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I that they would return to to the distrib,
to die by my lord's side, near this man I have loved so much. He kept his word, the word he had given to his chief, to the distributor of gifts, promising him that they should return to the town, safe and sound to their homes, or that they would fall both together, in the thick of the carnage, covered with wounds. He lay by his master's side, like a faithful servant.' Though awkward in speech, their old poets find touching words when they have to paint these manly friendships. We cannot without emotion hear them relate how the old 'king embraced the best of his thanes, and put his arms about his neck, how the tears flowed down the cheeks of the greyhaired chief. ... The valiant man was so dear to him. He could not stop the flood which mounted from his breast. In his heart, deep in the cords of his soul, he sighed in secret after the beloved man.' Few as are the songs which remain to us, they return to this subject again and again. The wanderer in a reverie dreams about his lord:1 It seems to him in his spirit as if he kisses and embraces him, and lays head and hands upon his knees, as oft before in the olden time, when he rejoiced in his gifts. Then he wakes-a man without friends. He sees before him the desert tracks, the seabirds dipping in the sea, stretching wide their wings, the frost and the snow, mingled with falling hail. Then his heart's wounds press more heavily.. The exile says:
Often and often we two were agreed, that nought should divide us save Death himself! Now all is changed, and our friendship is as though it had never been. I must dwell here, far from my well-beloved friend, in the midst of enmities. I am forced to live under the forest leaves, under an oak, in this cavern under ground. Cold is this earth-dwelling; I am weary of it. Dark are the valleys, high the mountains, a sad wall of boughs, covered with brambles, a joyless abode. ... My friends are in the earth ; they whom I loved in life, the tomb holds them. And I am here before the dawn ; I walk alone under the oak, amongst the earth-caverns. . . . Here often and often the loss of my lord has oppressed me with heavy grief.' Amid their perilous mode of life, and the perpetual appeal to arms, there exists no sentiment more warm than friendship, nor any virtue stronger than loyalty.
Thus supported by powerful affection and firm fidelity, society is kept wholesome. Marriage is like the state. We find women associating with the men, at their feasts, sober and respected.” She speaks, and they listen to her; no need for concealing or enslaving her, in order to restrain or retain her. She is a person, and not a thing. The law demands her consent to marriage, surrounds her with guarantees, accords her protection. She can inherit, possess, bequeath, appear in courts of justice, in county assemblies, in the great congress of the elders. Frequently the name of the queen and of several other ladies is inscribed
1 The Wanderer, the Exile's Song, Codex Exoniensis, published by Thorpe. * Turner, Hist. Angl. Sax. iii. 63; Pictorial History, i. 340.
in the proceedings of the Witenagemote. Law and tradition maintain her integrity, as if she were a man, and side by side with the man. In Alfred ? there is a portrait of the wife, which for purity and elevation equals all that we can devise with our modern refinement.
Thy wife now lives for thee-for thee alone. She has enough of all kind of wealth for this present life, but she scorns them all for thy sake alone. She has forsaken them all, because she had not thee with them. Thy absence inakes her think that all she possesses is nought. Thus, for love of thee, she is wasted away, and lies near death for tears and grief.' Already, in the legends of the Edda, we have seen the maiden Sigrun at the tomb of Helgi, 'as glad as the voracious hawks of Odin, when they of slaughter know, of warm prey,' desiring to sleep still in the arms of death, and die at last on his grave. Nothing here like the love we find in the primitive poetry of France, Provence, Spain, and Greece. There is an absence of gaiety, of delight; beyond marriage it is only a ferocious appetite, an outbreak of the instinct of the beast. It appears nowhere with its charm and its smile; there is no love song in this ancient poetry. The reason is, that with them love is not an amusement and a pleasure, but a promise and a devotion. All is grave, even sombre, in civil relations as in conjugal society. As in Germany, amid the sadness of a melancholic temperament and the savagery of a barbarous life, the most tragic human faculties, the deep power of love and the grand power of will, are the only ones that sway and act.
This is why the hero, as in Germany, is truly heroic. Let us speak of him at length; we retain one of their poems, that of Beowulf, almost entire. Here are the stories, which the thanes, seated on their stools, by the light of their torches, listened to as they drank the ale of their king: we can glean thence their manners and sentiments, as in the Iliad and the Odyssey those of the Greeks. Beowulf is a hero, a knight-errant before the days of chivalry, as the leaders of the German bands were feudal chiefs before the institution of feudalism. He has . rowed upon the sea, his naked sword hard in his hand, amidst the fierce waves and coldest of storms, and the rage of winter hurtled over the waves of the deep.'. The sea-monsters, the many-coloured foes, drew him to the bottom of the sea, and held him fast in their gripe.' But he reached the wretches with his point and with his war-bill.' "The mighty sea-beast received the war-rush through his hands,' and he slew nine nickors (sea-monsters). And now behold him, as he comes across the waves to succour the old King Hrothgar, who with his
1 Alfred borrows his portrait from Boethius, but almost entirely re-writes it.
? Kemble thinks that the origin of this poem is very ancient, perhaps contemporary with the invasion of the Angles and Saxons, but that the version we possess is later than the seventh century.-Kemble's Beowulf, text and translation, 1833. The characters are Danish,
nacles. For a grim stranger, Grendel, a mighty haunter of the marshes,' had entered his hall during the night, seized thirty of the thanes who were asleep, and returned in his war-craft with their carcasses; for twelve years the dreadful ogre, the beastly and greedy creature, father of Orks and Jötuns, devoured men and emptied the best of houses. Beowulf, the great warrior, offers to grapple with the fiend, and foe to foe contend for life, without the bearing of either sword or ample shield, for he has learned also that the wretch for his cursed hide recketh not of weapons, asking only that if death takes him, they will bear forth his bloody corpse and bury it; mark his fendwelling; send to Hygelác, his chief, the best of war-shrouds that guards his breast.
He is lying in the hall, 'trusting in his proud strength; and when the mists of night arose, lo, Grendel comes, tears open the door,' seized a sleeping warrior: ‘he tore him unawares, he bit his body, he drank the blood from the veins, he swallowed him with continual tearings. But Beowulf seized him in turn, and raised himself upon his elbow.'
The lordly hall thundered, the ale was spilled . . . both were enraged ; savage and strong warders; the house resounded ; then was it a great wonder that the wine-hall withstood the beasts of war, that it fell not upon the earth, the fair palace ; but it was thus fast. . . . The noise arose, new enough ; a fearful terror fell on the North Danes, on each of those who from the wall heard the outCry, God's denier sing his dreadful lay, his song of defeat, lament his wound. ... The foul wretch awaited the mortal wound; a mighty gash was evident upon his shoulder; the sinews sprung asunder, the junctures of the bones burst ; success in war was given to Beowulf. Thence must Grendel fly sick unto death, among the refuges of the fens, to seek his joyless dwelling. He all the better knew that the end of his life, the number of his days was gone by.'? For he had left on the land,'hand, arm, and shoulder;' and 'in the lake of Nicors, where he was driven, the rough wave was boiling with blood, the foul spring of waves all mingled, hot with poison; the dye, discoloured with death, bubbled with warlike gore.' There remained a female monster, his mother, who like him was doomed to inhabit the terror of waters, the cold streams, who came by night, and amidst drawn swords tore and devoured another man, Æschere, the king's best friend. A lamentation arose in the palace, and Beowulf offered himself again. They went to the den, a hidden land, the refuge of the wolf, near the windy promontories, where a mountain stream rusheth downwards under the darkness of the hills, a flood beneath the earth ; the wood fast by its roots overshadoweth the water; there may one by night behold a marvel, fire upon the flood: the stepper over the heath, when wearied out by the hounds, sooner will give up his soul, his life upon the brink, than plunge therein to hide his head. Strange dragons and serpents swam there; 'from time to time the horn sang a dirge, a
terrible song.' Beowulf plunged into the wave, descended, passed monsters who tore his coat of mail, to the ogress, the hateful manslayer, who, seizing him in her grasp, bore him off to her dwelling. A pale gleam shone brightly, and there, face to face, the good champion perceived
the she-wolf of the abyss, the mighty sea-woman; he gave the war-onset with his battle-bill; he held not back the swing of the sword, so that on her head the ring-mail sang aloud a greedy war-song. ... The beam of war would not bite. Then he caught the Grendel's mother by the shoulder; twisted the homicide, that she bent upon the floor. ... She drew her knife broad, brown-edged, (and tried to pierce) the twisted breast-net which protected his life. . . . Then saw he among the weapons a bill fortunate with victory, an old gigantic sword, doughty of edge, ready for use, a work of giants. He seized the belted hilt; the warrior of the Scyldings, fierce and savage whirled the ring-mail ; despairing of life, he struck furiously, so that it grappled hard with her about her neck; it broke the bonerings, the bill passed through all the doomed body; she sank upon the floor ; the sword was bloody, the man rejoiced in his deed ; the beam shone, light stood within, even as from heaven mildly shines the lamp of the firmament.' Then he saw Grendel dead in a corner of the hall; and four of his companions, having with difficulty raised the monstrous head, bore it by the hair to the palace of the king.
That was his first labour; and the rest of his life was similar. When he had reigned fifty years on earth, a dragon, who had been robbed of his treasure, came from the hill and burned men and houses with waves of fire.
"Then did the refuge of earls command to make for him a variegated shield, all of iron; he knew that a shield of wood could not help him, lindenwood opposed to fire. . . . The prince of rings was then too proud to seek the wide flier with ą troop, with a large company; he feared not for himself that battle, nor did he make any account of the dragon's war, his laboriousness and valour.' And yet he was sad, and went unwillingly, for he was "fated to abide the end.' Then "he was ware of a cavern, a mound under the earth, nigh to the sea-wave, the dashing of waters, which was full within of embossed ornaments and wires. ... Then the king, hard in war, sat upon the promontory, and bade farewell to his household comrades. . . . I, the old guardian of my people, seek a feud.' He let words proceed from his heart, the dragon came, vomiting fire; the blade bit not his body, and the king suffered painfully, involved in fire. His comrades had turned into the woods, all save Wiglaf, who went through the fatal smoke, knowing well that it was not the old custom' to abandon relation and prince, 'that he alone shall suffer distress, shall sink in battle.'
The worm became furious, the foul insidious stranger, variegated with waves of fire, . . . hot and warlike fierce, he clutched the whole neck with bitter banes; he was bloodied with life-gore, the blood boiled in waves."?
They, with their swords, carved the worm in the midst. Yet the wound of the king became burning and swelled; he soon discovered that the poison boiled in his breast within, and sat by the wall upon a stone; "he looked upon the work of giants, how the eternal cavern held within stone arches fast upon pillars.'
Then he said, 'I have held this people fifty years; there was not any king of my neighbours who dared to greet me with warriors, to oppress me with terror. ... I held mine own well, I sought not treacherous malice, nor swore unjustly many oaths ; on account of all this, I, sick with mortal wounds, may have joy. ... Now do thou go immediately to behold the hoard under the hoary stone, my dear Wiglaf. ... Now, I have purchased with my death a hoard of treasures ; it will be yet of advantage at the need of my people.... I give thanks ... that I might before my dying day obtain such for my people . . . longer may I not here be.”
This is thorough and real generosity, not exaggerated and pretended, as it will be later on in the romantic imaginations of babbling clerics, mere composers of adventure, Fiction as yet is not far removed from fact: the man breathes manifest under the hero. Rude as the poetry is, its hero is grand; he is so, simply by his deeds. Faithful, first to his prince, then to his people, he went alone, in a strange land, to venture himself for the delivery of his fellow-men ; he forgets himself in death, while thinking only that it profits others. “Each one of us,' he says in one place, 'must abide the end of his present life.' Let, therefore, each do justice, if he can, before his death. Compare with him the monsters whom he destroys, the last traditions of the ancient wars against inferior races, and of the primitive religion; think of his life of danger, nights upon the waves, man's efforts against the brute creation, the indomitable breast crushing the breasts of beasts, powerful muscles which, when exerted, tear the flesh of the monsters: you will see through the mist of legends, and under the light of poetry, the valiant men who, amid the furies of war and the raging of their own mood, began to settle a people and to found a state.
V. . One poem nearly whole and two or three fragments are all that remain of this lay-poetry of England. The rest of the pagan current, German and barbarian, was arrested or overwhelmed, first by the influx of the Christian religion, then by the conquest of the Norman-French. But the remnant more than suffices to show the strange and powerful poetic genius of the race, and to exhibit beforehand the flower in the bud.
If there has ever been anywhere a deep and serious poetic sentiment, it is here. They do not speak, they sing, or rather cry out. Each little verse is an acclamation, which breaks forth like a growl; their strong breasts heave with a groan of anger or enthusiasm, and a vehement phrase or indistinct expression rises suddenly, almost in spite
i Beowulf, xxxvii., xxxviii., p. 110 et passim. I have throughout always used the very words of Kemble's translation.--TB