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transference might be effected, in the “most antient and famous history of Prince Arthur,” without violating the probability or disturbing the accuracy of the account: and the same process might be applied, with equal success, to almost every other romance laying claim to an historical character. But though all parties may be agreed, that the sub-structure of these recitals is essentially fabulous, the great point to be investigated, is the æra when each fable first obtained a circulation. Are the fictitious memorials thus united to the names of these several European kings, the sole invention of an age posterior to their respective reigns? or the accumulated traditions of a long succession of centuries, both antecedent and subsequent to the period in which the events are placed ? It cannot be expected that such an extensive subject will receive the discussion it merits, on the present occasion; but as some of the preceding remarks are founded on an assumption that the latter position is demonstrable, the general question may be illustrated by one example out of many, of the mode in which this amalgamation has been effected in Northern Romance.
The life of Theoderic of Berne, the mirror of German chivalry, has been connected in later romance with the adventures of Siegfried, the hero of the Nibelungen Lied. The authentic history of this latter prince is wholly beyond the hope of recovery; but under the more decidedly Northern name of Sigurdr, he has been allowed the same distinction in Icelandic fiction, that attends him in the fables of Germany. In Sæmund's Edda his achievements are recorded in a series of simple narrative songs; and the Volsunga-Saga is wholly devoted to the fortunes of his family. The ground-work of Siegfried's story is indisputably the fatal treasure, originally the property of Andvar the dwarf; but which extorted from him by violence, as a ransom for three captive deities,
receives a doom from the injured Duergr, which involves every after-possessor in the same inevitable ruin as the necklace of Eriphyle in Grecian story. In the Nibelungen Lied the previous history of the “hoard” is wholly overlooked ; and its acquisition by Siegfried, notwithstanding the important part assigned it in the subsequent stages of the recital, forms only a subsidiary argument. The Edda dwells with a spirit of eager yet mournful pleasure, upon the successive acts of iniquity, by which the threat of Andvar is substantiated; and the iron mask of destiny obtrudes itself at every step, with the same appalling rigour as in the tragic theatre of Greece. But in either narrative the hero of the tale, whether Sigurdr or Siegfried, is spoken of as the son of Sigmund; and to him are attributed the destruction of the dragon, and the consequent spoliation of the treasure. A document nearer home, but which has evidently wandered to these shores from the North, the Anglo-Saxon poem of Beowulf, gives a different version of the story. In this interesting record of early Danish fable, the discomfiture of Grendel gives occasion for the introduction of a Scop, or bard, who, like Demodocus in the Odyssey, entertains the warriors at Hrothgar's table with an account of deeds of earlier adventure. In compliment to Beowulf, he selects the most distinguished event in Northern history; and the subject of his song is the slaughter of the dragon, and the seizure of the treasure by Sigmund the Wælsing. We are not to consider this as an accidental variation, either intentionally or ignorantly supplied by the Christian translator or renovator of the poem; the celebrity of Sigmund is supported by the
169 The present text as printed by Mr. Grundtvig, a Danish poet, has the Thorkelin reads,
merit of first making known the connec. Thæt he framsige
tion between this song and the Edda, Muude secgan &c. p. 68.
by a communication inserted in the The manuscript,
Kjöbenhavns Skilderi. (Müller,
p. 381.) It was detected in the first That he fram Sigemunde sheets sent to this country as a specimen Secgan hyrde.
of the forthcoming publication.
mention of his name in other Northern documents. In the Hyndlu-Lioth he is connected with Hermod 16 as a favourite of the Gods, upon whom Odin had bestowed a sword as a mark of his approval. And in the celebrated Drapr upon the death of Eric Blodoxe, who was slain in a descent upon the English coast during the tenth century, and which is perhaps the oldest Icelandic poem having reference to a contemporary historical event, Sigmund is summoned by Odin, as the most distinguished member of Valhalla, to advance and receive the Norwegian king. But independently of this collateral testimony, the song of the Anglo-Saxon scop contains internal evidence of its fidelity to the genuine tradition. The Edda and the Volsunga-Saga make Sigmund the son of a king Volsungr, whom they place at the head of the genealogic line; and consider as the founder of the Volsunga dynasty. It is however certain, that this Volsungr is a mere fictitious personage; since, on every principle of analogy, the Volsunga race must have derived their family appellative from an ancestor of the name of Vols, just as the Skioldings obtained theirs from Skiold, the Skilfings from Skilf, and the Hildings from Hildr. Now this is the genealogy observed by the Anglo-Saxon scop; who first speaks generally of the Wælsing race, and then specifically of Sigmund the offspring of Wæls 18,
163 Gaf han Hermothi
165 Wælsinges gewin-Walses eafeHialm ac bryniu,
ra, ed. Thorkelin, p. 68, 69. Of the IceEn Sigmundi
landic Völundr, the Anglo-Saxons made Sverth at thiggia.
Weland, as they have made Wæls of Völs. Dedit Hermodo
- Any objection that might be raised Galeam et loricam,
to the antiquity of the Edda from this At Sigmundo
circumstance would only apply to the
Introduction to the song, which is conEnsem accipere (ferre, habere).
fessedly of a more recent date. It will This is clearly the Sigmund of the hence be clear, that at the time when Anglo-Saxon scop, who immediately these poems were collected, the fiction passes to the history of Hermod. The was of such antiquity that it had become same may be said of the Sigmund men- corrupted at the source. The authentioned in King Eric's drapr, where he ticity of the Edda certainly does not is conjoined with his son Sinfiotli. stand in need of the additional support (Compare Sinfiotla-lok in Sæmund's here given; but it must be gratifying to Edda.)
those who have favoured the integrity of
From this it will be clear that Sigurdr or Siegfried in the great event of his history has been made to assume the place of his father Sigmund, upon the same arbitrary principle that the Theban Hercules has gathered round his name the achievements of so many earlier heroes. Nor is this perhaps the only mutation to which the Northern fiction has been subjected. The catastrophe of the fable, as we have already seen, is wholly dependent upon the treasure of Andvar; and the founder of the Wælsing dynasty bears a name, which in the Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon language is nearly synonymous with wealth or riches 166.
The great length to which the precedingre marks have been carried, will make it necessary to be less excursive in considering the second of Mr. Ritson's objections; and fortunately the previous labours of Mr. Ellis 267 have rendered these Songs, to find their opinions con- of Kent, and not to a purely fabulous firmed by such conclusive and unim- personage of the same name, will be peachable testimony. Mr. Müller, in rendered probable, on recollecting that the interesting volume so repeatedly re- the events recorded contain no admixferred to in various parts of this preface, ture of marvellous matter. has satisfactorily accounted for the si- ductions are clearly of the same histolence of Saxo Grammaticus upon this rical class, and written in the same sober branch of fabulous Northern history. spirit, with the fragment of Brythnoth; In his day the fiction had become lo- for the Eotena-cyn of Beowulf, over calized on the Rhine, and was received whom Fin is said to reign, is a general by him as a portion of authentic German term in Northern poetry for any
hostile story. (Saga-Bibliothek, ii. p. 401.) nation not of the Teutonic stock. From
16 Upon a future occasion the Editor hence it is desired to make two deducwill offer his reasons for believing that tions: First, that the events alluded to the present song has been transposed are anterior to the close of the fifth from its proper place, to make way for century; and Secondly, that the introan episode upon the exploits of Hengest, duction of this episode into the present inserted at p. 82, ed. Thorkelin. The poem was not likely to be made after subject of this latter document is evi- the year 723, when Egbert expelled the dently taken from a larger poem, of last monarch of Kent and dissolved the which a fragment has been published by heptarchy. For this last deduction more Hickes; and is known under the name of explicit reasons will be given as before the Battle of Finsburh. In Beowulf the stated on another occasion. only actors are Fin, Hnæf, Hengest, Guth- remains to observe, that the Hengest laf and Oslaf; in the fragment the mentioned in Beowulf was a native of same names occur, with the substitu- Friesland, and to ask whether Fin'was tion of Ordlaf for Oslaf. The scene in a Celt? and can the Gaelic antiquaries either piece is Finnes-ham, or Finnes- connect him with any Erse sovereign burh, the residence of the before-men- bearing this name? tioned Fin. That in these we have an 167 See Metrical Romances, vol. i. Inallusion to the founder of the kingdom troduction.
any discussion of the subject almost superfluous. The fidelity of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the execution of his labours-at least his scrupulous exactness in preparing the reader's mind for any important deviations from, or suppression of, his original—has been so satisfactorily established, that we might cite his example as an instance of good faith that would have done honour to a more critical age, and shining conspicuously amid the general laxity of his own 19. The licences he has allowed himself, in the shape of amplification, are to all appearance nothing more than a common rhetorical exercise, inherited by the middle ages from the best days of antiquity : and the letters and speeches introduced, admitting them to be of his own composition, are the necessary appendage of the school in which he was disciplined. To charge him with “ imposture and forgery" for pursuing such a course, is as just as it would be to doubt the general probity of Livy, for a similar practice in the Roman History: and to question his veracity, because the subject of his translation is a record of incredible events, is a degree of hypercriticism which could only have been resorted to by a mind eager to escape con
* Mr. Sharon Turner (in a recent Warton's History: but an absence from work) has persevered in his objections his native country at the period of its to Geoffrey's fidelity: “ Several of Jef- publication, and for some years afterfery's interspersed observations imply, wards, caused him to be unacquainted that he has rather made a book of his with its contents. It will be needless own, than merely translated an author. to add, how much he might have been If he merely translated, why should he benefited personally by an earlier knowdecline to handle particular points of ledge of its existence, and the trouble the history, because Gildas had already he might have been spared in travelling told them, or told them better? He over much of the same ground Mr. assumes here a right of shaping his work Turner has now so agreeably shortened to as he pleased, as he does also when he every future inquirer. While thus readdeclares bis intention of relating else ing his confession, the editor will also where the Armorican emigration. Hist. express his regret at being unacquainted of England, vol. i. p. 448. It is diffi- (from the same cause) with a most valucult to understand why Geoffrey was able Essay on the Popular Mythology more or less a
translator for of the Middle Ages contained in the these omissions, or how such a practice Quarterly. Review for January 1820, could make him an original writer.- and to which his attention was directed The editor has to apologize for not hav- by a general reference in a foreign pub. ing referred to this interesting work of lication, Grimm's Kinder-Märchen, Mr. Turner's in the early portion of VOL. I.