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eagles and pale adders;' and the dreadful last day of judgment, when all will crumble into dust, and make way for a purer world, resembles the final destruction of Edda, that 'twilight of the gods, which will end in a victorious regeneration, an everlasting joy 'under a fairer sun.'
By this natural conformity they were able to make their religious poems indeed poems. Power in spiritual productions arises only from the sincerity of personal and original sentiment. If they can describe religious tragedies, it is because their soul was tragic, and in a degree biblical. They introduce their fierce vehemence into their verses, like the old prophets of Israel, their murderous hatreds, their fanaticism, all the shudderings of their flesh and blood. One of them, whose poem is mutilated, has related the history of Judith—with what inspiration we shall see. It needed a barbarian to display in such strong light excesses, tumult, murder, vengeance, and combat.
Then was Holofernes exhilarated with wine ; in the halls of his guests he laughed and shouted, he roared and dinned. Then might the children of men afar off hear how the stern one stormed and clamoured, animated and elated with wine. He admonished amply that they should bear it well to those sitting on the bench. So was the wicked one over all the day, the lord and his men, drunk with wine, the stern dispenser of wealth ; till that they swimming lay over drunk, all his nobility, as they were death-slain.''
The night having arrived, he commands them to bring into his tent 'the illustrious virgin ;' then, going in to visit her, he falls drunk on his bed. The moment was come for the maid of the Creator, the holy woman.'
"She took the heathen man fast by his hair ; she drew him by his limbs towards her disgracefully; and the mischief-ful odious man at her pleasure laid; so as the wretch she might the easiest well command. She with the twisted locks struck the hateful enemy, meditating hate, with the red sword, till she had half cut off his neck ; so that he lay in a swoon, drunk and mortally wounded. He was not then dead, not entirely lifeless. She struck then earnest, the woman illustrious in strength, another time the heathen hound, till that his head rolled forth upon the floor. The foul one lay without a coffer; backward his spirit turned under the abyss, and there was plunged below, with sulphur fastened; for ever afterwards wounded by worms. Bound in torments, hard imprisoned, in hell he burns. After his course he need not hope, with darkness overwhelmed, that he may escape from that mansion of worms; but there he shall remain, ever and ever, without end, henceforth in that cavern-house, void of the joys of hope.'2
Has any one ever heard a sterner accent of satisfied hate? When Clovis had listened to the Passion play, he cried, “Why was I not there with my Franks!' So here the old warrior instinct swelled into flame over the Hebrew wars. As soon as Judith returned,
Men under helms (went out) from the holy city at the dawn itself. They
1 Turner, Hist. of Anglo-Saxons, iii. book 9, ch. 3, p. 271.
dinned shields ; men roared loudly. At this rejoiced the lank wolf in the wood, and the wan raven, the fowl greedy of slaughter, both from the west, that the sons of men for them should have thought to prepare their fill on corpses. And to them flew in their paths the active devourer, the eagle, hoary in his feathers. The willowed kite, with his horned beak, sang the song of Hilda. The noble warriors proceeded, they in mail, to the battle, furnished with shields, with swelling banners. ... They then speedily let fly forth showers of arrows, the serpents of Hilda, from their horn bows; the spears on the ground hard stormed. Loud raged the plunderers of battle; they sent their darts into the throng of the chiefs. . .. They that awhile before the reproach of the foreigners, the taunts of the heathen endured.'!
Amongst all these unknown poets there is one whose name we know, Cædmon, perhaps the old Cædmon who wrote the first hymn; like him, at all events, who, paraphrasing the Bible with a barbarian's vigour and sublimity, has shown the grandeur and fury of the sentiment with which the men of these times entered into their new religion. He also sings when he speaks; when he mentions the ark, it is with a profusion of poetic names, 'the floating house, the greatest of floating chambers, the wooden fortress, the moving house, the cavern, the great sea-chest,' and many more. Every time he thinks of it, he sees it with his mind, like a quick luminous vision, and each time under a new aspect, now undulating on the muddy waves, between two ridges of foam, now casting over the water its enormous shadow, black and high like a castle, now enclosing in its cavernous sides' the endless ferment of the caged beasts. Like the others, he wrestles with God in his heart; triumphs like a warrior in destruction and victory; and in relating the death of Pharaoh, can hardly speak from anger, or see, because the blood mounts to his eyes :
* The folk was affrighted, the flood-dread seized on their sad souls; ocean wailed with death, the mountain heights were with blood besteamed, the sea foamed gore, crying was in the waves, the water full of weapons, a death-mist rose; the Egyptians were turned back ; trembling they fled, they felt fear: would that host gladly find their homes; their vaunt grew sadder: against them, as a cloud, rose the fell rolling of the waves; there came not any of that host to home, but from behind inclosed them fate with the wave. Where ways ere lay sea raged. Their might was merged, the streams stood, the storm rose high to heaven ; the loudest army. cry the hostile uttered ; the air above was thickened with dying voices. ... Ocean raged, drew itself up on high, the storms rose, the corpses rolled.'3
Is the song of the Exodus more abrupt, more vehement, or more savage ? These men can speak of the creation like the Bible, because they speak of destruction like the Bible. They have only to look into their own minds, in order to discover an emotion sufficiently strong to raise their souls to the height of their Creator. This emotion existed
already in their pagan legends; and Cædmon, in order to recount the origin of things, has only to turn to the ancient dreams, such as have been preserved in the prophecies of the Edda.
There had not here as yet, save cavern-shade, aught been ; but this wide abyss stood deep and dim, strange to its Lord, idle and useless ; on which looked with his eyes the King firm of mind, and beheld those places void of joys ; saw the dark cloud lower in eternal night, swart under heaven, dark and waste, until this worldly creation through the word existed of the Glory-King. ... The earth as yet was not green with grass ; ocean cover'd, swart in eternal night, far and wide the dusky ways.'?
In this manner will Milton hereafter speak, the descendant of the Hebrew seers, last of the Scandinavian seers, but assisted in the development of his thought by all the resources of Latin culture and civilisation. And yet he will add nothing to the primitive sentiment. Religious instinct is not acquired ; it belongs to the blood, and is inherited with it. So it is with other instincts; pride in the first place, indomitable self-conscious energy, which sets man in opposition to all domination, and inures him against all grief. Milton's Satan exists already in Cædmon's, as the picture exists in the sketch; because both have their model in the race; and Cædmon found his originals in the northern warriors, as Milton did in the Puritans:
“Why shall I for his favour serve, bend to him in such vassalage? I may be a god as he. Stand by me, strong associates, who will not fail me in the strife. Heroes stern of mood, they have chosen me for chief, renowned warriors ! with such may one devise counsel, with such capture his adherents ; they are my zealous friends, faithful in their thoughts; I may be their chieftain, sway in this realm ; thus to me it seemeth not right that I in aught need cringe to God for any good; I will no longer be his vassal.'?
He is overcome ; shall he be subdued ? He is cast into the where torment they suffer, burning heat intense, in midst of hell, fire and broad flames : so also the bitter seeks smoke and darkness ;' will he repent ? At first he is astonished, he despairs; but it is a hero's despair.
"This narrow place is most unlike that other that we ere knew, high in heaven's kingdom, which my master bestow'd on me. ... Oh, had I power of my hands, and might one season be without, be one winter's space, then with this host IBut around me lie iron bonds, presseth this cord of chain : I am powerless ! me have so hard the clasps of hell, so firmly grasped ! Here is a vast fire above and underneath, never did I see a loathlier landskip; the flame abateth not, hot over hell. Me hath the clasping of these rings, this hard-polish'd band, impeded in my
1 Thorpe, Cædmon, ii. p. 7. A likeness exists between this song and corresponding portions of the Edda.
' Ibid. iv. p. 18.
3 This is Milton's opening also. (See Paradise Lost, Book i. verse 242, etc.) One would think that he must have had some knowledge of Cædmon from the translation of Junius,
course, debarr'd me from my way; my feet are bound, my hands manacled, .i. so that with aught I cannot from these limb-bonds escape.''
As there is nothing to be done against God, it is with His new creature, man, that he must busy himself. To him who has lost everything, vengeance is left; and if the conquered can enjoy this, he will find himself happy; "he will sleep softly, even under his chains.'
VII. Here the foreign culture ceased. Beyond Christianity it could not graft upon this barbarous stock any fruitful or living branch. All the circumstances which elsewhere softened the wild sap, failed here. The Saxons found Britain abandoned by the Romans ; they had not yielded, like their brothers on the continent, to the ascendency of a superior civilisation; they had not become mingled with the inhabitants of the land; they had always treated them like enemies or slaves, pursuing like wolves those who escaped to the mountains of the west, oppressing like beasts of burden those whom they had conquered with the land. While the Germans of Gaul, Italy, and Spain became Romans, the Saxons retained their language, their genius and manners, and created in Britain a Germany outside of Germany. A hundred and fifty years after the Saxon invasion, the introduction of Christianity and the dawn of security attained by a society inclining to peace, gave birth to a kind of literature; and we meet with the venerable Bede, and later on, Alcuin, John Scotus Erigena, and some others, commentators, translators, teachers of barbarians, who tried not to originate but to compile, to pick out and explain from the great Greek and Latin encyclopedia something which might suit the men of their time. But the wars with the Danes came and crushed this humble plant, which, if left to itself, would have come to nothing.? When Alfred 3 the Deliverer became king, there were very few ecclesiastics,' he says,
on this side of the Humber, who could understand in English their own Latin prayers, or translate any Latin writing into English. On the other side of the Humber I think there were scarce any; there were so few that, in truth, I cannot remember a single man south of the Thames, when I took the kingdom, who was capable of it. He tried, like Charlemagne, to instruct his people, and turned into Saxon for their use several works, above all some moral books, as the de Consolatione of Boethius; but this very translation bears witness to the bar
1 Thorpe, Cædmon, iv. p. 23.
? They themselves feel their impotence and decrepitude. Bede, dividing the history of the world into six periods, says that the fifth, which stretches from the return out of Babylon to the birth of Christ, is the senile period ; the sixth is the present, ætas decrepita, totius morte sæculi consummanda.
3 Died in 901 ; Adhelm died 709, Bede died 735, Alcuin lived under Charlemagne, Erigena under Charles the Bald (843-877).
barism of his audience. He adapts the text in order to bring it down to their intelligence; the pretty verses of Boethius, somewhat pretentious, laboured, elegant, crowded with classical allusions of a refined and polished style worthy of Seneca, become an artless, long drawn out and yet abrupt prose, like a nurse's fairy tale, explaining everything, recommencing and breaking off its phrases, making ten turns about a single detail ; so low was it necessary to stoop to the level of this new intelligence, which had never thought or known anything. Here follows the Latin of Boethius, so affected, so pretty, with the English translation affixed:
.Quondam funera conjugis •It happened formerly that there was a harper
Vates Threicius gemens, in the country called Thrace, which was in Postquam flebilibus modis Greece. The harper was inconceivably good. Silvas currere, mobiles His name was Orpheus. He had a very excelAmnes stare coegerat, lent wife, called Eurydice. Then began men to Junxitque intrepidum latus say concerning the harper, that he could harp Sævis cerva leonibus, so that the wood moved, and the stones stirred Nec visum timuit lepus themselves at the sound, and wild beasts would Jam cantu placidum canem; run thereto, and stand as if they were tame; so Cum flagrantior intima still, that though men or hounds pursued them, Fervor pectoris ureret, they shunned them not. Then said they, that Nec qui cuncta subegerant the harper's wife should die, and her soul should Mulcerent dominum modi; be led to hell. Then should the harper become Inmites superos querens, so sorrowful that he could not remain among the Infernas adiit domos.
men, but frequented the wood, and sat on the Illic blanda sonantibus mountains, both day and night, weeping and Chordis carmina temperans, harping, so that the woods shook, and the Quidquid præcipuis Dexe rivers stood still, and no hart shunned any Matris fontibus hauserat, lion, nor hare any hound ; nor did cattle know Quod luctus dabat impotens, any hatred, or any fear of others, for the Quod luctum geminans amor, pleasure of the sound. Then it seemed to the Deflet Tartara commovens, harper that nothing in this world pleased him. Et dulci veniam prece
Then thought he that he would seek the gods Umbrarum dominos rogat. of hell, and endeavour to allure them with his Stupet tergeminus novo harp, and pray that they would give him back Captus carmine janitor ; his wife. When he came thither, then should Que sontes agitant metu there come towards him the dog of hell, whose Ultrices scelerum Deæ name was Cerberus,-he should have three heads,
-and began to wag his tail, and play with him Non Ixionium caput
for his harping. Then was there also a very horVelox præcipitat rota, rible gatekeeper, whose name should be Charon. Et longa site perditus
He had also three heads, and he was very old. Spernit flumina Tantalus. Then began the harper to beseech him that he Vultur dum satur est modis would protect him while he was there, and bring Non traxit Tityi jecur. him thence again safe. Then did he promise that Tandem, vincimur, arbiter to him, because he was desirous of the unaccusUmbrarum miserans ait. tomed sound. Then went he further until he Donemus comitem viro, met the fierce goddesses, whom the common Emptam carmine conjugem. people call Parcæ, of whom they say, that they