« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
imposing brilliancy of undeserved success, their real effects became visible i. in the next century, when we see Spain experiencing the most mortifying reverses,--acknowledging, when it was too late, the value of those early principles which she had been labouring too successfully to destroy,contemplating at once the decline of her literary and political ascendancy, -and sitting, like Marius in Carthage, a ruin among the ruins she had made.
ANCIENT GERMAN AND NORTHERN POETRY.*
The study of the ancient poetry of the North has now become a favourite pursuit in Germany. Whilst the Germans were groaning under their foreign task masters, their laws, their customs, and their very language, were threatened with extinction. Their common sufferings, as well as their lale unexampled successes, have roused the dormant spirit of German patriotism. They have become conscious of the innate worth and might of their nation, and have begun to prize whatever is peculiar to it with enthusiastic fondness. This effervescent nationality is, perhaps, al present a too little impetuous; but it has had the good effect of restoring their longforgotten bards, as well as the romantic legends of the olden day, to their former popularity: and a kind of poetical accomplishment has thus been given to the old prophecy, that Ariovistus and Wiltekind, and the invulnerable Siegfried would issue orice more from the ruins of Geroldseck, at the time when Germany was in its ulmost need, and again bring triumph and glory to their countrymen.
All nations have had their mythological age, in which the destroyers of mankind have generally found no difficulty in soaring up to the thrones of the celestial regions. The last Odin, in this way, became the rightful monarch of Valhalla; and the statue of the king of the Cherusci was exalted on the pillar of the god of battles. We doubt not but that the bards of Arminius found the defeat of Varus and his legions announced with all due clearness and precision in the dread oracles of the Oak, and, making allowance for change of circumstances, we may safely boast that the hierophantic race is not wholly extinct, even in the present day. Every body knows how skilfully Mr. Granville Penn contrived to discover, within a very few months after the end of the last Russian campaign, that all Bonaparte's bulletins and bivouacks— Moscow, Smolensko, and Kutosofl, and Tchitchagoff, were all lying snugly enough wrapped up in the 38th and 39th
* 1. Illustrations of Northern Antiquities, from the earlier Teutonic and Scandinavian Romances; being an Abstract of the Book of Heroes and Nibelungen Lay; with Translations of Metrical Tales from the old German, Danish, Swedish, and Icelandic Languages, with Notes aud Dissertations. By Mr. Weber and Mr. Jamieson. 2. Alıdeutsche Wälder, durch der Bruder Grimm. 3. Lieder der Alten Edda, aus der Handschrift herausgegeben und erklärt durch der Brüder Grimm. 4. Nordische Helden Romane, uebersetzt durch F. H. von der Hagen. 5. Allnordische Sagen und Lieder, &c. herausgegeben durch F. H. von der Hagen. 6. Der beiden Aeltesten deutschen Gedichte aus dem achten Jahrhundert. Das Lied von Hildebrand und Hadabrand und das Weissenbrunner, Gebet zum erstenmal in ihrem Metrum, dargestellt und herausgegeben durch der Brüder Grinm. 7. Literarischer Grundriss zur Geschichte der deustchen Poesie, durch F. II. von der Hagen und J. G. Büsching. 8. Das Heldenbuch, herausgegeben durch F. H. von der Hagen. 9. Ueber der alıdeuschen Meister-Gesang, von Jacob Grimm. 10. Der Lied der Nibelungen in der Ursprache, mit der Lesarten der verschiedenen Handschriften, herausgegeben durch F. H. von der Hagen. 11. Sammlung deutschen Volks-Lieder, herausgegeben durch Büsching und von der Hagen.-Vol. xxvi. p. 181. February, 1816,
chapters of Ezekiel; and if affairs had not fortunately taken another turn, there was a time when their majesties of Austria, Wirtemberg, Prussia, etc. elc., and certain other of their cashiered compeers, would have had a fair chance of ranking amongst the seven heads and the ten horns, at least in the opinion of more than one acute and learned expounder of the book of Revelation.
There has been as rapid a transition from military fame to romantic fabling in less obscure periods. By ascribing to the successful warrior somewhat of supernatural prowess, the vanquished have been willing to extenuate their shame, and the victors to enhance their glory. When Alexander buried the armour fitted for limbs of more than mortal mould, he had a latent foreboding of the light in which he was to be considered by future generations in Persia and India, who would picture him now mounied on his griffin, and darting through the clouds, and now sunk beneath the billows in his house of glass, and compelling the inhabitants of every element to own him as their sovereign. The pride of the Franks bestowed more crowns upon Charlemagne than that doughty and orthodox emperor ever claimed. And the prowess of Roland must be gathered from the song of the minstrel, and not from the dry historical brevity of Eginhart, where we shall seek in vain for the terrific imagery of the battle of Roncesvalles, in the ambush of the Gascons, and the death of the prefect Rotlandus. The investigations of the historians of chivalrous fiction have been hitherto confined to the romances of the French and their numerous imitators; and the subject, although by no means exhausted, has yet become tolerably familiar. The errant knights whom we have usually encountered, either aspire to a seat at the Round Table, or owe allegiance to the lilied banner: and with these most of us are now very tolerably acquainted. Amadis of Gaul and Palmerin of England are almost as well known to us as Wellington and Bonaparte ; while their outlandish antagonists, the bearded Soldans and recreant Saracens, are about as familiar as the Imperial Mamelukes or the Polish Lancers. The very giants of any note are of our own kith and kin; and, upon a nearer acquaintance, the fierce Morholt dwindles into a tall Irishman, hardly half a foot above the regulation standard of a widow hunter.
It is far otherwise in the national romances of the Germans. We gaze there on strange countenances, and listen lo stranger names : and it is with some difficulty that we are at length enabled to recognise the Gothic and Hunnish subverters of the Roman empire, in the throng of frowning Warriors, who gradually recede from our view, until they lose themselves amidst the remote and visionary forms of Scandinavian mythology. When Europe was overwhelmed by the Teutonic nations, the distinctions between these kindred tribes were not so sharply defined as at later periods. The Christianity of the Germans afterwards contributed still more to separale them from such of the same stock as adhered to their old religion. But whilst the early conquests were going on, they were constantly intermingling. And there is, therefore, less reason to be surprised at the wide diffusion of the fables whose historical groundwork is to be found in the achievements of that eventful age, than at the various disguises which they assume.
The earlist vestiges of the Teutonic story are preserved in the poems of the older Edda, collected by Sæmund Sigusson, who lived between the years 1051 and 1121, which have been published at large, for the first
time, both by Grimm and Hagen (Nos. 3. and 5.) From these the Volsunga Saga was compiled, in the same manner as the prose romances of chivalry were afterwards formed out of the metrical originals. Ther: hero Sigurd slays the dragon Fofner, and wins the falal treasure which he guards. He awakens Brynhilld, the wise, the warlike, and the fair, from the magic slumber into which she has been cast by Odin, and plights his faith to her: but the charmed drink prepared by Grimhilld causes him to lose all remembrance of his vows, and to become the husband of Gudrun, the daughter of the sorceress. The subsequent adventures of the Volsunga Saga, as far as the assassination of Sigurd, and the voluntary death of Brynhilld, may be seen in Mr. Herbert's translations, to which it must be added, that Swanhilde, the daughter of Sigurd, becomes the wise of King Jormunrett, who, deceived by the traitor Bikke, causes her to be trampled to death by wild horses. Agreeing in substance, but with the usual variations of traditionary poelry, the story of the German “Lay of the Nibelungen" is found in the ancient Danish ballads—the "Kiempe and Elskoos viser,” the most important of which have been admirably translated by Mr. Jamieson.
The latest of the Scandinavian works, relating to the German heroes of the first race, is the “Welkina and Niflunga Saga," which was compiled, in the 13th century, from the “songs of the Danes and Swedes, the poetry of the Northmen, and the ancient romances and traditions of the North of Germany." In the very curious ancient preface, the author apologises for the poetical exaggerations of the Scalds, and magnifies the importance of his Saga, “which begins in Apulia, and travels northward to Lombardy and Venice, and Thuringia and Hungary and Sweden, and also into Valland (either Italy or France) and Spain. And of all these kingdoms does this Saga treat, and describes the deeds which were performed therein.”
The Jormunreck of the Edda, the Ermenrich of the German romances, is undoubtedly the Great Ermanaric, whom Jornandes compares to another Alexander : and as the same historian notices the fate of Swanbilld, under the name of Saniel or Senilda, an undeniable proof is thus afforded of the antiquity of the Scaldic rhapsodies. The Arthur of Teutonic romance,
however, is the hero Dieterich of Bern; and he and his companions appear more or less prominently in all the poems which compose the cycle. It is thought that their deeds of high emprize were sung in the “ ancient and barbarous verses,” which, according to Eginhart, were collected by Charlemagne. His partiality for these national legends may have given rise to the traditionary fable contained in the annals of Snorro, according to which he carried his curiosity still farther; for, as he wished to see the very persons of these renowned champions, the Earl Widforull evoked their spectres, who arose obedient to the spell, mounted on their war steeds, and clothed in full armour. The ghostly squadron advanced in four divisions, and when Dieterich came before ihe emperor, they sprung from their chargers, and seated themselves in his presence.' Dieterich was known by his towering stature, and by his shield, upon which, as in his lifetimo, was emblazoned a crowned lion. His right, however, to bear this ancient device of the Gothic kings becomes somewhat questionable, from the induction to the “Heldenbuch,” from which it may be inferred, that the “ evil spirit Machmet,” whom the mother of Dieterich found lying by her side, King Dietmar, his reputed father, was on a journey, had some reason to take more than usual interest in the fate of the unborn hero, who,
prophesied, would breathe fire when he was enraged—a gist which afterwards proved of essential service to him. The spirit also assured her that her son would become “ a right pious hero;"_" and in three nights the devil built a fair strong castle, which is now the castle of Bern."
The city of Verona, to which the name of Bern was given in the Gothic dialects, was the capital of Dieterich's kingdom, from which he was expelled by his uncle Ermenrich, the Emperor of Rome, and compelled to take refuge in the royal camp of Etzel (Attila), the king of the Huns. It happens, unfortunately, indeed, that Attila died in 453, while Ermanaric flourished nearly a century earlier; and the great Theodorick the Ostrogoth was born some years after Attila's death : but, notwithstanding these anachronisms, and the contradictory statements in the romances, which we have not room to notice, there is good reason to suppose that Theodorick is the historical prototype of Dieterich of Bern, -" he, who was the greatest captain known in the wide world, and whose name shall never be lost in the southern kingdoms, so long as the world shall stand." These are the expressions of the romancers, who may well have been dazzled by the fame of the son of Theodomir (Dietmar), when the hostile Greek pronounces him to have been inferior to no one who had borne the Imperial dignity. The phrensy which preceded the death of Theodorick, when he beheld the countenance of the murdered Symmachus in the head of the fish which was served on his royal table, has furnished matter both for the fictions of superstition and romance. At the hour of his death, a Catholic hermit saw the Arian monarch conducted to the volcano of Lipari, bound and barefooted, between Pope John and Symmachus, who join forces to hurl him into the craler. The romantic legends have shown scarcely more mercy than Gregory the Great, who relates the foregoing story. In the “ Heldenbuch," he is summoned to depart by a dwarf who warns him, that his kingdom is no longer of this world,” and then disappears with him “no man knows whither.” And in the poem of “ Attila's Court,” he is placed under the power of Salan, who hears him to the desert
, where, as a punishment for his sins, he is condemned to desend himself against the attacks of three serpents,-a dreadful conflict, which is to continue till the day of judgment.
The flight of Theodorick to the Huns is attribuled, with less chronological inconsistency, although history is silent as to the fact, to the envy of Ottacher (Odoacer), in an exceedingly curious fragment, which, from the language and metre employed in it, must have been composed in the eighth century, and which stands at the head of the history both of German poetry and of German romance. In ancient manuscripts, particularly of the northern languages, it is very usual to find poetical compositions written siraight on like prose, without any breaks at the ends of the verses ; the terminalions of which are sometimes, though not uniformly, indicated by metrical points at the ends of the lines. And this circumstance having been overlooked by Eccard, who first published the “ Lay of Hildebrand and Hadabrand,” he considered it as poetical prose, in which he has been followed by Mr. Weber. The late editors, Messrs. J. and W. Grimm, have successfully regulated the metre of this valuable relic (No. 6.), and 'shown that it is exacily the same in principle with that employed in the Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon; 10 which latter language the dialect of the poem bears a near alliIt is thought that the traditions respecting Dieterich are chiefly derived from the Lombards. But the favourite hero of the northern paris of Ger
SELECTIONS FROM THE EDINBURGH REVIEW.
many was Siegfried or Sifrit, the Sigurd of the Volsunga Saga. Romance kio, ar
soft represent him as overtopping his brother heroes; but they all agree that he became invulnerable by bathing in the blood, or, as some have it
, in the fat of the slaughtered dragon, by which he acquired the name of “ Hörnen Siegfried, i.e. Horny, or Impenetrable Siegfried."
The vengeance which was wreaked on Siegfried's murderers by Chrimhild (who corresponds to Godrunn in the Saga), is the subject of the cele- tas ar brated “Nibelungen Lied,” which in every respect may be considered as one of the most remarkable productions of the middle ages. Madame de
hous Staël, who gives a very superficial notice of this poem, seems to have supposed that it had lately been discovered, which is not altogether correct. Many fragments of it were published by Old Wolfgang Lazius, who quotes tea, thal it as historical authority, with the same intrepidity as he has given a full-stainly length portrait of an antediluvian gentleman in pantaloons and galloches
dal revival of good taste in Germany is, in great measure, owing to the critical writings of Bodmer. He will be recollected as the warm admirer of English literature, which he defended against the objections of Gottsched; and he was also one of the first who attempted to draw the ancient German poets from their obscurity. Having found a MS. of the Nibelungen in the old family library of the Counts of Hohenems, he published the latter half of the poem, under the title of “ Chrimhildren Rache;" for, as to the former half
, he suppressed it, “ for the same reason that Homer did not begin today the Trojan war with the egg of Leda ;” and a complete edition was not
K; and given 10 the public till the appearance of the first volume of Müller's collection of ancient German poetry in 1781. M. von der Hagen, the late editor, bears the name of one of the principal characters in the poem, which Aubrey would have added to his chapter of name fatalities. His second edition (No. 10.), a work of great value and labour,
This national epic, as it is termed by M. von der Hagen, in an appro-
. The story turns upon the adventures of the Princess Chrimhild of Burgundy, who is first won by the valiant Siegfried ; and, after he is treacherously murdered, gives her hand to Etzel (or Attila) king of the luns, chiefly in hopes that through his power and influence she may
on the plan