28 OCTOBER 1876, Page 21


A FIRST instalment of this new edition of the great English epic has reached us. It contains, indeed, less than half of the text, with an introduction ; but as none of the matter to be given at the end of the book is yet published, we are left for the present in ignorance of the amount of elucidationwhich Mr. Arnold intends to bestow on this unique and most difficult poem. We are there- fore unable to do more than call attention to a work which will certainly be a meritorious one, claiming a more extended notice when complete.

The Beowulf has attracted very considerable attention in recent years, out of England even more than at home. Since Thorpe's edition of 1855, the original text has been successively edited by Grein (twice), Grundtvig, and Moritz Heyne. Mr. Arnold thinks there is room for a fresh English edition of the poem. Of this he, who has carefully studied the previous editions, is undoubtedly the best judge ; and in any case, it is not for the interest of science or literature to keep down the number of good editions of valuable books. Grein's last edition is very excellent, and forms the basis of the text of the present edition ; but Mr. Arnold is able to present a more perfect text through his examination of the single manuscript (of Sir R. Cotton, in the British Museum), and special attention to the size of the lacunae in the damaged leaves, which effectually disposed of many conjectural fillings-in as too long or too short. In other respects, little would seem to be left to be done for the text ; as there is only one manuscript, the chief part of textual criticism, collation of texts, is entirely absent, and the single text has been already several times edited with creditable care and correctness. It is here printed in the usual English style, -which is both more faithful to manuscript authority, and more suitable to an English language, than that adopted by Grein, with the regular substitution of v for w, which makes it look like Old Norse.

Mr. Arnold gives a literal modern prose translation below the text,—not literal in the sense of rendering each old word by its representative in modern English, whenever such representative is not hopelessly obsolete, a practice too often adopted by Old English scholars, with the result of making their version as obscure as the original. Mr. Arnold's translation is readable, good English, and is the best sort of commentary, for its brevity, on a text so difficult as Beowulf. It might be read by one desirous of knowing something of the subject and phraseology of the original, without knowledge of its language ; though, of course, from the excessive terseness and brevity of the original, which a literal translation must reproduce, it has no poetical charms. Beneath the translation are printed the notes, which are terse and to the purpose ; noting all differences of reading and conjectural emendations adopted by the principal editors, explaining obscure or interesting words, and referring to authori- ties on Old laws and institutions. Considering that Mr. Arnold apparently does not intend to follow Grein's example in giving a special glossary to the poem, we have an impression that the notes might with advantage have been expanded into a fuller com- mentary, in which the student would find many things exhaustively elucidated in English, on which he is referred to books in foreign languages, such as Grimm's Deutsche Mythologic,. We are, how- ever, promised a glossary of proper names, which, we hope, will be sufficiently copious both in matter and in the number of articles, and especially include adequate notices of all the allusions to mythological names belonging to the German or Norse stories, such as Ran, Irmin, Regin, and Middangeard.

We have yet to notice the Introduction, which, in thirty-seven

* Beowulf: a Heroic Poem of the Eighth Century. With a Translation, Notes, and Appendix. By Thomas Arnold, M.A. London : Longman. 1876. pages, seems to embrace all that needs to be said on the manu- script, bibliography, date, composition, text, orthography, and metre of Beowulf. The dissertation on the date is eminently satisfactory, and is, indeed, a model of judicious criticism, which seems to leave nothing out of view that bears upon the subject ; and it need hardly be said that to produce these few pages of criti- cism, an amount of labour must have been undergone which, if all set down, might fill a volume. The composition is shown to be not earlier than the first half of the sixth century, nor later than the end of the Merovingian rule (752), and is consequently assigned to the early part of the eighth century. The only part of this subject which we should like to see treated at greater length is the examination of the style and diction, of which Mr. Arnold says, " Another line of comparison, which I hope one day to pursue more minutely, tends to approximate the language of Beowulf to that of some Saxon poems, and to dissociate it from that of others." Considering the important and abiding results which have been attained by this line of criticism when applied to Biblical and other ancient books, and the fact that it is the chief new vein that remains to be worked by the modern critic, we should like to persuade Mr. Arnold to regard it as an essential part of his present task, and not to put us off by indefinite pro- mises of doing something in this way at some future day. No line of investigation that tends to bring out the affinities of so remarkable and seemingly unique a poem as Beowulf can well be spared, and the more thorough and minute such investigation is, the surer will be the results obtained.

Mr. Arnold retains the appellation "Anglo-Saxon," in preference to the newly-introduced " Old English," for our ancient language, and gives his reasons for so doing, concluding that " the language of Beowulf is so far removed from modern English, that it is not worth while to disturb the received nomenclature, in order to impose a name on the ancient literary language which untruly represents its relation to that now in use." It would be more correct to say to restore the original name, in place of one which never had any existence except in the libraries of scholars, for the language was called simply English, and not Saxon. And the continuity of one language from the " Anglo-Saxon " times to the present, which is implied in the use of the term " Old English," seems to us a fact far too firmly grounded to be affected by the adoption (whether after the Norman Conquest or in later times) of immense numbers of terms derived from a French or Latin source. Conquest or no conquest, this process was inevitable, chivalry, arts, and learning coming so largely from Latin lands, and accordingly it affected other countries also. The argument derived from the difference between the ancient and the modern practice as to the invention of words of native or foreign origin in the arts and sciences, appears to us not to touch the question of the quality of the language itself at all. The terms used in the arts depend almost wholly on the special history of each art, and the idiosyncracies of its promoters. Thus while geology, which had self-taught, unlearned men for its first students, adopted and still retains as scientific terms words of native growth, like sandstone, limestone, greenstone, clay, trap, slip, fault, botany and chemistry possess a terminology so exces- sively Latin and Greek that it is necessary to have a pretty good knowledge of the vocabularies of those languages to understand fully what is meant. Similarly in ecclesiastical matters, the Old English had native terms (as Mr. Arnold observes) for baptism, the eucharist, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony, as is the case in the Teutonic lands generally. The introduction of the modern terms (which it should be observed are in Latin, the language of the Church, not in French) is surely due to the in- creased influence of the See of Rome over this country. The first English Church was of Irish, not of Roman origin. If Eng- land came to be in course of time more Romanised than Germany, that surely need not alter our estimate of its language. Besides, Mr. Arnold has failed to notice the number of words on the other side of English and even heathen origin, which the Church had not sufficient influence to uproot,—Sunday, Monday, and the other names of days, Easter, Lent, Yule, to shrive, with Shrove Tuesday, and others.