in the Eyrbyggja saga. Appendix B is devoted to The Story of the Heath-Slayings, this tale being closely connected in subject matter with The Story of the Ere-Dwellers; as usual there is a one-page map of the scene of the action. At the end of the volume we find forty-two pages of notes,5 a number of genealogical tables, and three Indexes, the first of Persons, the second of Places, and the third Subject
- See below, page 563.
- The book is dated 1892; but in a letter headed September 23, 1891 which is quoted by Mackail in another connection we find Morris saying, “…Mr. Quaritch has sent me in a specimen copy of volume 2 of the Saga Library…” (Mackail, William Morris, II, 265), and the book was discussed in the Saturday Review for October 24, 1891 (LXXII (1891), 481).
- Magnússon states on p. vii of Volume VI of The Saga Library that he wrote this Preface and then submitted it to Morris for evision. See also May Morris, William Morris, I, 459.
Matter, part of the last one being given up to a list of kennings occurring in the verses included in the two sagas.
Neither one of these sagas had ever been published in an English form before.1 As their texts the translators used Vigfússon’s edition of the Eyrbyggja saga, which was published as a separate volume in 1864, and Jon Sigurdsson’s edition of the Heiðarvíga saga in Volume II of Íslendinga Sőgur.2
The second volume of The Saga Library, like the first, received very little attention from contemporary reviewers. The best discussion of the work appeared in the Saturday Review; this critic bestowed praise on the editing of the book, on the choice of sagas, and, in general, on the style of translation. He writes,
In respect to workmanship, the second volume of the Saga Library is worthy of the first. The stories, indeed – the Eyrbyggja Saga and the Heiðarviga Saga – are not among the best for personal interest and epic unity of narrative. But the “Story of the Heath-Slayings,” a fragment, is extremely ancient, and few sagas are richer than the
- See Islandica, I (1908), 19-20 and 49-50.
- II, 277-394. Magnússon states explicitly in the Preface to Volume II of The Saga Library (p. xxxvi) that it was Sigurdsson’s edition of the Heiðarvíga saga which he and Morris followed in their translation of this tale. In regard to the Eyrbyggja saga he says in the Preface that Vigfússon’s edition of this work was the best (p. xx) and that he and Morris based their rendering of the “vísur” in this story “on Vigfússon’s prose arrangement of the same” (p. xlvii); moreover, as I have already pointed out, they drew one of their chronological tables and their account of the offspring of Snorri from this same edition. Magnússon does not, however, definitely state in the Preface that they used this text for their whole translation, but a comparison of their rendering with this edition and the only other text of the saga which, according to Islandica, I (1908), 18-19, had been printed by 1868 – namely, the Eyrbyggja-Saga sive Eyranorum Historia quam mandante et impensas faciente P. F. Suhm. Versione, lectionum varietate ac indice rerum auxit G. J. Thorkeling (Copenhagen, 1787 – shows clearly, as the facts enumerated above indicate, that it was Vigfússon’s edition that they followed for their entire translation. Compare, for example the following passages in Vigfússon’s text with the corresponding passages in the other edition and in The Saga Library: p. 3, 11.7-8; 3, 1.9; 3, 1.10; 4, 1.14; 4, 11.23-24; 5, 11.2-3; 6, 1.1; 6, 1.5; 6, 1.14; 6, 1.16; 6, 1.23; and 7, 11.3-4. An examination of these passages, however, in the 1868 holograph manuscript of Morris and Magnússon’s rendering of the Eyrbyggja saga shows that for their first translation the two collaborators followed Thorkelin’s edition; see below, pages 516 and
Please note that the rest of note is cut off from the bottom of the page.
Eyrbyggja in curious details of law, custom, and belief. As for the style of translation, it is that which Messrs. Morris and Magnússon think the best representative of old Icelandic; and, though to others it may seem affected, it is perfectly intelligible.1
He concludes his review by describing the volume as “a book which is a delightful gift to English literature and the study, not only of the North, but of the heroic age all over the world.”2 This volume was also reviewed by Charles Elton in the Academy;3 in his very brief discussion he merely calls attention to the prominent part played by superstition in this tale and to the value of the account given there of the temple of Thor.
Before proceeding to the remaining volumes of The Saga Library, I should like to point out that in the fall of 1891 Morris also published a book of verse called Poems by the Way.4 Most of the pieces appearing in this volume had been written several years earlier – some of them even in the 1860’s and the 1870’s. Several Scandinavian poems, all but one of them previously unpublished, were included in the book; all of them have already been discussed in detail in this study. These Scandinavian pieces, in the order in which they appear in this collection, are “Of the Wooing of Hallbiorn the Strong,”5 “To the Muse of the North,”6 “Iceland First Seem,”7 “The Raven and the King’s
- LXXII (1891), 482.
- Loc. cit.
- XL (1891), 448.
- See Mackail, William Morris, II, 265.
- Collected Works, IX, 95-102. See also above, pages 210-213.
- Collected Works, IX, 116. See also above, page 58.
- Collected Works, IX, 125-126. See also above, pages 202-203.
Daughter,”1 “The King of Denmark’s Sons,”2 “Gunnar’s Howe above the House at Lithend,”3 “The Lay of Christine,”4 “Hildebrand and Hellelil,”5 “The Son’s Sorrow,”6 “Agnes and the Hill-Man,”7 “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,”8 and “Hafbur and Signy,”9 the last six being Scandinavian ballad translations.
The Norse poems in the volume are discussed in only two of the contemporary reviews that I have seen of this book. The critic in the Saturday Review praises these pieces in rather general terms, saying,
…There are more of those Northern romances, paraphrased or invented, which Mr. Morris loves so untiringly and does so well – “The Wooing of Hallbiorn the Strong,” “The Raven and the King’s Daughter,” “Hildebrand and Hallelil” [sic], “Hafbur and Signy,” and a fine Geste in miniature of “The King of Denmark’s Sons.”10
These same poems are criticized adversely by Mr. C. Elton in his review of the book in the Academy; he is quick to recognize the good effects that Morris’s Scandinavian studies had upon his style in general, but Morris’s imitations of Norse ballads in this volume he considers less successful than some of the original pieces, for, although they are
- Collected Works, IX, 127-131. See also above, pages 208-210.
- Collected Works, IX, 140-145. See also above, pages 213-217.
- Collected Works, IX, 179. See also above, pages 203-205.
- Collected Works, IX, 201-202. See also above, pages 147-148 and 150-152.
- Collected Works, IX, 203-205. See also above, pages 147-148.
- Collected Works, IX, 206-207. See also above, pages 147-148 and 150-152.
- Collected Works, IX, 208-209. See also above, pages 147-150.
- Collected Works, IX, 210-212. See also above, pages 147-150.
- Collected Works, IX, 210-212. See also above, pages 147-150.
- LXXIII (1892), 155.
graceful and charming, all attempts to revive past literary forms are bound to fail. He says, in part,
…the Norse influence, just like that of Socialism, is certainly one that has given additional vigour and glory to the poet’s verse; yet…it is no contradiction to say that the actual ballads he has written expressly on Norse subjects are by no means his best and most characteristic work. There is, after all, something hopeless about the attempt to revive a literary form nearly as it flowered in a set of circumstances now extinct. The experience that gave the form breath and power cannot really be lived over again by the most searching and tender imagination, or by any process of “steeping the mind” in books; and the result is something like that which attends the efforts, all meritorious and all failures, to write Greek plays. The failure is due, not to lack, but to misapplication, of poetic gift. Therefore, with whatever zeal and grace these revivals are conducted, we cannot help coming back from them and asking what the poet has to tell us concerning his more personal and direct message.1
Mr. Elton is of course correct in placing these poems on a lower level than more serious work such as “The Message of the March Wind” and “Mother and Son” and more inspired pieces such as “Hope Dieth: Love Liveth” and “Love Fulfilled”;2 yet it cannot be denied, it seems to me – and Mr. Elton makes no attempt to do so – that these ballad imitations, even though they are somewhat artificial, are skillfully done, show here and there true poetic taste, as succeed in imparting to the reader some of Morris’s keen relish for the stories of the North.
The last three volumes of The Saga Library that appeared in Morris’s lifetime were devoted to the translation of the Heimskringla; these volumes are numbered three, four, and five, and are dated 1893, 1894, and 1895 respectively, and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, they actually appeared in these years. The work of turning this
- XLI (1891), 197. For other reviews of Poems by the Way see the Athena͜eum, No. 3359 (March 12, 1892), 336-338; the Critic, XXI (1892), 2; and the Nation, LV (1892), 11.
- For these poems see Collected Works, IX, 121-123, 150-153, 106-107, and 139.
long history into English, which had been begun in the early 1870’s, was not actually completed until April, 1895;1 the task of editing this Icelandic masterpiece was not finished by Magnússon until 1905, nine years after Morris’s death.
The first volume contains Morris and Magnússon’s translation of Snorri Sturluson’s Preface and of the first six sagas of the Heimskringla; at the end of the book we find thirty pages devoted to the explanation of the more obscure kennings found in the “visur” in these tales, and neatly folded in a pocket on the inside of the back cover there is a large map of Norway, measuring 27 ½ by 17 ½ inches. The second volume – that is, Volume IV of The Saga Library – is given up entirely to the rendering of The Story of Olaf the Holy, the Son of Harald; the explanations of the kennings occupy the last fourteen pages. The third volume gives us Morris and Magnússon’s English version of the remaining nine sagas, together with their interpretations of the metaphors. Except for these sections on the kennings, there is no explanatory matter in these books; all this material was reserved for the last volume, which, as I have stated above, was prepared entirely by Magnússon and therefore does not really concern this study. I should like to say, however, that this final volume is an excellent piece of work; it includes a Preface, in which Magnússon gives much valuable information regarding his meeting with Morris and their method of translating the sagas, a 73-page discussion of Snorri Sturluson, first as a chief and secondly as an author, a 238-page index of persons and peoples, a 54-page index of places, a 223-page index of subjects, and 15 genealogical tables.
- See Mackail, William Morris, II, 313.
The last four volumes of The Saga Library met with a distinctly favorable reception in the contemporary reviews. Morris’s choice of diction was of course adversely criticized, but most of the reviewers seem by this time to have become convinced of the utter hopelessness of attempting to induce Morris to give up the use of an archaic style for his translations and to have grown tired of finding fault with his peculiar language, for most of them passed over this matter with little more than a word of censure. As a rule they praised the translators for the accuracy fo their rendering and for their choice of material; the critics considered the making of a new literal translation of the Heimskringla definitely worth while, not only because of the pleasure English readers would derive from a work of such literary excellence but also because of the valuable information Englishmen would find in this history concerning the early days of their own nation and the origins of their own race.
The reviewer of the first volume of the Heimskringla in the Nation says of it,
The present translation is noteworthy, wholly apart from other considerations, in that it is the first English version directly from the original Icelandic, Laing’s having been made at second hand from Danish. With all its idiosyncrasies of diction (and they are, after all, but that), this is a distinct gain in fidelity to the original text, and after the dialect has been mastered the value of the ‘Heimskringla’ as history, and the charm of its telling, appeal to one with renewed force. From either point of view, there is nothing at all comparable to it in matter and manner in the early literature of any of the kindred nations. Chronicles there are in plenty, but this, subsequent to the mythical Ynglinga Saga at the beginning of the work, is real history written with precision and a rare degree of feeling and finish. 1
- LVIII(1894), 472.
A few lines later this critic says, “…Snorri makes his Sagas read like an historical novel, only without the exaggerated phraseology and melodramatic action characteristic of that class of works.” 1 Although he praises the book in this enthusiastic manner, the writer of this article is not blind to the faults of Morris and Magnússon’s work. Besides criticizing the type of diction used, he points out that “there are some few instances of infelicitous translation”; these matters I shall discuss later in this study. 2
Other discussions of the volumes under consideration appeared in the Saturday Review for March 11, 1893, 3 September 1, 1894, 4 and May 19, 1906. 5 The first two articles, which deal with Volumes I and II, are given up almost entirely to an enumeration of the most interesting and colorful incidents described in these parts of the Heimskringla. Apart from the archaic style of the translation, which is discussed very briefly, the only defect pointed out in these two reviews is the lack of any guide to the historical background of the sagas. In the first article the writer says, “It would be well if Messrs. Morris and Magnússon would head their pages with dates, when dates are known”; 6 in the second we read, “We have no maps and no dates. 7 A brief preface might readily have supplied the reader with dates and recognizable historical landmarks; but he is left to wander darling amon the family traditions which are the
- LVIII(1894), 472.
- See below, page 562.
- LXXV (1893), 272-273.
- LXXVIII(1894), 238-239.
- CI(1906), 621-622.
- LXXV(1893), 373.
- The reviewer has evidently forgotten the excellent map included in the first volume.
 writer’s materials.” 1 It cannot be denied that the average reader would better able to follow the Heimskringla account if a few dates, or at least approximate dates, were given here and there, so that he could connect the events here described with other historical incidents known to him. The last review mentioned above was written in 1906, shortly after Magnússon had published his volume of explanatory matter; the writer, however, devotes very little attention to this particular volume, discussing instead the importance and the value of the Heimskringla to modern readers. Calling attention to the striking similarity in temperament between the early Norsemen and the Englishmen of to-day, he says,
In these stark Northmen we see the source of one of the noblest if most unprofitable traits in our national character, the refusal to the point of perversity to admit the existence of treachery in a friend, and utter recklessness in the conduct of a point of honour…. Again when the man sins he knows his iniquity and does not repent, but drains the cup and take s the punishment when it comes without complaint. Something of the special character of the English gentlemen, for good and for evil, has come to our race from the Northmen. 2 He points out that frequent references to early England are found in the Heimskringla, and says that to read “The Story of Harald the Hardredy,” “who fought for the Miklegarth Emperors in Sicily and Africa, who fell in conflict with the other Harald, Godwinson, at the fatal battle of Stamforth Bridge, but for which there might have been no Norman Conquest, is to gain a new sense of the unity of history.” 3 He forcefully sums up the main points of his article in the last paragraph:
The Heimskringla and its kindred Sagas should be part fo the liberal education of every boy, not only for their racial connexion and historic value, but because they provide the finest story-telling
- LXXVIII(1894), 238.
- CI(1906), 622.
Please note that note 3 is cut off from the bottom of the page.
in the world-noble literature instinct with art and enjoyment, besides which the Morte d’Arthur, the stories of Charlemagne, or the Tale of Troy itself, seems thin and artificial. 1
From 1890, when The Story of the Glittering Plain appeared, until 1894, when he issued The Wood Beyond the World, Morris published no prose romances. During these years he devoted by far the greater part of his time and energy to the work of the Kelmscott Press, which he had begun early in 1890 after he had become seriously interested in the making of beautiful books and had become convinced that he would never get books produced according to the high standards he demanded unless he printed them himself. 2 Nevertheless, although this new undertaking, expecially during the first year or two, left him very little time for his literary work, he did succeed not only in finishing his Heimskringla translation for The Saga Library but also in carrying on his romance writing; in addition to The Wood Beyond the World, which, as I just stated, he published in 1894, he wrote during these years The Well at the World’s End, the longest by far of all his tales, and began several others. The Well was composed in 1892 and 1893, and a cheap edition of the work was printed at the Chiswick Press at the end of 1893; this issue was not distributed at this time, however for it was to be preceded by a Kelmscott Press edition, and this work was not finished until 1896. 3 I shall postpone by discussion of the few Scandinavian elements found in this story until later, when I deal with Morris’s activities in 1896; I should like to state here, however, that this tale is a pure
- CI(1906), 622.
- For an account of the founding of the Kelmscott Press see Mackail, William Morris, II, 247-256.
- See Collected Works, XVIII, xxx and xxxvii.
romance and marks a definite advance in the movement, already noted in these prose narratives, from the style of the epic to that of the romance.
Before passing on to The Wood Beyond the World, I should like to point out that in 1893 Morris and Ernest Belfort Bax collected and republished with extensive revisions and numerous additions the articles they had printed in the Commonweal under the title “Socialism from the Root Up,” and that in this book, which they called Socialism: Its Growth & Outcome, we find in the material added to the original essays two brief Scandinavian allusions, both of which are almost certainly to be credited to Morris. In one of the first chapters the collaborators illustrate their statement “that the earlier stages of a new social development always show the characteristic evils of the incoming system” by pointing out that “in all early civilised communities…usury and litigation are rampant, as, smongst other instances, the elaborated account of the life of the time given in the Icelandic sagas shows us”; 1 towards the end of the book, in a discussion of money, they explain in a footnote that there are transitional stages between barter pure and simple and exchange operated by a universal equivalent, which only partly fulfilled this office: e. g. cattle, in the primitive ancient period, from which the name for money (pecunia) is derived; or ordinary woolen cloth, as in the curious and rather elaborate currency of the Scandinavians before coin was struck in Norway: which currency, by the way, has again, in the form of blankets, been used even in our own times in the Hudson Bay Territory.2
References to lawsuits are of course extremely common in the sagas, and Morris must have met with accounts of prosecutions at the Thing in almost every saga he had read; allusions to the lending of money
- Page 41.
- Page 249.
at interest are less frequent, but there is at least one reference to this practice in sagas with which we know Morris was familiar. 1 With the early Scandinavian use of cloth as a unit measure he had already in The Roots of the Mountains shown himself acquainted, as we have seen above. 2
The Wood Beyond the World, which was published in 1894 and is the fourth in order of publication but actually the fifth in order of composition in the series of eight prose romances which Morris produced between 1888 and 1896, is, like The Well at the World’s End, a pure romance. Nevertheless, we find in this story, just as we did in The Glittering Plain and shall do in The Well, a few details that Morris seems to have borrowed from his Icelandic reading. Thus, there is one allusion to the custom of “hanselling”; 3 one of the tribes described holds a “Mote”4 or, as it is once called, a “Man-mote”; 5 and at the Mote-stead there is a “doom-ring.” 6 These matters I have already discussed in detail in my treatment of the earlier romances. 7 Furthermore, just as in the previous tales, there are several very vivid descriptions of mountain-scenery which, though to a less striking degree than in The Roots of the Mountains and The Story of the Glittering Plain, recall the mountainous country through which Morris travelled on his tours of Iceland. 8 In this story we
- See, for example, The Saga Library, I, 126, 11.28-29. For an account of usury among the early Scandinavians see Mary W. Williams, Social Scandinavia in the Viking Age (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920), pp. 232-233 and the references to Norse lawbooks given there.
- See above, pages 326-327.
- See Collected Works, XVII, 61, 1.3.
- See ibid., XVII, 105, 11.6, 7, 22, and 27; 106, 1.23; and 107, 1.6.
- See ibid., XVII, 108, 1.6.
- See ibid., XVII, 98, 1.23; 100, 11.22 and 26; 103, 1.14; 104, 11.14 and 31; and 105, 1.1.
Please note that notes 7 and 8 are cut off from the bottom of the page.
also find a reference to an interesting early Scandinavian custom which had not been mentioned in the first three romances. When Walter, the hero of the tale, has slain the hideous, evil dwarf who guarded the Queen of the enchanted land into which he had wandered, the heroine, who is well versed in the black art, tells Walter to cut off the dwarf’s head and place it by his buttocks before burying him, in order to prevent his ghost from walking. 1 This device was one of the common methods in early Scandinavia of “laying a ghost”; Morris had long been acquainted with this custom, for in the Grettis saga, one of the first Icelandic stories he translated, Grettir follows this procedure in putting a definite end both to Karr the Old and to the fiend Glamr. 2 Beyond these matters there is nothing in this tale which can be traced to Morris’s Scandinavian studies.
In the summer of 1895, at the same time as the last volume of Heimskringla translation appeared in The Saga Library, Morris published another prose romance, this one being called Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair. 3 As had been pointed out, 4 the central theme of this tale is the same as that of the Middle English metrical romance The Lay of Havelok the Dane; 5 however, Morris has treated this theme in an entirely new manner, so that his finished story is
- See Collected Works, XVII, 82, 11.21-24.
- See ibid., VII, 40. 11.12-14 and 90, 11.32-34.
- For an account of the first edition see ibid., XVII, xlv.
- See, for example, ibid., XVII, xxxix and Aymer Vallance, William Morris: His Art His Writings and His Public Life (London, 1897), p. 371.
- Edd. F. Madden and Walter W. Skeat (Early English Text Society, Extra Series, IV, London, 1868).
completely different from the original romance. He has even altered the nationality of his hero, making Christopher the son of the king of Oakenrealm instead of the son of the King of Denmark as Havelok was, and as a consequence of this change he has been forced to discard entirely the Danish setting found in parts of the Middle English romance. 1
In telling this story, Morris has adopted the style of the romance, as he did in The Story of the Glittering Plain, The Well at the World’s End, and The Wood Beyond the World, instead of the method of the epic, towards which he tended in The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains. However, in the tale under consideration he has given a perfectly realistic background to his narrative, completely excluding the supernatural element which plays a very important part in the third, fourth, and fifth of his romances; it is consequently not surprising to find that in his descriptions of the life of the people about whom he is here writing, he has introduced many of the same details which he borrowed from the Icelandic sagas and inserted into his first two romances.
Thus, just as in The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains, the people of this new tale meet in public gatherings called “Motes” 2 or “Folk-motes”; 3 at the Mote-stead there is a hill or mound for the speaker; 4 and before the business of the assembly is
- See The Lay of Havelok, pp. 11-23 and 44-71.
- See Collected Works, XVII, 162, 1.28; 221, 1.2; 222, 1.32; 223, 1.28; 225, 1.17; and 260, 1.9. See also above, page 321.
- See Collected Works, XVII, 135, 1.7; 162, 1.25; and 163, 1.10. See also above, pages 307 and 321.
- See Collected Works, XVII, 163, 1.10 and 22, 1.27. See also above, page 307.
begun, the Mote is “hallowed in.” 1 When the leaders of the people want to raise an army, they summon the able-bodied warriors by “shearing up the war-arrow” and circulating it among the tribes. 2 On one occasion, when two hostile armies are about to engage in battle, the leader of one host challenges the captain of the other to single combat on a “hazelled field” on an island. 3 Two of the houses described recall the halls of the early Norsemen; 4 definitely Scandinavian are the “shut-beds” referred to in the account of one of them. 5 At one point in the tale we find an alliterative formula, similar in nature to some of the formulae given in The Roots of the Mountains and The Story of the Glittering Plain, used as a vow. 6 Finally, as Biber points out in his Studien zu William Morris’ Prose-Romances, some of the place-names Morris uses show Scandinavian influence. 7 There are no new Norse features introduced into this romance.
In the same year as Child Christopher appeared. Morris wrote his seventh romance, The Water of the Wondrous Isles, but this tale was not published until 1897, a few months after his death. 8 It should also be noted that in 1895, when the Kelmscott Chaucer, the masterpiece of the new press, was rapidly nearing completion, Morris
- See Collected Works, XVII, 162, 11.28-29; 221, 1.2; and 222, 11.32-33. See also above, pages 308 and 322-325.
- See Collected Works, XVII, 223, 11.26-28 and 34-36 and 227, 11.31-32. See also above, page 309.
- See Collected Works, XVII, 231, 1.35-232, 1.1 and 233, 1.37-324, 1.1. See also above, page 308.
- See Collected Works, XVII, 159, 1.23-160, 1.7 and 167, 11.19-25. See also above, pages 308 and 327.
- See Collected Works, SVII, 167, 1.24. See also above, page 328.
Please note that notes 6, 7, and 8 are cut off from the bottom of the page.
began thinking of printing at the Kelmscott Press an elaborate folio edition of his Sigurd the Volsung, with a number of pictures by Burne-Jones; 1 this work, however, was barely begun when the end came to Morris early in October, 1896.
Before passing on to my discussion of The Well at the World’s End, which appeared early in 1896, I should like to call attention to an interesting remark Morris made in a letter dating from August, 1895; he writes,
I was thinking just now how I have wasted the many times when I have been ‘hurt’ and (especially of late years) have made no sign, but swallowed down by sorrow and anger, and nothing done. Whereas if I had but gone to bed and stayed there for a month or two and declined taking any part in life, as indeed on such occasions I have felt very much disinclined to do, I can’t help thinking that it might have been very effective. Perhaps you remember that this game was tried by some of my Icelandic heroes, and seemingly with great success. But I admit that it wants to be done well. 2
The “Icelandic heroes” to whom Morris is here referring are evidently Egil Skallagrimsson and Howard the Halt. When Egil’s son Boðvar was drowned, it will be remembered, Egil buried him in Skallagrim’s howe and then took to his bed, refusing to get up or to eat for three days, until his daughter Dorgerðr tricked him into drinking mild and then induced him to compose a poem on Bőðvar and to arrange a funeral feast for him. 3 Howard the Halt, however, far outdid Egil in this respect, if we are to believe the Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings, for that tale relates that Howard went to bed after the slaying of his son Olaf and stayed there for three years, except for the two days on
- See Mackail, William Morris, II, 319 and 320.
- Ibid., II, 318-319.
- Sagan af Agli Skallagrímssyni, pp. 194-200.
which he made unsuccessful attempts to secure atonement from Thorbiorn Thiodreksson, his son’s slayer. 1 A few lines later in the same letter we find Morris quoting an Icelandic proverb; after lamenting the ruthless destruction of beauty that was going on all around him, he exclaims, “The world had better say, ‘Let us be through with it and see what will come after it.’ In the meantime I can do nothing but a little Anti-Scrape – sweet to eye while seen.” 2 He here clearly had in mind the Icelandic proverb “unir auga meðan á sér,” which occurs in the Völsunga saga 3 and which he had rendered, in his translation of this tale, in exactly this form; 4 the proverb is not found outside Scandinavia, so far as I have been able to ascertain.
The Well at the World’s End, which, as I have already pointed out, was written during 1892 and 1893, was published in the spring or 1896. 5 As I have previously stated, this story is a pure romance, a tale of wonderful lands and marvellous adventures, of fair ladies, sturdy knights, wandering minstrels, walled towns, perilous forests, and a magic spring. A few of the details which we have found that Morris borrowed from his Scandinavian reading and introduced into his other romances appear in this story also, but as in the other “pure romances” these features do not really form an integral part of the
- See The Saga Library, I, 18-27.
- Mackail, op. cit., II, 319.
- See Fornaldar Sögur Nordrlanda, I, 125, 1.6.
- See Collected Works, VII, 298, 1.16.
- See ibid., XVIII, xxxvii.
the pair, he greets them, and the old carle sings a song, recalling the days of old when he was young, revelling with his companions; at the end of the stanza occur the lines
Though the wild wind might splinter
The oak-tree of Thor,
The hank of mid-winter
But beat on the door. 1
In calling the oak the tree of Thor, Morris is making a slight error, for it was not the oak but the rowan, or mountain-ash, which was sacred to Thor. Of course, the oak was considered by the early Scandinavians to be a holy tree, 2 and it was probably this fact that led Morris to make the mistake of referring to it as the tree of Thor in particular. I should also like to point out here that the dimeter couplets used in this quotation are employed in all the poetical passages in this romance; however, Morris does not introduce so much alliteration nor so many kennings in these verses as in some of the poems in The House of the Wolfings and The Sundering Flood, so that the resemblance to the Old Norse poetry is here not so great. After a short pause the old man sings again, this time boasting of his and his companions’ prowess in battle; of his men he says that
…for Tyr’s high-seat,
Were the best full meet. 3
To Tyr, the Old Norse god of war, Morris refers in The House of the Wolfings also, as I have already pointed out. 4
The King then invites the old man and woman to sit beside him,
- Collected Works, XXI, 298.
- See, for example, Cleasby and Vigfússon, An Icelandic-English Dictionary, p. 119, col. 2, s. v. “eik.”
- Collected Works, XXI, 298.
- See above, pages 310-313.
and they do so. At this point the little baby boy is borne into the hall and given to the King; he places the child on the table before him, takes his spear, and draws the point of it across the child’s face so that it just grazes the flesh and the blood appears, saying as he does so, “Here I mark thee to Odin even as were all thy kin marked from of old from the time that the Gods were first upon the earth.” 1 The custom of “marking a man to Odin” is occasionally mentioned in the sagas, 2 but according to these references a man was “marked to Odin” just before he died, not when he was born; in describing the ceremony as he does in The Folk of the Mountain Door, Morris must either have forgotten the saga accounts or have deliberately changed the details so that he could introduce the rite at this dramatic moment. When the child has been thus dedicated to the chief of the gods, the King places him in his high seat, and exclaims, “This is Host-lord the son of Host-lord King and Duke of the Folk of the Door, who sitteth in his father’s chair and shall do when I am gone to Odin, unless any of the Folk gainsay it.” 3 On the Old Norse expression “going to Odin” for “dying,” which Morris uses in two other works also, I have already commented. 4 Just as the King finishes speaking, an armed warrior bursts into the hall and rushes up to the high-seat, offering to fight anyone who “gainsays” the Folk of the Mountain Door; then “a man one-eyed and huge” 5 rises from his seat
- Collected Works, XXI, 302.
- See, for example, The Saga Library, III, 22, 11.18-19.
- Collected Works, XXI, 302.
- See above, page 310.
- Collected Works, XXI, 302, 1.37.
far down the hall, and calms the young man, bidding him eat and drink and forget warfare this night. Of this one-eyed carle Morris goes on to say that “it is told that no man knew that big-voiced speaker, nor whence he came and that presently when men looked for him he was gone form the hall, and they knew not how.” 1 This figure is of course Odin, who is always represented in the sagas as appearing to mortals as a huge, ancient, one-eyed man; in one of his earliest poems, as I have already pointed out, Morris pictures Odin as appearing to one of his characters in this form. 2
As the night passes, the feasters leave or lie down to sleep in the hall; just before dawn the old man and woman announce to the King that they must depart, and they ask him to accompany them out of the city. They walk quietly over the moon-lit, snowy streets, and pass through the gates unchallenged, the walls being unguarded since “there was none to break the Yule-tide peace.” 3 When they reach the Mote-stead 4 of the Folk of the Mountain Door, the three ascend the mound 5 in the center of the field, and there they stop; the old carle explains to the King who he and the woman are, and he speaks to the King of the baby’s future. He warns him that between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two the boy will be beset by evils of all kinds, and he bids him guard the lad especially well during these years, “lest when his time comes and he depart from this land he wander
- Collected Works, XXI, 303.
- See above, pages 21 ff.
- Collected Works, XXI, 305.
- See ibid., XXI, 306, 1.13.
- See ibid., XXI, 306, 1.15.
about the further side of the bridge that goeth to the Hall of the Gods, for very fear of shaming amongst the bold warriors and begetters of the kindred and fathers of the sons that I love, that shall one day sit and play at the golden tables in the Plains of Ida.” 1 The bridge referred to in this quotation is obviously “Bifröst,” which, according to Old Norse mythology, spanned the space between Midgarth, the earth, and Asgard, the home of the gods. The “Plains of Ida” are of course “Iðavöllr,” which lies in the middle of Asgard. The playing “at the golden tables” is evidently an allusion to the gods’ playing at draughts, which is mentioned twice in the Völuspá. With all these early Scandinavian mythological beliefs and conceptions Morris had long been familiar, for they are described in Thorpe’s Northern Mythology. 2 The conversation between the king and the aged couple lasts but a little while, for presently the two visitors vanish from sight, at the king goes back to the hall alone in the quiet winter night. At this point the tale ends. As I have already stated, the fragment that we have gives promise of a story with a definite Scandinavian background; it is not at all unlikely that, if completed, ti would have bene even more Norse both in subject matter and spirit than The House of the Wolfings.
As I indicated at the beginning of this discussion, there is nothing Scandinavian about the other three unfinished romances that Miss Morris published for the first time in 1914; however, for the sake of completeness I wish to state that in one of them, Kilian of the Closes, there is a reference to “land-wights” 3 and also an allusion
- Collected Works, XXI, 307.
- I, 8, 9, 11, 83, and 84.
- Collected Works, XXI, 259, 1.12.
to a “mote.” 1
The years 1878 to 1896, which we have been considering in the present chapter, constitute what may be called the third period or stage in the influence of Old Norse literature upon Morris’s creative imagination. During the years 1834 to 1870, as we have seen, Morris’s knowledge of medieval Scandinavia and its effect upon his work was relatively slight. It was during this period that he made his initial acquaintance with the history, literature, and general culture of the early Norsemen, first through second-hand accounts in English, and later, when he had acquired the rudiments of the language, through a few of the sagas themselves; as a result of the slight familiarity with the North that he obtained in this way he introduced a few Scandinavian allusions in his poetry and wrote two long poems which were based on Norse themes but which owed little or nothing in spirit and style to the sagas. In the second period – 1870 to 1876 – he steeped himself in the literature of early Scandinavia, gaining an extensive and thorough first-hand knowledge of the sagas and Eddic poetry; during these years he translated almost a score of sagas and composed a number of poems directly inspired both in subject-matter and spirit by Norse works, one of these compositions, Sigurd the Volsung, being considered by most critics to be his masterpiece. Shortly after 1876, however, he dropped his Scandinavian studies, and although the sagas and other early Northern literature continued to color his thinking and writing, the influence that this material now exerted upon him was not only decidedly less complete but also almost entirely indirect
- See Collected Works, XXI, 256, 1.32.
or secondary. During the years 1877 to 1896 – especially during the last eight or nine years of this period – he undoubtedly extended his acquaintance with early Scandinavia, but the Icelandic work he did carry on during this time was on the whole very limited, being almost entirely a pastime of his leisure moments; and instead of producing works which were based directly on Norse stories and which reproduced, in a general way at least, the style of the sagas, he now used his knowledge of medieval Scandinavia merely to provide a background for his tales or to furnish illustrative material for his lectures on entirely alien subjects. In short, instead of being his chief, or even his sole, interest, as it had been between 1870 and 1877, Old Norse became now only one of a number of secondary interests.
It is difficult to foretell just what the course of the influence of the Icelandic sagas upon Morris’s literary work would have been if he had lived longer and had continued to write. As I have already pointed out, there is in the eight tales he wrote between 1888 and the year of his death a general movement from the style of the epic back to the style of the romance, this change being accompanied by a rather steady decrease in the extent of the Scandinavian element in all but the last of these stories. If he had lived and had extended the scope of The Saga Library, as we have seen that he intended to do, the renewed contact with the sagas that this works would have involved might have led to an increase in the Norse material in his tales; but he was so absorbed in his chief interest of the time – the Kelmscott Press – and in his creative writing he had for several years showed
such a decided predilection for the style of the romance – the form with which he began and which seems to have been most natural to him – that it is extremely unlikely that he would ever have produced any more works directly inspired in matter and style by the sagas. In all probability he would simply have gone on composing prose romances for several years, the extent of the influence of his Scandinavian studies varying in each one according to the fluctuations in his interest in the sagas but never becoming great enough to give a definitely Norse tone to the tale as a whole.