14 APRIL 1866, Page 16


' SAGAS GISLI THE OUTLAW AND VIGA-GLUM.* To the jaded novel-reader, surfeited with the flirtations of the drawing-room and the sorrows of the demi-monde, we heartily recommend a short course of Icelandic steel. Mr. Dasent adminis- tered it in a large dose in the shape of Burnt Njal. That noble prose epic is too bulky, we suspect, and too full of strange names, to be thoroughly appreciated by any but the student. The interest of the present tale is more concentrated, and it may be perused in an hour or two. " It is" a capital specimen of the smaller Sagas. These works had, been.begtin about 1130 with chronicles of Norway (now lost); aceolinta of the settlement of Iceland in the ninth century, and genealogies of the settlers. But the love of story-telling, always strong in young races, had "never been quenched in Iceland by monastic holy. water ; and the Saga-men, having once learned how to wield the pen, jotted down -many incidents and short biographies which they had been accustomed to recite and discuss at the fire- side' or at public assemblies. • The heroes were almost always of the tenth century, which was before the introduction of Chris- tianity ; but the old creed was very tenderly treated by these Christian ,story-tellers of the twelfth century. From the very first the authors showed great skill in depicting character by a few_84.4es, . and developing it by pithy dialogue. One of the earliest • Sagas,. that of Viga-Glum, recently translated by Sir Edmund-Head,- presents a.strong. portraiture of the worst side of heathendoia. Glum is hard, crafty, and unscrupulous, and yet some- times we'cirulothelji-idmirin,g his savage energy: In his youth he was deeply wrongedrifid One day deeply insulted ; and then for the first time it was noted that he broke into a horrid laughter, the presage of a death-blow ; he laughed till he grew livid, and the tears ran from his eieir like hailstones. - One of his sons inherited * The Story of Cali the Outlaw. From the Icelandic. By George Webbe Dasent, D.C.L., with Illustrations, by 0. E. St. John Hilda:ay. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Dougla& 1866.

Viga-Gluefs Saga. The Story of Viga-Glum. Translated from the Lielandle, with Notes and an Introduction. By the -Right Honourable Sir Edmund Head, Bart., K.C.B. Loudon: Williams and Norgate. 1866. this sardonic laughter. Such vivid touches, rarely found in our own chroniclers, constantly enliven the Sagas, and they are enhanced by the terseness of the language. The idiomatic con- ciseness, however, of Glum's Saga- often makes it hard translate;and we fancy that Sir E. Head has had to depend too' much upon the Latin translation. In one instance at least he' has made an odd mistake. - He says (ch. xxii., p. 84), " Thorvard was a pribient man, and tolerably well inclined to help any one, but he was then -old" (homo callidus, at mediocriter benignus, hoc autent tempore wtate provectus); whereas the Icelandic text means to convey that he was "a shrewd old man, not over good-natured" .

(medallagi godgiarn)—in fact he was a regular mischief-inaker. 'I'he rest of the version is rarely up to the mark, and smacks-too

strongly of newspaper reporting. On the other hand, Sir E.

Head's little introduction is very good and serviceable to the cause of the Sagas, showing them to form the earliest prose litera- ture of modern Europe. He points out also the analogies between the laws of England and Iceland, and some of the dramatic merits of Viga-Glunz's Saga. He has been unlucky in his choice of a hero, for Glum can only please the worship- pers of antiquity. He was a lord of great importance in his own day, but the present age will takd far more interest in that chivalresque commoner, Gisli the outlaw. Criesli's father was Thorbjorn, of Surnaclale, in Norway. His enemies fired his house, and thrice he quenched the fire With sour whey (stir); hence, says the Saga, he was called Thorbjorn Stir.

Mr. Dasent might have added in a note that the designation was more probably connected with sp., a synonym of Frey, he 8fin

god;from which likewise came the name of Surnadale ; and that probably, when Thorbjorn "migrated from Surnadale, and' bought lands in the north-western peninsula of Iceland, he founded the temple of Frey there ; for his son-in-law, Thorgrim, did not be- come priest of Frey until after his marriage, leaving to his brother his own hereditary priesthood and temple of Thor. Mr. Dasent dubs all the family " Soursops." In the original Gisli and his brethren are merely called "sons of Stir" (sing, Stirsson ; pl., Stirssynir). The events of the story must have been local favourites for 200 or 250 years before they were moulded into the beautiful Saga before us. They have been decorated no doubt, and even sentimentalized, but scarcely distorted ; their trustworthi- • ness is supported by other Sagas. It is hard to give nothing but a meagre outline of them, yet harder still to leave them untouched. Let us make the attempt.

The story proper is prefaced, like many of the Sagas, by some account of the family life in Norway. In the first half of this portion, Gisli's uncle, a man of the same name, is the prota- gonist; and it is told how, through a misdeed of his, a curie fell upon the whole family. He had to do battle with a ruffianly Bmirsark, and a thrall lent him a charmed sword called Graysteel; it served his purpose, and he refused to restore it, and turned it against its rightful owner ; they both fell, mortally wounded, and Graysteel was shattered, but the thrall said before he died, "This is but the beginning of the ill-luck which it will bring on thy kith and kin." With the strange infatuation of doomed races they preserved the fragments. After relating this ominous event, the Saga-man sketches Thorbjorn and his sons and daughter. Thorkel," he says, "was a tall man and fair of face, of huge strength, and the greatest dandy. Gisli was swarthy of hue, and as tall as the tallest ; 'twas hard to tell how strong he was. He was a man who could turn his hand to anything, and was ever at work; mild of temper, too. Their sister, Thordisia, was a fair woman to look on, high-minded, and rather hard of heart. She was a dashing, forward woman." The life in Norway ends with "the burning of the old house "and the migration to Iceland.

The District Things (or Assemblies) of Iceland, in the tenth century, settled most of the lawsuits, for at that time few went up to the Althing (or General Assembly). The District Thing was held in the spring, and was presided over by three priests (chieftains who had either inherited or bought a priesthood), and each president summoned twelve doomsmen to constitute the Court.

The cases were usually decided by family influence. Thus it was at the Valsere Thing (in the northern peninsula of West Iceland), in the year 960, the Hawkdalemen carried all their suits. They were headed by Thorgrirn, the priest of Frey, and he was backed by his wife's two brothers, Thorkel and Gisli, and by Gull's brother-in-law, Vestein. Their rivals were only consoled by the words that fell from a wise man, that before three springs there would be a split in the family. When Gisli heard of this, he pro- posed that they should all four bind themselves still more closely. They agreed, and raised a turf, and mixed their blood upon the bare mould, and began the solemn oath of foster-brotherhood. But Thorgrim the priest said that there was no call for him to be plighted so strictly to Vestein, and he drew back his hand ; then Gish drew back also, for the sake of Vestein ; and thus the prophecy began to work its own fulfilment. But the blood-feud did not arise until two years after. At that time Vestein was absent on a long trading voyage. Thorgrim the priest held a farm next to that of his two brothers-in-law. The latter lived in one house, together with their wives ; but Gisli did all the work, while Thorkel idled in fine clothes. One summer afternoon, when the men were in the hayfield, Thorkel hung about the women's room, and over- heard his wife confessing her fancy for Vestein. He sang them a warning stave, and resisting the cajoleries of his wife, brooded over his jealousies in silence. At last he flitted with his portion of chattels to the farm of Thorgrim, the priest. He took with him, amongst other heirlooms, the fragments of the accursed sword, Graysteel; out of this he and Thorgrim forged a long spear head, and the next time Vestein returned and visited Gisli, he was found dead in bed with Graysteel in the wound. Such a deed was not then held downright murder, but only secret manslaughter ; whoever drew out the weapon was bound to track the owner of it, and return the blow. Graysteel was drawn out by Gisli, and in the next autumn it stood in the heart of Thorgrim the priest. None knew the steel except the brothers, and a wizard who had assisted at the forging ; the latter was profes- sionally silent, and Thorkel shrunk from denouncing his brother, but Gisli himself gave the clue, by chanting a stave of triumph in sight of the cairn of Thorgrim. He was summoned to the Thing, outlawed, and driven from refuge to refuge for fourteen years. His life was cheered by his true-hearted wife, Auda ; but he had all the sensitive nature of the poet, and years of danger and suffering told upon his tough heart at last, so that he dreaded the darkness, and saw weird visions, which grew more weird every year. In the fifteenth year he was tracked to his lair on the mountain side ; he turned fiercely at bay, gave eight death-blows, and died singing.

How dull appears this argument when compared with the full text of the story! We might have done better to borrow some of Mr. Dasent's "Introduction," which is itself a masterpiece. Thelast appearance of Graysteel is there described, at a great battle, 275 years after the forging of the spear. The individual characteris- tics are there dilated upon, from those of Gisli to those of the stout boor and his good, shrewish wife, who sheltered the outlawed hero. The rites of burial, such as binding on the hell-shoes, building the death-ship, and heaping the barrow over it ; the legend of the Sun-god Frey, how he would not suffer snow to lie between him and his buried priest ; the games at ball upon the ice ; and the notice of the first dim dawn of Christianity,—these illustra- tions of Northern history are noted so as to attract the most care, less reader. As critics indeed it is some satisfaction for us to detect one omission, if it may be called so. No notice is taken of a curious passage in the first portion of the scenes in Norway. Gisli's father, Thorbjorn, sees his brother, the elder Gisli, setting forth for his duel, and cries out, "Which of us two shall slay the Bearsark, and which shall slaughter the call?" This was a rough joke of course, but it was worth mentioning that the allusion was to a sacrificial calf. Before the commencement of a formal duel, it was customary to have a calf or a bull ready for the victor to sacrifice. The practice is described in the seventy-eighth chapter of Egies Saga.

In his " Notice " at the beginning of his book Mr. Dasent says : —" This English version of the Gisli Saga is formed out of a fusion of the two Icelandic texts which have come down to us, the elder text having been generally followed, and the younger used to supply deficiencies." The fusion has been effected with great skill. A phrase may here and there have slipped out which would have added to the effect, but we have only marked one slight instance ; it occurs in the forging of the spear head. We will quote Mr. Dasent's version, with the missing phrasal in brackets. "So these three went aside together [to the smithy], the two Thorgrims and Thorkel [and they shut up the smithy]. Then Thorkel . brings out the broken bits of Graysteel which had fallen to his lot when they parted their heritage, and Thor- grim forged out of it a spear, and that spear was all ready by even, and fitted to its haft. It was a great spear head, and Pines were on it, and it was fitted to a haft a span long." One of the two Thorgrims was a wizard, and this deed of darkness is ren- dered rather more striking by the mention of the closed smithy. Mr. Dasent's style is now well known ; he has here brought it very near perfection, and we shall only prove how highly we appreciate it, if we point out one or two minor defects. He is de- cidedly too fond of shifting from the peat to the present tense, and back again. This is in accordance with Icelandic taste, but Mr. Dasent actually outdoes the Saga-man. Thus, in the original of the sentence, "He goes home, and got good fame for this feat" (p. 5), the verbs are both in the past tense, and the following verbs are (on the other hand) all in the present:.—" They row to. their ships, and landed on the island, and made a great sacrifice,. and vowed vows for a fair wind, and the wind comes" (p. 18). Immediately afterwards he concocts a passage out of the two texts, and produces it thus (though the verbs are both present in the originals) :—" They had a long and hard passage, and are out more than a hundred days," Sic. Again, he has quite a weaknesn for the name of Ogre, which properly belongs to southern fairy tales. We should raise no objection to his calling Gisli's sword "Ogre-man" (p. 15), if we did not remember that in Burnt Njat he had called Skarphedin's axe the "Ogress [instead of Hag] of war," and elsewhere even rendered Jiitunheim (Ang., Giant-world) by Ogreland,—see his version of the Lay of the Hammer, signed "G. W. D.," in the third volume of Once a Week. The version just. mentioned is a fine one, though hardly so fine as that of the "Fatal Sisters" in Burnt Nal, but both are superior to the stanzas in the present volume. Those on the good Dream-wife are certainly graceful, but most of the others are rather weak. We have tried the hard task upon one stanza, the "Death-song of Gisli," and if we venture to print our own copy side by aide with Mr. Dasent's, it is only because we are persuaded that his failure is as great an ours. We must premise that Fylla is an attendant goddess, here named as if a sort of Vesta :- Mr. Dasent's paraphrase runs Our own is at least a little thus :— closer :—

"Wife so fair, so never failing, "Long for me, the Lord So truly loved, so sorely crowed, Of the rainy drift of lances, Thou wilt often miss me wailing, The Fylla of my fireside Thou wilt weep thy hero lost. Will sorrow, far apart : But my soul is stout as ever ; Yet blithe am I, though blades Swords may bite, I feel no smart : With bitter edges bite me, Father ! better heirloom never For he who got me gave me Owned thy son than hardy heart." The gift of hardy heart."

—(P. 110.)

After all, this interesting story is beautifully translated. Let us take any ordinary passage. When Gisli, for the third or fourth time, has foiled the satellites of Bork (brother of Thorgrim the priest), it is said :—" After that they go away and find nothing, and bid the farmer farewell ; and he wished them a safe journey home. So. they go back to Bork, and are sore grieved at their journey, and think they have got both harm and shame, and after all done nothing. Now all this was noised about the countryside, and men thought it was still the same story, and that Bork had still the same ill-luck at Gisli's hand." Every one must feel how well this. old-world diction is suited to the old-world story. We are sure that Sir Edmund Head has long ago regretted that his Viga-Glumt does not, in this respect, more resemble Gisli the Outlaw. And we conclude by begging all future translators of the Sagas to study under Mr. Dasent.