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from Mount Hood, and of other indications of activity being displayed by the great cones which are such conspicuous objects to those passing up and down the Columbia. These stories, when not intentional fabrications, may perhaps be attributed to the fact that sometimes on clear days the moisture in the air blowing from the ocean is condensed around the cool, snowcovered summits of the cones, so as to have somewhat the appearance to a not very critical eye of clouds of vapor issuing from them. We obtained pretty satisfactory testimony that Mount Hood at least had shown no signs of activity during the past eight or ten years.
There are also most conflicting statements with regard to the condition of the volcanoes through British Columbia and Alaska. Thus Scrope, a careful and trustworthy authority, says of Mount St. Elias, that it has certainly been seen in eruption, while Grewingk, a well-known geologist who explored that region and carefully examined all the published authorities on the subject, declares that none of these volcanoes – St. Elias, Edgecombe, Fairweather, etc.— have been active during the historical period, or, at least, that there is no evidence of any such activity.
J. D. WHITNEY.
ART. IX.- CRITICAL NOTICES.
1. — The Pre-Columbian Discovery of America by the Northmen, illus
trated by Translations from the Icelandic Sagas. Edited, with Notes and a General Introduction, by B. F. De Costa. Albany: Joel Munsell. 1868.
MORE than thirty years ago the hope was expressed in this Review that the interesting documents relating to the discovery of America by the Northmen, which had just been published in the Antiquitates Americane, might be put into an English dress, and prepared for the perusal of the general reader. In the following year appeared the work of Mr. Joshua Toulmin Smith, “ The Northmen in New England, or America in the Tenth Century.” To heighten the interest of the subject, Mr. Smith threw his discussion into the form of dialogue ; but
his vivacity proved so oppressive that, in spite of the undeniable ingenuity with which he handled his argument, his book was soon as completely forgotten as Greenland had been during the seventeenth century. Three years later a translation, by Beamish, of the Sagas relating to the discovery of America was published in London. In 1844, the wellknown translation of the Heimskringla, by Mr. Samuel Laing, appeared. Mr. Laing, who had his own opinion about the Northern antiquaries, placed in an appendix the eight chapters which, in the opinion of the critics, had been interpolated in Peringskiold's edition. The original authorities, on which rests the claim of the Northmen to be regarded as the discoverers of the New World, have therefore been for a long time within the reach of the English reader. Still there remained ample room for a new work, in which all the original documents might be brought together and carefully collated, and the reasons for receiving them as authentic, and as anterior to the time of Columbus, clearly exhibited. Notwithstanding the ridicule which fell upon the absurd speculations of the Northern antiquaries respecting the Old Stone Mill and the Deighton Rock, and notwithstanding the inaccurate paragraph which Mr. Bancroft suffers to remain at the beginning of his history, most men are by
this time satisfied that the Northmen must have possessed some ac· quaintance with this continent. But the precise grounds for this gen
erally accepted conclusion few would be able to give, and a thorough and impartial investigation of the whole subject, showing exactly how much has been proved and by what kind of evidence, would be a most valuable and welcome addition to our historical literature.
In a work which has recently appeared from the well-known press of Mr. Munsell, a laudable attempt has been made to supply this deficiency. Mr. De Costa has collected every passage in the Scandinavian Sagas which relates to the discovery of the New World, giving in part translations of his own and in part translations of Mr. Laing's. Some of his extracts are wholly new in an English dress. He very properly begins with the Sagas relating to the discovery of Gunnbiorn's Rocks, which led to the first voyage of Eric the Red to Greenland. These extracts are from Grönlands Historiske Mindesmærker. After this follow the Saga of Eric relating to the discovery of Greenland, and the Saga of Biarne Heriulfsson. Next are given the Sagas of the three sons of Eric, - Leif, Thorvald, and Thorstein. The most important and interesting of all the Sagas — that of Thorfinn Karlsefne — stands next in order, and the voyage of Freydis, the sister of Leif, concludes this part of the work. That the reader may be put in possession of all that relates to the subject, the doubtful account of the voyage of Are Marson to Great Ireland, the allusions to later voyages found in an
cient manuscripts, and some geographical fragments in which reference is made to Vinland, are grouped at the end of the book.
Mr. De Costa has not confined himself to giving these narratives in a single form. Thus, of Eric's discovery of Greenland we have three distinct accounts, the first being derived from the Antiquitates Americana, the other two from the Historiske Mindesmærker. Of the voyage of Biorne we bave two versions, derived from the same sources. The Saga of Leif the Fortunate, who is fairly entitled to the glory of having first set foot on the New World, is given in three versions, — one, the longer form, as given by Mr. Laing, the other two very brief. The Saga of Thorfinn is also given in three versions, as they are printed in the Antiquitates Americana. All Mr. Laing's translations are reprinted by Mr. De Costa ; but Mr. Laing, as his work was simply a translation of Snorro Sturleson's Chronicle, and not a treatise the discovery of America, very properly confined himself to giving the Sagas as they had been printed by Peringskiold, by whom, as is now agreed, they were taken from the Codex Flatoiensis. But in this manuscript the very important Saga of Thorfinn appears only in a brief form. The fuller account of Thorfinn is derived from a manuscript in Arne Magnussen's collection, and is translated by Mr. De Costa from the Antiquitates Americanæ. Hence we have much more than a reprint of Mr. Laing
But while we have every disposition to commend Mr. De Costa's industry and zeal, we are sorry to feel obliged to say that his work by no means supplies the deficiency that has so long existed. The most that we can say in favor of his labors is that he has given us the original authorities in an English dress. Of the original matter which he has contributed we can express no very high opinion. His Introduction is ambitious in its style and irrelevant in its matter, and betrays an entire misconception of the problem he had to solve. Surely these simple tales of adventurous discovery are not invested with any increased authority by the statement that “ before the plains of Europe, or ever the peaks of Chonmalarie, rose above the primeval seas, the continent of America emerged from the watery waste that encircled the whole globe, and became the scene of animate life.” One might not unreasonably infer from such a sentence that we were about to trace the discoveries of men who were contemporaries, not of Hugh Capet, but of the dwellers in the bone-cave of Aurignac, or the original owner of the Neanderthal skull. Mr. De Costa relinquishes, with evident reluctance, the Deighton Rock and the Newport Mill, but he more than offsets his discretion on this point by a labored attempt to prove that the island which was seen by Leif, as he sailed by that
part of Vinland which was afterwards named by Thorfinn Wonderstrand, and which was identified by Professor Rafn with Nantucket, was nothing else than the Isle Nauset, which formerly existed on the coast of Cape Cod, but has long since disappeared. In the same spirit, treating these Sagas precisely as though they were the log-book of a Cunard steamer, he persists in following the Northmen up the Seaconnèt passage, and into Mount Hope Bay. To do this, he is obliged to transform this broad expanse of salt water into a lake, and gravely assures us that it not only has this appearance to the traveller passing it by rail, but is often called so, a statement which, we venture to say, will astound those who have lived by it all their lives. With the same resolute determination to make out a case, the pretty eminence, less than two hundred feet in height, near which King Philip met his death, and which to the eye scarcely breaks the line of the horizon, is not only made a mountain, but is connected with the stupendous range known as the Milton Hills ! And this application of language is gravely imputed to men fresh from the snowcrowned summits of Iceland, and the inaccessible cliffs of Greenland.
We had thought that the time for this laborious trifling had gone by. The Sagas which describe the discovery of Vinland, though not originally a part of the Heimskringla, are now admitted by all competent scholars to belong to the same class of compositions. That they were not adopted by Snorro into his great work will be regarded as no evidence whatever against their authenticity, when we bear in mind that his work was a chronicle of the Kings of Norway, and that he was in no way concerned with a subject the importance of which was not at that time at all understood. The style of all these Sagas is that of the twelfth century; they must therefore have been committed to writing in their present form at a period certainly as early as that in which the Heimskringla was composed. Like that extraordinary composition, they belong to that epoch in the development of Scandinavian literature when the Skaldic songs were beginning to give place to prose composition. In his Preface, Snorro Sturleson, giving the sources from which he had drawn, says that they were old stories, as he had heard them told by intelligent people. Some things, he says, were found in old family registers, and part “is written down after old songs and ballads which our forefathers had for their amusement.” Accordingly, at the close of the fifth paragraph of the Ynlinga Saga he introduces a quotation from Brage the Old. Nor was it only when treating of a mythological period that the historian made use of these old songs. In the Saga of King Olaf Tryggvesson, in whose reign Leif the Fortunate made his famous voyage to Vinland, there occur no less than fifty-five quotations from old songs of the Skalds, some of them of considerable length. In fact no one can examine the history of Snorro Sturleson without seeing that it must be, to a considerable extent, simply a prose rendering of old ballads, in which the traditions of the nation had been enshrined. Now the Sagas which relate to the discovery of America show precisely the same characteristics. Thus, when Thorhall was carrying water to his ship, he sang a song; and, when he and his companions were about to sail north around Wonderstrand, they sang again ; and both these songs are preserved in the Saga of Thorfinn. So, when Thorfinn's people chased the uniped they sang. Who can doubt that these verses, instead of being songs that were actually sung on those occasions, were but fragments of the original ballad of which the narratives are merely prose abridgments, and that these portions chanced to be preserved simply because they struck the ear of the later annalist ?
With this view of the nature of these old Sagas (and we do not see how any one who gives the least attention to what Snorro Sturleson says can take any other), the absurdity of treating them as Mr. De Costa persists in doing is manifest. Nobody doubts their substantial truthfulness. Nobody, so far as we know, would deny that they deseribe occurrences which actually took place. Mr. Bancroft could hardly have gone wider of the mark than when he asserted that these narratives are mythological in form, for there is not a single element of proper mythology mixed up with them. We think that Mr. Freeman, in his recent History of the Norman Conquest, a good deal overstates the matter when he speaks of the “half-fabulous narratives in the Norwegian Sagas.” A story may be exaggerated and inexact, and yet fall very far short of being half-fabulous. We think there is every reason to believe that those who wrote the Sagas of Eric and his sons, and of Thorfinn Karlsefne, as well as Snorro Sturleson, aimed to tell the simple truth, as they had heard it told to them. But we must bear in mind what the sources were whence their information was derived. The expeditions of Eric and of Thorfinn were made at the close of the tenth or very early in the eleventh century. The famous “ Flato” manuscript, in which the earliest account of these expeditions is preserved, was written between the years 1387 and 1389. There are, however, internal reasons for supposing that they were reduced to their present form during the twelfth century. But granting this much, more than a century must have elapsed before they passed from the form of oral tradition. These traditions, no doubt carefully preserved and handed down, were derived, in the first instance, from the reports which the voyagers themselves brought back. But how precise were these ?