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HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.
ΒΟ Ο Κ Ι.
The Saxons. I. The old country-Soil, sea, sky, climate—The new country—A moist land
and a thankless soil—Influence of climate on character. II. The bodily structure-Food-Manners—Uncultivated instincts, German
and English. III. Noble instincts in Germany—The individual—The family—The state
Religion—The Edda—Tragi-heroic conception of the world and of man
kind. . IV. Noble instincts in England—Warrior and chieftain-Wife and husband
The poem of Beowulf,Barbarian society and the barbarian hero. V. Pagan poems-Kind and force of sentiments-Bent of mind and speech. Force of impression ; harshness of expression. VI. Christian poems—Wherein the Saxons are predisposed to Christianity
How converted—Their view of Christianity-Hymns of Cædmon
Funeral hymn-Poem of Judith-Paraphrase of the Bible. VII. Why Latin culture took no hold on the Saxons-Reasons drawn from
the Saxon conquest-Bede, Alcuin, Alfred— Translations-Chronicles-Compilations-Impotence of Latin writers-Reasons drawn from the Saxon character-Adhelm-Alcuin-Latin verse-Poetic dialogues Bad
taste of the Latin writers. VIII. Contrast of German and Latin races-Character of the Saxon race-Its
endurance under the Norman conquest.
i. A S you coast the North Sea from the Scheldt to Jutland, you will
mark in the first place that the characteristic feature is the want of slope; marsh, waste, shoal; the rivers hardly drag themselves along, swollen and sluggish, with long, black-looking waves; the fooding stream oozes over the banks, and appears beyond them in stagnant pools. In Holland the soil is but a sediment of mud; here and there only does the earth cover it with a crust of mire, shallow and brittle, the mere alluvium of the river, which the river seems ever ready to destroy. Thick mists hover above, being fed by ceaseless exhalations. They lazily turn their violet flanks, grow black, suddenly descend in heavy showers; the vapour, like a furnace-smoke, crawls for ever on the horizon. Thus watered, the plants multiply ; in the angle between Jutland and the continent, in a fat muddy soil, 'the verdure is as fresh as that of England.'1 Immense forests covered the land even after the eleventh century. The sap of this humid country, thick and potent, circulates in man as in the plants, and by its respiration, its nutrition, the sensations and habits which it generates, affects his faculties and his frame.
The land produced after this fashion has one enemy, to wit, the sea. Holland maintains its existence only by virtue of its dykes. In 1654 those in Jutland burst, and fifteen thousand of the inhabitants were swallowed up. One need see the blast of the North swirl down upon the low level of the soil, wan and ominous: 2 the vast yellow sea dashes against the narrow belt of coast which seems incapable of a moment's resistance; the wind howls and bellows; the sea-mews cry; the poor little ships flee as fast as they can, bending, almost overset, and endeavour to find a refuge in the mouth of the river, which seems as hostile as the sea. A sad and precarious existence, as it were face to face with a beast of prey. The Frisians, in their ancient laws, speak already of the league they have made against the ferocious ocean.' Even in a calm this sea is unsafe. Before the eye spreads a mighty waste of waters; above float the clouds, grey and shapeless daughters of the air, which draw up the water in their mist-buckets from the sea, carry it along laboriously, and again suffer it to fall into the sea, a sad, useless, wearisome task.' 3 With flat and long extended maw, the shapeless north wind, like a scolding dotard, babbles with groaning, mysterious voice, and repeats his foolish tales.' Rain, wind, and surge leave room for naught but gloomy and melancholy thoughts. The very joy of the billows has in it an inexplicable restlessness and harshness. From Holland to Jutland, a string of small, deluged islands * bears witness to their ravages; the shifting sands which the tide floats up
i Malte-Brun, iv. 398. Denmark means 'low plain.' Not counting bays, gulfs, and canals, the sixteenth part of the country is covered by water. The dialect of Jutland bears still a great resemblance to the English.
? See Ruysdaal's painting in Mr. Baring's collection. Of the three Saxon islands, North Strandt, Busen, and Heligoland, North Strandt was inundated by the sea in 1300, 1483, 1532, 1615, and almost destroyed in 1634. Busen is a level plain, beaten by storms, which it has been found necessary to surround by a dyke. Heligoland was laid waste by the sea in 800, 1300, 1500, 1649, the last time so violently that only a portion of it survived. Turner, Hist. of Angl. Saxons, 1852, i. 97.
3 Heine, die Nordsee. Cf. Tacitus, Ann. book 2, for the impressions of the Romans, 'truculentia coeli.'
4 Watten, Platen, Sande, Düneninseln. .
obstruct with rocks the banks and entrance of the rivers. The first Roman fleet, a thousand vessels, perished there; to this day ships wait a month or more in sight of port, tossed upon the great white waves, not daring to risk themselves in the shifting, winding channel, notorious for its wrecks. In winter a breastplate of ice covers the two streams; the sea drives back the frozen masses as they descend; they pile themselves with a crash upon the sandbanks, and sway to and fro; now and then you may see a vessel, seized as in a vice, split in two beneath their violence. Picture, in this foggy clime, amid hoar-frost and storm, in these marshes and forests, half-naked savages, a kind of wild beasts, fishers and hunters, even hunters of men; these are they, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Frisians; 9 later on, Danes, who during the fifth and the ninth centuries, with their swords and battle-axes, took and kept the island of Britain.
A rude and foggy land, like their own, except in the depth of its sea and the safety of its coasts, which one day will call up real fleets, and mighty vessels; green England—the word rises to the lips and expresses all. Here also moisture pervades everything; even in summer the mist rises; even on clear days you perceive it fresh from the great sea-girdle, or rising from vast but ever slushy moorlands, undulating with hill and dale, intersected with hedges to the limit of the horizon. Here and there a sunbeam strikes on the higher foliage with burning flash, and the splendour of the verdure dazzles and almost blinds you. The overflowing water straightens the flabby stems; they grow up, rank, weak, and filled with sap; a sap ever renewed, for the grey mists creep over a stratum of motionless vapour, and at distant intervals the rim of heaven is drenched by heavy showers. There are yet commons as at the time of the Conquest, deserted, abandoned, wild, covered with furze and thorny plants, with here and there a horse grazing in the solitude. Joyless scene, poverty-stricken soil !4 What a labour it has been to humanise it! What impression it must have made on the men of the South, the Romans of Cæsar! I thought, when I saw it, of the ancient Saxons, wanderers from West and North, who came to settle in this land of marsh and fogs, on the border of these primeral forests, on the banks of these great muddy streams, which roll down their slime to meet the waves. They must have lived as hunters and swineherds; grow, as before, brawny, fierce, gloomy. Take civilisation from this soil, and there will remain to the inhabit
I Nine or ten miles out, near Heligoland, are the nearest soundings of about fifty fathoms.
* Palgrave, Saxon Commonwealth, vol. i. 3 Notes of a Journey in England.
+ Léonce de Lavergne, De l'Agriculture anglaise. "The soil is much worse than that of France.'
5 There are at least four rivers in England passing by the name of 'Ouse,' which is only another form of 'ooze.'-TR.
ants only war, the chase, gluttony, drunkenness. Smiling love, sweet poetic dreams, art, refined and nimble thought, are for the happy shores of the Mediterranean. Here the barbarian, ill housed in his mudhovel, who hears the rain rustling whole days in the oak leaves—what dreams can he have, gazing upon his mud-pools and his sombre sky?'
Huge white bodies, cool-blooded, with fierce blue eyes, reddish flaxen hair; ravenous stomachs, filled with meat and cheese, heated by strong drinks; of a cold temperament, slow to love, home-stayers, prone to brutal drunkenness: these are to this day the features which descent and climate preserve in the race, and these are what the Roman historians discovered in their former country. There is no living, in these lands, without abundance of solid food; bad weather keeps people at home; strong drinks are necessary to cheer them; the senses become blunted, the muscles are braced, the will vigorous. In every country the body of man is rooted deep into the soil of nature; and in this instance still deeper, because, being uncultivated, he is less removed from nature. In Germany, stormbeaten, in wretched boats of hide, amid the hardships and dangers of seafaring life, they were pre-eminently adapted for endurance and enterprise, inured to misfortune, scorners of danger. Pirates at first : of all kinds of hunting the man-hunt is most profitable and most noble; they left the care of the land and flocks to the women and slaves; seafaring, war, and pillage” was their whole idea of a freeman's work. They dashed to sea in their twosailed barks, landed anywhere, killed everything; and having sacrificed in honour of their gods the tithe of their prisoners, and leaving behind them the red light of their burnings, went farther on to begin again. • Lord,' says a certain litany, 'deliver us from the fury of the Jutes.' • Of all barbarians these are strongest of body and heart, the most formidable,' --we may add, the most cruelly ferocious. When murder becomes a trade, it becomes a pleasure. About the eighth century, the final decay of the great Roman corpse which Charlemagne had tried to revive, and which was settling down into corruption, called them like vultures to the prey. Those who had remained in Denmark, with their brothers of Norway, fanatical pagans, incensed against the Christians, made a descent on all the surrounding coasts. Their sea-kings, * who
1 Tacitus, De moribus Germanorum, passim: Diem noctemque continuare potando, nulli proborum.-Sera juvenum Venus.—Totos dies juxta focum atque ignem agunt. Dargaud, Voyage en Danemark. "They take six meals per day, the first at five o'clock in the morning. One should see the faces and meals at Hamburg and at Amsterdam.'
2 Bede, v. 10. Sidonius, viii. 6. Lingard, Hist. of England, 1854, i. chap. 2. 3 Zozimos, iii. 147. Amm. Marcellinus, xxviii. 526.
4 Aug. Thierry, Hist. S. Edmundi, vi. 441. See Ynglingasaga, and especially the Saga of Egil.