The Saga Library: Supplementary

Anderson, Karl. "Scandinavian Elements in the Works of William Morris." Diss., Harvard University, 1940. ~ Scan of accessible pdf files.

Discusses the Saga Library, 343-58, 360-65, and 885-91; Howard the Halt, 977-91; and Eyrbyggja Saga 867-84, 885-925, and 949-55.

. . . During the period of his intense public activity and even in the first years of his return to literature Morris seems to have done no saga-translating. In his Life of William Morris the first reference Mackail makes to any such work after the time of Morris’s ardent Socialism occurs in a quotation from a letter which Morris wrote on July 8, 1890: “I have undertaken to get out some of the Sagas I have lying about. Quaritch is exceedingly anxious to get hold of me, and received with enthusiasm a proposal to publish a Saga Library….”2 As I shall show later, Morris seems originally to have planned to make The Saga Library much greater in scope than it is actually is, but the saga-translations which he did include in this collection and which we can accordingly be sure that he was referring to in the statement just quotes are “The Story of Howard the Halt,” “The Story of the Banded Men,” and “The Story of Hen Thorir,” which appeared in the first volume, “The Story of the Ere-Dwellers” and “The Story of the Heath-Slayings,” which he printed in the second volume, and The Stories of the Kings of Norway, which filled Volumes III, IV, and V. Almost all of these saga-renderings, as we have already seen, had been prepared many years before. Thus, the first three of these works were translated by Morris and Magnússon in the early seventies.3 The Eyrbyggja saga was one of the first, if not the very first, of the Icelandic tales that the two collaborators turned into English.4

  1. No. 33, 113(September 10, 1890), p. 12.
  2. II, 247.
  3. See above, page 184.
  4. See above, pages 47-52.

The exact date of the translation of the Heiðarvíga saga is not known, but, as I have explained above, it was very likely prepared during the period 1871 to 1876.1 Morris’s English rendering of the Heimskringla was begun as early as 1871,2 but was not completed in 1890, when he resumed his saga-translating.3 Evidently his work on the Icelandic sagas during the years 1890 to 1895 consisted in revising and preparing for publication the tales already translated and in finishing his English version of the Heimskringla. As I have previously stated, his translation of the Eyrbyggja saga seems to have been subjected to a very extensive revision before it was published in 1892, for the printed text differs considerably from the holograph manuscript of 1868; in fact, the whole rendering must have been rewritten, for the original manuscript could not have been the immediate source of the published work.4 I have not seen the holograph manuscripts of the other tales in the first two volumes of The Saga Library, so that I cannot determine how thoroughly they were revised for publication; probably Morris found less to alter in these translations, for at least three of them,-and very likely the rendering of the Heiðarvíga saga also, were produced after he had become an experienced translator.
Morris’s rendering of the Heimskringla demands a few words of special comment. As I pointed out above, he had no completed this translation when he gave up his literary activities in the late 1870’s and turned to public life, but none of the studies of Morris state

  1. See above, pages 189-191.
  2. See above, page 182.
  3. See below, pages 344-348.
  4. See above, page 49 and below, pages 516-517.

how much of this work he had finished when he dropped it at that time. So far as I know, the only available information bearing upon this question is found in two manuscript catalogues of Morris’s library, both of which are now in the private collection of Sir Sydney Cockerell of Cambridge, England. One of them is a holograph manuscript in two hands;1 according to a note on the inside of the front cover, evidently written by the present owner, this “Catalogue of the library of William Morris at Kelmscott House, Upper Mall, Hammersmith was begun in 1890 by his elder daughter Jenny and was continued in the same year and in 1891 (H 72-91) by Morris himself….”

  1. This manuscript measure 12 ¾ by 8 inches. On the inside of the front cover we find the following note in Cockerell’s hand:

“This Catalogue of the library of William Morris at Kelmscott House, Upper Mall, Hammersmith was begun in 1890 by his elder daughter Jenny and was continued in the same year and in 1891 (H 72-91) by Morris himself. In 1892(Nov.) I was employed to make a more elaborate Catalogue of the manuscripts and incunabula, and this last does not contain the numerous books acquired by Morris  in the last five years of his life.”

On the recto of the first of the three flyleaves is written “Sydney C. Cockerell – given me by Mrs. Morris after her husband’s death.” The catalogue begins on the fourth page, which is a sales-sheet from Bernard Quaritch of London, and runs through page 91; page 92 is blank, but the catalogue is continued on page 93. The first page, the sales-sheet, is not numbered. At the end of the book the three flyleaves are blank; but on the inside of the back cover is pasted a slip of paper bearing the autograph of William Morris, and at the bottom of this cover, in the lower left-hand column, is written “Bound by Katherine Adams at Broadway Worcestershire 1911.”

The first part of the catalogue, from the beginning to page 72, has been prepared rather carelessly; many of the titles must have been written down from dictation, for there are numerous misspellings. On pages 72, 73, and 74 we find two handwritings, the new one being clearly Morris’s, and on pages 75 through 91 all the entries seem to have been made by Morris. The last page, page 93, appears to be in the hand that wrote the titles on the sales-sheet and the first 71 pages. All the entries except those on page 93 are numbered; there are 973 numbered entries in all.

Those pages that are watermarked are dated 1882, 1885, and 1888.

In this work item 837 on page 62 is described as “Heimskringla translation by W. Morris down to the end of Olag Tryggvason 2 vols autograph MS.” This page belongs to that part of the catalogue which, according to Cockerell’s note, was prepared by Miss Jenny Morris; the handwriting is clearly not Morris’s. If this page was the work of Morris’s daughter, it must, according to the note just quoted, have been written out in 1890. The other manuscript is an illuminated book, containing only the beginning of a catalogue of Morris’s library and a fragment of a saga-translation.1 According to a note, apparently in the hand of Sir Sydney Cockerell, on the inside of the front cover, this catalogue was “probably made above 1890.” In this list of Morris’s books the Heimskringla rendering is likewise described as “two vols” reaching down to the end of the saga of Olaf Tyrggvason.” On the basis of these two references it seems fairly safe to assume that in 1890, when Morris resumed his saga-translating, he had turned into English only the “Preface” and the first six sagas of the Heimskringla; in other words, in the late 1870’s when his interest in public life finally led him to give up his literary activities, he had completed only about one-third of his English version of Snorri’s great history of the early kings of Norway.

It is of course possible that Morris had begun his translation of the next saga in the series – the Ólafs saga Helga Haraldssonar-, but had not finished it; if he had completed only a small portion of this section of the Heimskringla rendering in the 1870’s, it would

  1. For an account of this manuscript see above, page 187.

most likely not have been kept in his library and would therefore not have been entered in a catalogue of his books in 1890. In the holograph manuscript of the Magnússon-Morris translation of the Ólafs saga helga1 we find a very interesting situation which is perhaps to be explained by assuming that the two collaborators had begun their work on this tale in the 1870’s but had put it aside during the years of Morris’s public life, and that when they decided to finish their rendering of the Heimskringla in 1890, they at first forgot their earlier work on the Ólafs saga and began anew on this story. In this manuscript Magnússon has written out the original translation, using only one side of each sheet; Morris has made his alterations in the prose between the lines of Magnússon’s version, but has put his verse translations of the “vísur” on the verso of the preceding page or on an inserted sheet. The translation runs along in the usual way up to page twenty-four. Here we find the closing lines of Chapter XX and the opening of Chapter XXI; after the first “visa” in this chapter Magnússon has left five lines blank and has then written, “All this I have done before and sent you, or I am dreaming.” Nothing more is found on this page. Next comes an inserted sheet with Morris’s verse rendering of the “visa.” On the following pages we meet again with Magnússon’s translation; here, however, he does not continue from the point he had reached at the bottom of page twenty-four, but goes back to the middle of the fourth sentence of Chapter XXI, presents a slightly different rendering of the second half of the prose passage and the “visa” found on page twenty-four, and then proceeds in the

  1. For an account of this manuscript, which is now in the Brotherton Library, Leeds, England, see A Selection of Books, Manuscripts, Engravings, and Autograph Letters (London: Maggs Brothers, 1928), pp. 208-209.

normal way. On this page and on the following ten and a half pages, he has written his translation of the Icelandic prose on every other line; then he reverts to his usual manner of using each line. Evidently Magnússon had produced a version of this part of the Ólafs saga at some previous time, but had now forgotten this work and therefore began a new rendering; when he reached the bottom of page twenty-four, he realized his mistake, found his earlier translation, and introduced it at this point, beginning with that page which continued the passage he had just translated although it repeated a short section. In other words, if my interpretation is correct, page twenty-six and some of the sheets following it are part of an earlier translation which Magnússon inserted here when he remembered that the translation he was now producing of the Ólafs saga was his second. Of course, we do not know how much earlier the first translation was produced. The manuscript under consideration, as I stated above, was very likely as a whole written out during the period 1890 to 1894. The first translation may have been begun more than ten years earlier –in the 1870’s- or the second rendering may have been made late in the period 1890 to 1894 and the first beginning only a year or two earlier. It seems rather unlikely, however, that Magnússon would have forgotten his earlier work, if a fairly long time had not elapsed between the two versions; in all probability he had begun a translation of the Ólafs saga in the late 1870’s, and it was this rendering he forgot when Morris resumed his translation-work more than ten years later and decided to finish his English version of the Heinskringla.

The first volume of The Saga Library, the collection of saga translations which Morris had agreed to prepare for Bernard Quaritch, appeared early in 1891.1 The translations proper are preceded by a Preface of forty-three pages, the first seven and a half pages of which, according to Magnússon’s statement in Volume VI of The Saga Library,2 were prepared by Morris. In this section Morris has presented a few facts relating to the history and literature of Iceland in order to aid the general reader in understanding the sagas to be presented in this collection; he has described briefly the events leading to the settlement of Iceland by Norwegians, the wide-spread maritime expeditions of the Icelanders and other Scandinavians, the conditions of life in Iceland which contributed to the production of an extraordinarily rich medieval literature in that country, and the outstanding qualities of the saga-style of narration.3 At the end of the discussion he has divided the Icelandic medieval literature into five groups on the basis of the subjects treated. These five divisions are, first, works dealing with mythology, such as the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda; secondly, romances “founded on the mythology,” such as the Vőlsunga saga; thirdly, “histories of events foreign to Iceland,” such as the Heimskringla; fourthly, “histories of Icelandic worthies, their families, feuds, etc.”; and fifthly, fiction sagas.
Certain remarks that Morris makes in the course of this classification are extremely interesting because of the information

  1. See Collected Works, XV, xxviii, 11.18-21.
  2. Page vii.
  3. It is not necessary to investigate the sources of Morris’s

Please note that the rest of note 3 is cut off from the bottom of the page.


they give concerning his original plans for The Saga Library. Thus, in commenting on the fourth group, the “histories of Icelandic worthies,” he states that “our Library will include all the most important of them”; in discussing the last division he refers to “the story of Viglund the Fair, included in the Saga Library.” At the end of his classification he remarks, “There are other important works that do not come within the scope of the Saga Library; of these are the Sturlunga Saga, the Bishops’ Saga, the Annals, religious poems like Lilja, codes of law like Grágás, and translations of medieval romances….”1 It is obvious from these statements that if Morris had lived longer, The Saga Library would have extended far beyond the five volumes that we have; it is likewise clear that to find time to translate and publish all the works which his consideration fell “within the scope of the Saga Library” Morris would have need another lifetime. There can be little doubt, for example, that he planned to print in this collection those sagas which we know he had translated during the years 1868 to 1876 but had never published,-namely, the Egils saga,2 the Kormáks saga,3 the Vápnfirðinga saga,4 the Halldórs páttr Snorrasonar,5 the Norna-Gests páttr,6 and, perhaps, the Laxda͜ela saga.7 Moreover, the mention of the Víflundar saga as being included in The Saga Library seems to indicate that he intended to republish some, if not all, of the translations from the Icelandic he

These quotations come from The Saga Library, I, xi-xii.

  1. See above, pages 189-191.
  2. See above, pages 180-181.
  3. See above, pages 188-189.
  4. See above, pages 187-188.
  5. See above, pages 189-191.
  6. See above, pages 54-55

had already issued; if the Three Northern Love Stories, in which “The Story of Viglund the Fair” had appeared, was to become a part of this series, it seems to me almost certain that he planned to revise and republish both his rendering of the Vőlsunga saga, which he refers to specifically in his comments on the second group, and his English version of the Grettis saga, which he had produced when he was a very inexperienced translator. In connection with this discussion of the question of Morris’s original plans for The Saga Library, I should like to call attention to certain remarks on the subject that were made by an American critic in a review of the first volume in The [New York] Nation for September 17, 1891:

Mr. Bernard Quaritch has reverted to an old-time interest of his in undertaking the publication of a “Saga Library,” to consist of fifteen or more volumes, containing the leading Icelandic mythological and historical sagas….Of the works selected for publication in the new form, all but the three narratives making up the first volume of the series have been put into English before, several of them by Mr. Morris himself. That there is room for a new edition cannot be doubted, and the editors, whose previous work in popularizing Icelandic literature has secured them a well-earned reputation for brilliant translation, should find a ready welcome for their new venture.1

The writer does not indicate where he received this information, but in order to feel justified in making such definite statements, he must have drawn upon some other source than Morris’s remarks in his Preface. However, one must hesitate to give and full and unqualified credence to this account of Morris’s intentions, for one of the statements made above is obviously incorrect: the reviewer says that of “the works selected for publication in the new form, all but the three narratives making up the first volume of the series have been put into English before…,” but Morris and Magnússon’s translations of the Eyrbyggja saga and of the Heiðarvíga

  1. LIII(1891), 220.

saga in Volume II were the first English renderings to be printed of these tales,1 and one of the stories in Volume I – the Bandamanna saga – had already been translated into English.2 Moreover, it seems very unlikely that, except for the first volume, Morris would ever have planned to include in this collection only sagas which had already been translated. The rest of the account may perhaps be accepted; Morris probably originally expected to issue about fifteen volumes in this series, and it is not at all unlikely that he intended to make his own version of such sagas which had already been translated and published as the Víga-Glúms saga, the Dórðar saga hreðu, the Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða, and the Eiríks saga rauða.3

The rest of the Preface to Volume I of The Saga Library, this part being the work of Magnússon, consists of introductory remarks relating to the three saga translations appearing in this book. The main part of the volume is made up of “The Story of Howard the Halt,” “The Story of the Banded Men,” and “The Story of Hen Thorir,” each saga being preceded by a one-page map of the section of Iceland in which the story is laid. There is an Appendix, in which is presented “An Adventure of Odd Ufeigson with King Harold Hardradi.” Then follow fifteen pages of Notes and three Indexes, the first of Persons, the second of Places, and the third of Subject Matter. Of the three sagas translated in this volume, only the second had ever before been printed in an English form.4

  1. See Islandica, I (1908), 19-20 and 49-50.
  2. In John Coles, Summer Travelling in Iceland (London, 1882), pp. 205-229.
  3. For translations of these sagas prior to 1891 see The Story of Viga-Glum, tr. Head, “The Story of Thorðr Hreða (The Terror)” and “The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey’s Priest,” in John Coles, op. cit., pp. 173-204 and 230-249, and Eirik the Red’s Saga, tr. Rev. J. Sephton (Liverpool, 1880).
  4. As I pointed out above, the Bandamanna saga had been translated by John Coles in his Summer Travelling in Iceland, pp. 205-

Please note that note 4 is cut off from the bottom of the page.

In regard to the texts used, I should like to point out that for their “Story of Howard the Halt” Morris and Magnússon chose the version of the Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings which is presented in Volume XXVIII of Nordiske Oldskrifter,1 for “The Story of the Banded Men” they followed the text of the Bandamanna saga given in Volume X of the same series,2 and for “The Story of Hen Thorir” they used the only

  1. Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings, ed. And tr. G[unnlaugr] Thordarson, med et Tillaeg om Sagaen og Forklaring af Viserne, ved Gísli Brynjúlfsson, in Nordiske Oldskrifter, XXVIII (Copenhagen, 1860), 1 – 53. Magnússon says on page xxii of the Preface to Volume I of The Saga Library that in the main he and Morris followed the restoration of the “vísur” that was undertaken by Gísli Brynjúlfsson in 1860. A comparison of the translation with this text and the only other edition of the saga which, according to Islandica, I (1908), 48, existed in the early 1870’s when the rendering was produced – namely, the one in Nockrer Marg-Frooder Sőgu-Da͜etter Islendinga, pp. 38-58 -, shows, as is to be expected, that they followed the same text for their prose. Compare, for example, the following passages in Nordiske Oldskrifter with the corresponding passages in the other edition and in The Saga Library: XXVIII, 1, 1.2; 1, 1.3; 2, 1.7; 2, 1.8; 2, 11.19-21; and 3, 1.17.
  2. Bandamanna saga, ed. H[alldórr] Fridriksson, in Nordiske Oldskrifter, X (Copenhagen, 1850), 3 – 43. After comparing the Arnamagna͜ean and the Regius texts of this saga, Magnúson says on page xxv of the Preface to Volume I of The Saga Library that he and Morris based their translation of the former; on the preceding page he had pointed out that the Arnamagna͜ean text “was edited by H. Fridrksson at Copenhagen in 1850.” Another edition of the Arnamagna͜ean text was in existence in the 1870’s – namely, the one in Nockrer Marg-Frooder Sőgu-Da͜eeter Islendinga, pp. 1-15 (see Islandica, I (1908), 3) -, but Morris and Magnúson used the one in Nordiske Oldskrifter. Compare, for example, the following passages in Nordiske Oldskrifter with the corresponding passages in the other text and in The Saga Library: X, 3, 1.1; 4, 1.10; 4, 1.19; 4, 11.21-22; 5, 1.24; 6, 1.5; 6, 1.7; and 6, 1.14.

edition of the Ha͜ensa-Dóris saga then in existence,- the one prepared by Jon Sigurdsson for Volume II of Íslendinga Sőgur.1 The story translated in the Appendix deals with Odd Ufeigson, one of the main characters in the Bandamanna saga. Magnússon says in the Preface that the tale is an extract from the Morkinskinna,2 but a comparison of the translation with the version of the Odds páttr Ófeigssonar which is given in this work shows that Morris and Magnússon did not use this text exclusively; in fact, they do not seem to have limited themselves to any one of the four editions then available, but to have followed now one, now another, keeping closest perhaps to the Morkinskinna account.3

This volume of translation seems to have attracted comparatively little attention among contemporary reviewers. The longest discussion of the book was the article in the Nation to which I have already

  1. Pages 119-186.
  2. See The Saga Library, I, xxvi. For the passage in the Morkinskinna, see Morkinskinna, ed. Unger, pp. 105-109.
  3. The four texts of Odds páttr Ófeigssonar that were available in 1891 are (1) Solennia Aacdemica ad Celebrandum Diem XXVIII Januarii MDCCCXXI Regi Nostro Augustissimo Frederico Sexto Natalem Habenda Indict Universitatis Regiae Havniensis Rector M. Nicolaus Schow cum Senatu Academico, pp. 1-7; (2) Fornmanna Sőgur, Vi, 377-384; (3) Morkinskinna, pp. 105-109; and (4) Flateyjarbók, III, 381-386. As I state above, the two translators seem to follow now one, now another, of these texts. For example, the words “they had foul wind” (Saga Library, I, 167, 1.6) are found in texts 1 and 2, but not in 3 and 4; the sentence “And Harald Sigurdson was then king over Norway” (Saga Library, I, 167, 11.8-9) is omitted in text 1; the clause “and thereon was Einar Fly” (Saga Library, I, 167, 11.21-22) is given thus in texts 3 and 4 but not in 1 and 2, which have “par var Einar fluga með fjőlda manns”; the passage in The Saga Library, I, 167, 1.24 – 168, 1.3 is found in essentially this form in texts 1, 2, and 3 but in an entirely different form in text 4; and the concluding paragraph (Saga Library, I, 175, 11.10-17) is given thus in text 4 but not in 1, 2, and 3.

referred;1 this critic praises both Morris and Magnússon’s choice of tales and their style of translation, saying,
These stories have the robust quality of the air of the country that gave birth to their heroes. Their great dramatic power, combined with simplicity and directness of narration, has kept them fresh and virile through centuries….Boldly drawn, and characterized by keen insight into human nature, these pictures, though of a rude age, are yet free from coarseness, and the translators have happily preserved enough of the original quaint phraseology to lend a peculiar charm to this English version….2

The rest of the review consists mainly of brief synopses of the tales. Another discussion of the book appeared in the Academy two months later, after the second volume of The Saga Library had been published.3 The author, Charles Elton, finds little either to praise or to blame in the work; he devotes most of his article to a brief description of the three tales, calling attention to those features in each one which Magnússon in his Preface had pointed out as being most noteworthy. He does find fault, however, with Morris’s praise, in the Preface, of the modern Icelanders’ lively interest in the historical past of their country; Elton points out that this interest does not go directly back to the time of the events described in the historical or family sagas, for during several centuries the Icelanders neglected their native literature in favor of the far inferior metrical romances that were imported from Europe proper. Another contemporary discussion of this book that should be mentioned is that of Valtýr-Guðmundsson, which appeared in Tímarit Hins Íslenzka Bókmenntafjelags for 1892.4 Guðmundsson gives a brief account of the contents of the volume, praising particularly the index of subject matter which Magnússon had prepared.

  1. See above, pages 351-352.
  2. LIII (1891), 220.
  3. XL (1891), 448.
  4. XIII (1892), 74-76.

Most of the article is given up to a short attack on Morris and Magnússon’s use of archaic English words and constructions in their saga translations; this criticism I shall consider later, in my discussion of Morris’s style of translation.1

The second volume of The Saga Library was published in the fall of 1891.2 In this book we find first a scholarly Preface of thirty-eight pages, in which Magnússon discusses the two sagas translated in this book;3 then follow several chronological lists of events described in the stories, this material being drawn, as the editors state, partly from Vigfússon’s edition of the Eyrbyggja saga and partly from his “Um tímatal í Íslendinga sőgum.”4 In the main part of the volume is presented The Story of the Ere-Dwellers; the tale is preceded by a one-page map if the district of Iceland involved. In Appendix A there is a description of “The Children of Snorri the Priest,” a translation of an Icelandic account printed in the edition by Vigfússon already referred to; Snorri, of course, figures prominently in the Eyrbyggja saga. Appendix B is devoted to The Story of the Heath-Slayings, this tale being closely connected in subject matter with The Story of the Ere-Dwellers; as usual there is a one-page map of the scene of the action. At the end of the volume we find forty-two pages of notes,5 a number of genealogical tables, and three Indexes, the first of Persons, the second of Places, and the third Subject

    1. See below, page 563.
    2. The book is dated 1892; but in a letter headed September 23, 1891 which is quoted by Mackail in another connection we find Morris saying, “…Mr. Quaritch has sent me in a specimen copy of volume 2 of the Saga Library…” (Mackail, William Morris, II, 265), and the book was discussed in the Saturday Review for October 24, 1891 (LXXII (1891), 481).
    3. Magnússon states on p. vii of Volume VI of The Saga Library that he wrote this Preface and then submitted it to Morris for evision. See also May Morris, William Morris, I, 459.


Matter, part of the last one being given up to a list of kennings occurring in the verses included in the two sagas.

Neither one of these sagas had ever been published in an English form before.1 As their texts the translators used Vigfússon’s edition of the Eyrbyggja saga, which was published as a separate volume in 1864, and Jon Sigurdsson’s edition of the Heiðarvíga saga in Volume II of Íslendinga Sőgur.2

The second volume of The Saga Library, like the first, received very little attention from contemporary reviewers. The best discussion of the work appeared in the Saturday Review; this critic bestowed praise on the editing of the book, on the choice of sagas, and, in general, on the style of translation. He writes,

    In respect to workmanship, the second volume of the Saga Library is worthy of the first. The stories, indeed – the Eyrbyggja Saga and the Heiðarviga Saga – are not among the best for personal interest and epic unity of narrative. But the “Story of the Heath-Slayings,” a fragment, is extremely ancient, and few sagas are richer than the

    1. See Islandica, I (1908), 19-20 and 49-50.
    2. II, 277-394. Magnússon states explicitly in the Preface to Volume II of The Saga Library (p. xxxvi) that it was Sigurdsson’s edition of the Heiðarvíga saga which he and Morris followed in their translation of this tale. In regard to the Eyrbyggja saga he says in the Preface that Vigfússon’s edition of this work was the best (p. xx) and that he and Morris based their rendering of the “vísur” in this story “on Vigfússon’s prose arrangement of the same” (p. xlvii); moreover, as I have already pointed out, they drew one of their chronological tables and their account of the offspring of Snorri from this same edition. Magnússon does not, however, definitely state in the Preface that they used this text for their whole translation, but a comparison of their rendering with this edition and the only other text of the saga which, according to Islandica, I (1908), 18-19, had been printed by 1868 – namely, the Eyrbyggja-Saga sive Eyranorum Historia quam mandante et impensas faciente P. F. Suhm. Versione, lectionum varietate ac indice rerum auxit G. J. Thorkeling (Copenhagen, 1787 – shows clearly, as the facts enumerated above indicate, that it was Vigfússon’s edition that they followed for their entire translation. Compare, for example the following passages in Vigfússon’s text with the corresponding passages in the other edition and in The Saga Library: p. 3, 11.7-8; 3, 1.9; 3, 1.10; 4, 1.14; 4, 11.23-24; 5, 11.2-3; 6, 1.1; 6, 1.5; 6, 1.14; 6, 1.16; 6, 1.23; and 7, 11.3-4. An examination of these passages, however, in the 1868 holograph manuscript of Morris and Magnússon’s rendering of the Eyrbyggja saga shows that for their first translation the two collaborators followed Thorkelin’s edition; see below, pages 516 and

Please note that the rest of note is cut off from the bottom of the page.

Eyrbyggja in curious details of law, custom, and belief. As for the style of translation, it is that which Messrs. Morris and Magnússon think the best representative of old Icelandic; and, though to others it may seem affected, it is perfectly intelligible.1

He concludes his review by describing the volume as “a book which is a delightful gift to English literature and the study, not only of the North, but of the heroic age all over the world.”2 This volume was also reviewed by Charles Elton in the Academy;3 in his very brief discussion he merely calls attention to the prominent part played by superstition in this tale and to the value of the account given there of the temple of Thor.

Before proceeding to the remaining volumes of The Saga Library, I should like to point out that in the fall of 1891 Morris also published a book of verse called Poems by the Way.4 Most of the pieces appearing in this volume had been written several years earlier – some of them even in the 1860’s and the 1870’s. Several Scandinavian poems, all but one of them previously unpublished, were included in the book; all of them have already been discussed in detail in this study. These Scandinavian pieces, in the order in which they appear in this collection, are “Of the Wooing of Hallbiorn the Strong,”5 “To the Muse of the North,”6 “Iceland First Seem,”7 “The Raven and the King’s

    1. LXXII (1891), 482.
    2. Loc. cit.
    3. XL (1891), 448.
    4. See Mackail, William Morris, II, 265.
    5. Collected Works, IX, 95-102. See also above, pages 210-213.
    6. Collected Works, IX, 116. See also above, page 58.
    7. Collected Works, IX, 125-126. See also above, pages 202-203.


Daughter,”1 “The King of Denmark’s Sons,”2 “Gunnar’s Howe above the House at Lithend,”3 “The Lay of Christine,”4 “Hildebrand and Hellelil,”5 “The Son’s Sorrow,”6 “Agnes and the Hill-Man,”7 “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,”8 and “Hafbur and Signy,”9 the last six being Scandinavian ballad translations.

The Norse poems in the volume are discussed in only two of the contemporary reviews that I have seen of this book. The critic in the Saturday Review praises these pieces in rather general terms, saying,

…There are more of those Northern romances, paraphrased or invented, which Mr. Morris loves so untiringly and does so well – “The Wooing of Hallbiorn the Strong,” “The Raven and the King’s Daughter,” “Hildebrand and Hallelil” [sic], “Hafbur and Signy,” and a fine Geste in miniature of “The King of Denmark’s Sons.”10

These same poems are criticized adversely by Mr. C. Elton in his review of the book in the Academy; he is quick to recognize the good effects that Morris’s Scandinavian studies had upon his style in general, but Morris’s imitations of Norse ballads in this volume he considers less successful than some of the original pieces, for, although they are

    1. Collected Works, IX, 127-131. See also above, pages 208-210.
    2. Collected Works, IX, 140-145. See also above, pages 213-217.
    3. Collected Works, IX, 179. See also above, pages 203-205.
    4. Collected Works, IX, 201-202. See also above, pages 147-148 and 150-152.
    5. Collected Works, IX, 203-205. See also above, pages 147-148.
    6. Collected Works, IX, 206-207. See also above, pages 147-148 and 150-152.
    7. Collected Works, IX, 208-209. See also above, pages 147-150.
    8. Collected Works, IX, 210-212. See also above, pages 147-150.
    9. Collected Works, IX, 210-212. See also above, pages 147-150.
    10.  LXXIII (1892), 155.


graceful and charming, all attempts to revive past literary forms are bound to fail. He says, in part,
…the Norse influence, just like that of Socialism, is certainly one that has given additional vigour and glory to the poet’s verse; yet…it is no contradiction to say that the actual ballads he has written expressly on Norse subjects are by no means his best and most characteristic work. There is, after all, something hopeless about the attempt to revive a literary form nearly as it flowered in a set of circumstances now extinct. The experience that gave the form breath and power cannot really be lived over again by the most searching and tender imagination, or by any process of “steeping the mind” in books; and the result is something like that which attends the efforts, all meritorious and all failures, to write Greek plays. The failure is due, not to lack, but to misapplication, of poetic gift. Therefore, with whatever zeal and grace these revivals are conducted, we cannot help coming back from them and asking what the poet has to tell us concerning his more personal and direct message.1

Mr. Elton is of course correct in placing these poems on a lower level than more serious work such as “The Message of the March Wind” and “Mother and Son” and more inspired pieces such as “Hope Dieth: Love Liveth” and “Love Fulfilled”;2 yet it cannot be denied, it seems to me – and Mr. Elton makes no attempt to do so – that these ballad imitations, even though they are somewhat artificial, are skillfully done, show here and there true poetic taste, as succeed in imparting to the reader some of Morris’s keen relish for the stories of the North.

The last three volumes of The Saga Library that appeared in Morris’s lifetime were devoted to the translation of the Heimskringla; these volumes are numbered three, four, and five, and are dated 1893, 1894, and 1895 respectively, and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, they actually appeared in these years. The work of turning this

    1. XLI (1891), 197. For other reviews of Poems by the Way see the Athena͜eum, No. 3359 (March 12, 1892), 336-338; the Critic, XXI (1892), 2; and the Nation, LV (1892), 11.
    2. For these poems see Collected Works, IX, 121-123, 150-153, 106-107, and 139.

long history into English, which had been begun in the early 1870’s, was not actually completed until April, 1895;1 the task of editing this Icelandic masterpiece was not finished by Magnússon until 1905, nine years after Morris’s death.

The first volume contains Morris and Magnússon’s translation of Snorri Sturluson’s Preface and of the first six sagas of the Heimskringla; at the end of the book we find thirty pages devoted to the explanation of the more obscure kennings found in the “visur” in these tales, and neatly folded in a pocket on the inside of the back cover there is a large map of Norway, measuring 27 ½ by 17 ½ inches. The second volume – that is, Volume IV of The Saga Library – is given up entirely to the rendering of The Story of Olaf the Holy, the Son of Harald; the explanations of the kennings occupy the last fourteen pages. The third volume gives us Morris and Magnússon’s English version of the remaining nine sagas, together with their interpretations of the metaphors. Except for these sections on the kennings, there is no explanatory matter in these books; all this material was reserved for the last volume, which, as I have stated above, was prepared entirely by Magnússon and therefore does not really concern this study. I should like to say, however, that this final volume is an excellent piece of work; it includes a Preface, in which Magnússon gives much valuable information regarding his meeting with Morris and their method of translating the sagas, a 73-page discussion of Snorri Sturluson, first as a chief and secondly as an author, a 238-page index of persons and peoples, a 54-page index of places, a 223-page index of subjects, and 15 genealogical tables.

    1. See Mackail, William Morris, II, 313.

The last four volumes of The Saga Library met with a distinctly favorable reception in the contemporary reviews. Morris’s choice of diction was of course adversely criticized, but most of the reviewers seem by this time to have become convinced of the utter hopelessness of attempting to induce Morris to give up the use of an archaic style for his translations and to have grown tired of finding fault with his peculiar language, for most of them passed over this matter with little more than a word of censure. As a rule they praised the translators for the accuracy fo their rendering and for their choice of material; the critics considered the making of a new literal translation of the Heimskringla definitely worth while, not only because of the pleasure English readers would derive from a work of such literary excellence but also because of the valuable information Englishmen would find in this history concerning the early days of their own nation and the origins of their own race.
The reviewer of the first volume of the Heimskringla in the Nation says of it,

The present translation is noteworthy, wholly apart from other considerations, in that it is the first English version directly from the original Icelandic, Laing’s having been made at second hand from Danish. With all its idiosyncrasies of diction (and they are, after all, but that), this is a distinct gain in fidelity to the original text, and after the dialect has been mastered the value of the ‘Heimskringla’ as history, and the charm of its telling, appeal to one with renewed force. From either point of view, there is nothing at all comparable to it in matter and manner in the early literature of any of the kindred nations. Chronicles there are in plenty, but this, subsequent to the mythical Ynglinga Saga at the beginning of the work, is real history written with precision and a rare degree of feeling and finish. 1

  1. LVIII(1894), 472.

A few lines later this critic says, “…Snorri makes his Sagas read like an historical novel, only without the exaggerated phraseology and melodramatic action characteristic of that class of works.” 1 Although he praises the book in this enthusiastic manner, the writer of this article is not blind to the faults of Morris and Magnússon’s work. Besides criticizing the type of diction used, he points out that “there are some few instances of infelicitous translation”; these matters I shall discuss later in this study. 2

Other discussions of the volumes under consideration appeared in the Saturday Review for March 11, 1893, 3 September 1, 1894, 4 and May 19, 1906. 5 The first two articles, which deal with Volumes I and II, are given up almost entirely to an enumeration of the most interesting and colorful incidents described in these parts of the Heimskringla. Apart from the archaic style of the translation, which is discussed very briefly, the only defect pointed out in these two reviews is the lack of any guide to the historical background of the sagas. In the first article the writer says, “It would be well if Messrs. Morris and Magnússon would head their pages with dates, when dates are known”; 6 in the second we read, “We have no maps and no dates. 7 A brief preface might readily have supplied the reader with dates and recognizable historical landmarks; but he is left to wander darling amon the family traditions which are the

  1. LVIII(1894), 472.
  2. See below, page 562.
  3. LXXV (1893), 272-273.
  4. LXXVIII(1894), 238-239.
  5. CI(1906), 621-622.
  6. LXXV(1893), 373.
  7. The reviewer has evidently forgotten the excellent map included in the first volume.

[364] writer’s materials.” 1 It cannot be denied that the average reader would better able to follow the Heimskringla account if a few dates, or at least approximate dates, were given here and there, so that he could connect the events here described with other historical incidents known to him. The last review mentioned above was written in 1906, shortly after Magnússon had published his volume of explanatory matter; the writer, however, devotes very little attention to this particular volume, discussing instead the importance and the value of the Heimskringla to modern readers. Calling attention to the striking similarity in temperament between the early Norsemen and the Englishmen of to-day, he says,

In these stark Northmen we see the source of one of the noblest if most unprofitable traits in our national character, the refusal to the point of perversity to admit the existence of treachery in a friend, and utter recklessness in the conduct of a point of honour…. Again when the man sins he knows his iniquity and does not repent, but drains the cup and take s the punishment when it comes without complaint. Something of the special character of the English gentlemen, for good and for evil, has come to our race from the Northmen. 2

He points out that frequent references to early England are found in the Heimskringla, and says that to read “The Story of Harald the Hardredy,” “who fought for the Miklegarth Emperors in Sicily and Africa, who fell in conflict with the other Harald, Godwinson, at the fatal battle of Stamforth Bridge, but for which there might have been no Norman Conquest, is to gain a new sense of the unity of history.” 3 He forcefully sums up the main points of his article in the last paragraph:

The Heimskringla and its kindred Sagas should be part fo the liberal education of every boy, not only for their racial connexion and historic value, but because they provide the finest story-telling

  1. LXXVIII(1894), 238.
  2. CI(1906), 622.

Please note that note 3 is cut off from the bottom of the page.

in the world-noble literature instinct with art and enjoyment, besides which the Morte d’Arthur, the stories of Charlemagne, or the Tale of Troy itself, seems thin and artificial. 1

From 1890, when The Story of the Glittering Plain appeared, until 1894, when he issued The Wood Beyond the World, Morris published no prose romances. During these years he devoted by far the greater part of his time and energy to the work of the Kelmscott Press, which he had begun early in 1890 after he had become seriously interested in the making of beautiful books and had become convinced that he would never get books produced according to the high standards he demanded unless he printed them himself. 2 Nevertheless, although this new undertaking, expecially during the first year or two, left him very little time for his literary work, he did succeed not only in finishing his Heimskringla translation for The Saga Library but also in carrying on his romance writing; in addition to The Wood Beyond the World, which, as I just stated, he published in 1894, he wrote during these years The Well at the World’s End, the longest by far of all his tales, and began several others. The Well was composed in 1892 and 1893, and a cheap edition of the work was printed at the Chiswick Press at the end of 1893; this issue was not distributed at this time, however for it was to be preceded by a Kelmscott Press edition, and this work was not finished until 1896. 3 I shall postpone by discussion of the few Scandinavian elements found in this story until later, when I deal with Morris’s activities in 1896; I should like to state here, however, that this tale is a pure

  1. CI(1906), 622.
  2. For an account of the founding of the Kelmscott Press see Mackail, William Morris, II, 247-256.
  3. See Collected Works, XVIII, xxx and xxxvii.

romance and marks a definite advance in the movement, already noted in these prose narratives, from the style of the epic to that of the romance.

Before passing on to The Wood Beyond the World, I should like to point out that in 1893 Morris and Ernest Belfort Bax collected and republished with extensive revisions and numerous additions the articles they had printed in the Commonweal under the title “Socialism from the Root Up,” and that in this book, which they called Socialism: Its Growth & Outcome, we find in the material added to the original essays two brief Scandinavian allusions, both of which are almost certainly to be credited to Morris. In one of the first chapters the collaborators illustrate their statement “that the earlier stages of a new social development always show the characteristic evils of the incoming system” by pointing out that “in all early civilised communities…usury and litigation are rampant, as, smongst other instances, the elaborated account of the life of the time given in the Icelandic sagas shows us”; 1 towards the end of the book, in a discussion of money, they explain in a footnote that there are transitional stages between barter pure and simple and exchange operated by a universal equivalent, which only partly fulfilled this office: e. g. cattle, in the primitive ancient period, from which the name for money (pecunia) is derived; or ordinary woolen cloth, as in the curious and rather elaborate currency of the Scandinavians before coin was struck in Norway: which currency, by the way, has again, in the form of blankets, been used even in our own times in the Hudson Bay Territory.2

References to lawsuits are of course extremely common in the sagas, and Morris must have met with accounts of prosecutions at the Thing in almost every saga he had read; allusions to the lending of money

  1. Page 41.
  2. Page 249.

at interest are less frequent, but there is at least one reference to this practice in sagas with which we know Morris was familiar. 1 With the early Scandinavian use of cloth as a unit measure he had already in The Roots of the Mountains shown himself acquainted, as we have seen above. 2

The Wood Beyond the World, which was published in 1894 and is the fourth in order of publication but actually the fifth in order of composition in the series of eight prose romances which Morris produced between 1888 and 1896, is, like The Well at the World’s End, a pure romance. Nevertheless, we find in this story, just as we did in The Glittering Plain and shall do in The Well, a few details that Morris seems to have borrowed from his Icelandic reading. Thus, there is one allusion to the custom of “hanselling”; 3 one of the tribes described holds a “Mote”4 or, as it is once called, a “Man-mote”; 5 and at the Mote-stead there is a “doom-ring.” 6 These matters I have already discussed in detail in my treatment of the earlier romances. 7 Furthermore, just as in the previous tales, there are several very vivid descriptions of mountain-scenery which, though to a less striking degree than in The Roots of the Mountains and The Story of the Glittering Plain, recall the mountainous country through which Morris travelled on his tours of Iceland. 8 In this story we

  1. See, for example, The Saga Library, I, 126, 11.28-29. For an account of usury among the early Scandinavians see Mary W. Williams, Social Scandinavia in the Viking Age (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920), pp. 232-233 and the references to Norse lawbooks given there.
  2. See above, pages 326-327.
  3. See Collected Works, XVII, 61, 1.3.
  4. See ibid., XVII, 105, 11.6, 7, 22, and 27; 106, 1.23; and 107, 1.6.
  5. See ibid., XVII, 108, 1.6.
  6. See ibid., XVII, 98, 1.23; 100, 11.22 and 26; 103, 1.14; 104, 11.14 and 31; and 105, 1.1.

Please note that notes 7 and 8 are cut off from the bottom of the page.

also find a reference to an interesting early Scandinavian custom which had not been mentioned in the first three romances. When Walter, the hero of the tale, has slain the hideous, evil dwarf who guarded the Queen of the enchanted land into which he had wandered, the heroine, who is well versed in the black art, tells Walter to cut off the dwarf’s head and place it by his buttocks before burying him, in order to prevent his ghost from walking. 1 This device was one of the common methods in early Scandinavia of “laying a ghost”; Morris had long been acquainted with this custom, for in the Grettis saga, one of the first Icelandic stories he translated, Grettir follows this procedure in putting a definite end both to Karr the Old and to the fiend Glamr. 2 Beyond these matters there is nothing in this tale which can be traced to Morris’s Scandinavian studies. . . .

  1. See Collected Works, XVII, 82, 11.21-24.
  2. See ibid., VII, 40. 11.12-14 and 90, 11.32-34.

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