The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Vol. 3 Preface

Preface Volume 3

(Page 1)


Now that I am able to put my germinated sprout of German Mythology into its second leafing, I do it with a firmer confidence in the unimpeded progress of its growth. When the first shyness was once overcome, seeking and finding came more quickly together; and facts, that rebuked any effeminate doubt of the reality of scientific discoveries on a field till then considered barren, started up on every side, till now there is a glut of them. Well, I have got my joists and rafters, drawn some lines, laid some courses, and yet guarded against pretending to finality; for who would do that, so long as in one place the materials are wanting, and in another the hands are still full with fetching? I wish to explain all I can, but I am far from being able to explain all I wish.

Criticism, often brilliantly successful on foreign fields, had sinned against our native antiquities, and misused most of the means it had. The immortal work of a Roman writer had shed a light of dawn on the history of Germany, which other nations may well envy us: not content with suspecting the book's genuineness (as though the united Middle Ages had been capable of such a product), its statements, sprung from honest love of truth, were cried down, and the gods it attributes to our ancestors were traced to the intrusion of Roman ideas. Instead of diligently comparing the contents of so precious a testimony with the remnants of our heathenism scattered elsewhere, people made a point of minimizing the value of these few fragments also, and declaring them forged, borrowed, absurd. Such few gods as remained unassailed, it was the fashion to make short work of, by treating them as Gallic or Slavic, just as vagrants are shunted off to the next parish---let our neighbours dispose of the rubbish as they can. The Norse Edda, whose plan, style and substance breathe the remotest antiquity, whose songs lay hold of the heart in a far different way from the extravagantly admired poems of Ossian, they traced to christian and Anglo-Saxon influence, blindly or willfully overlooking its connexion with the relics of eld in Germany proper, and thinking to set it all down to nurses and spinning-wives (p. 1230), whose very name seemed, to those unacquainted with the essence of folk-lore, to sound the lowest note of contempt. They have had their revenge now, those norns and spindle-bearers.

One may fairly say, that to deny the reality of this mythology is as much as to impugn the high antiquity and the continuity of our language: to every nation a belief in gods was as necessary as language. No one will argue from the absence or poverty of memorials, that our forefathers at any given time did not practise their tongue, did not hand it down; yet the lack or scantiness of information is thoughtlessly alleged as a reason for despoiling our heathenism, antecedent to the conversion, of all its contents, so to speak. History teaches us to recognise in language, the farther we are able to follow it up, a higher perfection of form, which declines as culture advances; as the forms of the thirteenth century are superior to our present ones, and those of the ninth and the fifth stand higher still, it may be presumed that German populations of the first three centuries of our era, whose very names have never reached us, must have spoken a more perfect language than the Gothic itself. Now if such inferences as to what is non-extant are valid in language, if its present condition carries us far back to an older and oldest; a like proceeding must be justifiable in mythology too, and from its dry water-courses we may guess the copious spring, from its stagnant swamps the ancient river. Nations hold fast by prescription: we shall never comprehend their tradition, their superstition, unless we spread under it a bed on still heathen soil.

And these views are confirmed by what we know to be true of poetry and legend. If the heathens already possessed a finely articulated language, and if we concede to them an abundant stock of religious myths, then song and story could not fail to lay hold of these, and to interweave themselves with the rites and customs. That such was the case we are assured by Tacitus; and the testimony of Jornandes and Eginhart leaves not the smallest room for doubt respecting later ages. Those primitive songs on Tuisco, on Mannus and the three races that branched out of him, are echoed long after in the genealogies of Ingo, Iscio, Hermino; so the Hygelâc of the Beowulf-song, whom a tenth century legend that has just emerged from oblivion names Huglacus Magnus (Haupt 5, 10), is found yet again---as a proof that even poetry may agree with history---in the 'Chochilaichus' of Gregory of Tours. If in the 12th and 13th centuries our country's hero-legend gleamed up for the last time, poets must have kept on singing it for a long time before, as is plain from the saved fragment of Hildebrand and the Latin versions of Rudlieb and Waltharius; while not a tone survives of those Low German lays and legends, out of which nevertheless proceeded the Vilkinasaga that mirrors them back. The rise of our Court-poetry has without the slightest ground or necessity been ascribed to the Crusades; if we are to assume any importations from the East, these can more conveniently be traced to the earlier and quieter intercourse of Goths and Northmen with the Greek empire, unless indeed we can make up our minds to place nearly all the coincidences that startle us to the account of a fundamental unity of the European nations, a mighty influence which is seen working through long ages, alike in language, legend and religion.

I am met by the arrogant notion, that the life of whole centuries was pervaded by a soulless cheerless barbarismæ this would at once contradict the loving kindness of God, who has made His sun give light to all times, and while endowing men with gifts of the body and soul, has instilled into them the consciousness of a higher guidance: on all ages of the world, even those of worst repute, there surely fell a foison of health and wealth, which preserved in nations of a nobler strain their sense of right and law. One has only to recognise the mild and manly spirit of our higher antiquity in the purity and power of the national laws, or the talent inherited by the thirteenth century in its eloquent, inspired poems, in order justly to appreciate legend and myth, which in them had merely struck root once more.

But our inquiry ought to have the benefit of this justice both in great things and in small. Natural science bears witness, that the smallest may be an index to the greatest; and the reason is discoverable, why in our antiquities, while the main features were effaced, petty and apparently accidental ones have been preserved. I am loth to let even slight analogies escape me, such as that between Bregowine, Freáwine, and Gotes friunt (p. 93).

True to my original purpose, I have this time also taken the Norse mythology merely as woof, not as warp. It lies near to us, like the Norse tongue, which, having stood longer undisturbed in its integrity, gives us a deeper insight into the nature of our own, yet not so that either loses itself wholly in the other, or that we can deny to the German language excellences of its own, and to the Gothic a strength superior to both of them together. So the Norse view of the gods may in many ways clear up and complete the German, yet not serve as the sole standard for it, since here, as in the language, there appear sundry divergences of the German type from the Norse, giving the advantage now to the one and now to the other. Had I taken the rich exuberance of the North as the basis of my inquiry, it would have perilously overshadowed and choked the distinctively German, which ought rather to be developed out of itself, and, while often agreeing with the other, yet in some things stand opposed. The case appears therefore to stand thus, that, as we push on, we shall approach the Norse boundary, and at length reach the point where the wall of separation can be pierced, and the two mythologies run together into one greater whole. If at present some new points of connexion have been established, more important diversities have revealed themselves too. To the Norse antiquarians in particular, I hope my procedure will be acceptable: as we gladly give to them in return for what we have received, they ought no less to receive than to give. Our memorials are scantier, but older; theirs are younger and purer; two things it was important here to hold fast: first, that the Norse mythology is genuine, and so must the German be; then, that the German is old, and so must the Norse be.

We have never had an Edda come down to us, nor did any one of our early writers attempt to collect the remains of the heathen faith. Such of the christians as had sucked German milk were soon weaned under Roman training from memories of home, and endeavoured not to preserve, but to efface the last impressions of detested paganism. Jornandes and Paulus Diaconus, who must have had plenty of heathen stories still within their reach, made but slight use of the mythical ones. Other ecclesiastics now and then, for a particular purpose, dole out scraps of information which are of great value to us: Jonas (pp. 56. 109), Beda (p. 289), Alcuin (p. 229), Widukind (p. 253), Adam of Bremen (p. 230). As I have said on p. 9, some monk at St. Gall, Fulda, Merseburg or Corvei might have conceived the happy idea of putting pen to the antiquities of his country, gathering up things of which the footprints were still fresh, and achieving for the foreground of our history, just where it begins to disengage itself from legend, a lasting work, such as Saxo Grammaticus accomplished. Even if German tradition was more blurred and colourless from the seventh century to the eleventh, than was Danish in the twelfth, if estrangement from native legend had advanced more slowly in the far North; yet Waltharius and Rudlieb, or the rhyme of the boar in Notker, may shew us that in the very cloisters there was much still unforgotten of the ancient songs. It is likely that scribes continued for some time to add to the collection set on foot by Charles the Great, the destruction of which has proved an incalculable loss, and from which we might have obtained an abundance of materials and pictures of the remotest eld. The Middle High-German poets found themselves already much farther away from all this; anything they might still unconsciously borrow from it must have been preserved accidentally in traditional forms of poetry or the living idiom of the people. The very book in which heathen names and characters might the most innocently have found a place, Albrecht of Halberstadt's translation of the Metamorphoses, is lost to us in its original form; when Rudolf in his Barlaam from a christian point of view refutes the Grecian gods after the fashion of Chrothilde (see p. 107), he sticks too closely to his text to let any native characteristics come into his head: the age was too entirely absorbed in its immediate present to feel the slightest inclination to look back into its own or other people's distant past. It is not till the 14th or 15th century that sundry writers begin to shew a propensity to this. Gobelinus Persona bestows a mite (p. 254); if Böhmer would but soon give us an edition of the Magdeburg Schöppenchronick and the Chronicon Picturatum, both sadly wanted! Conf. Böhmer's Reg. ed. 1849, p. xxi, pag. 62 ad ann. 1213; Zeuss p. 38. The statements of Botho, uncritical as they are, claim attention, for in his day there may have been accounts still afloat, which have vanished since. A curious one is contained in Joh. Craemer's Chronica sancti Petri in monte crucis ad ann. 1468: 'Matthaeus Huntler in cella Sancti Martini ad Werram vidit librum Johannis Vanderi, ord. S. Benedicti monachi in Reynertsborn, de omnibus gentilium deastris in provincia nostra, quem magna cura conscripsit, et quemlibet deastrum in habitu suo eleganter depinxit cum multis antiquitatibus, in quibus bene versatus esse dicitur.' Botho drew his descriptions from figures of idols that were before his eyes; and at Reinhartsbrunn in Thuringia there might be similar things extant, or the very same that found their way to Brunswick, if only Paullini, whose Syntagma p. 315 furnishes that passage from the chronicle, were not himself suspicious. The like uncertainty hangs over Joh. Berger (p. 96), over a Conradus Fontanus quoted by Letzner (p. 190), and the Frisian Cappidus whose work Hamconius professes to have used (see my chap. XXI, Lotus). Any one that cared to read straight through Berthold of Regensburg's works, dating from the end of the 13th century, would very likely, where the preacher gets to speak of sorcery and devilry, come upon cursory notices of the superstitions of his time, as even the later sermons of Johannes Herolt (my ch. XXXI, Berchta, Holda), Johannes Nider (d. cir. 1440), and Geiler von Kaisersberg offer some details. And even historians in the 16th and 17th centuries, who rummaged many a dusty archive, such as Aventin, Celtes, Freher, Spangenberger, Letzner (d. after 1612), Nicolaus Gryse (d. 1614), must have had all sorts of available facts within their reach, though to pick the grain out of the chaff would no doubt come easier to us than to them.

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