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my personal thanks are now mingled with those due to him from all who care for English literature. To Miss Kate Warren, an accomplished student of Anglo-Saxon poetry, and an excellent teacher of our modern literature, I am also indebted for steady and valuable help frankly given to me throughout the writing of this book. She made the map which accompanies these volumes, and the Index is also her work. I have had the map drawn to illustrate the chapter which treats of the question - Why Northumbria was the special home of English Poetry. It represents the general relation of the English kingdoms to the Welsh, Irish and Pictish peoples, and it follows, in its main divisions, the map at p. 21 of Mr. York Powell's History of England. It does not pretend to give the boundaries between the several English kingdoms or between the English and the Welsh at any particular period from 600 to 800. Maps which explain the to-and-fro of those boundaries from time to time will be found in Mr. Green's Making of England. I have also had placed in this map, and underlined in red, the names of the most famous monastic centres of learning which had been set up before the death of Baeda.

And so, I bid this book farewell. It has tried, with many others, to save for remembrance and seclude for thought the neglected lands of early English poetry. Like the ancient places of this country where our forefathers met together for religion or war or council, they seem to appeal to England to take care of them, to give them interest and affection. Far too few of them remain, far too many of them have perished. The silent stream of time, with mordant and quiet wave, washed into forgetfulness those pleasant fields,

rura quae Liris quieta
mordet aqua taciturnus amnis.


August 2, 1892.



The Exeter Book formed part of the library which Leofric, the first bishop of Exeter, collected and left to his cathedral church.

He catalogued it himself as a Mycel Englisc boc be gehwilcum þingum on leo8wisan gevorht : “A mickle English book on all kinds of things wrought in verse. It is still kept in Exeter Cathedral, and has been there, since Leofric died in 1071, for 821 years. It is a varied anthology, and contains poems which range from the eighth to the tenth or eleventh century. One or two may belong to the seventh century, and some may be of even higher antiquity. Widsith, for example, may contain verses which were made in the old Angle land over the seas. Of the poems mentioned in these volumes, it holds, and I give them in the order they are in the Book : The Christ, Guthlac, Azarias, The Phønix, Juliana, The Wanderer, Gifts of Men, The Seafarer, Widsith, Fates of Men, Gnomic Verses, The Panther, Whale and Partridge, The Soul to its Body, Deor, Riddles 1-60, The Wife's Complaint, The Descent into Hell, Riddle 61, The Message of a Lover, The Ruin, Riddles 62-89. Others, either of little value or later than the eighth century, are also contained in it.

The Vercelli Book was discovered in the capitular library at Vercelli in Upper Italy by Dr. Blum in the year 1832. No one knows how it got there, but Wülker conjectures that a Hospice existed in that town for Anglo-Saxon pilgrims who went on pilgrimage to Rome, and who crossed by the Mont Cenis or the Great or Little St. Bernard Passes. A scanty library may have grown up there, and this manuscript have been left to it by some English voyager. The book is a volume of Anglo-Saxon homilies, but interspersed among them are six poems - The Andreas, The Fates of the Apostles, The Address of the Soul to the Body, The Dream of the Rood, The Elene. The last is a fragment on the Falsehood of Men. The handwriting is of the eleventh century.

The Manuscript of Beowulf is in the British Museum (Cotton Vitellius A. XV.), and the same MS. contains the poem of Judith.

The Junian Manuscript, of the Caedmonian poems. It contains Genesis, Erodus, Daniel, Christ and Satan, and is in the Bodleian.

Two fragments. — (i.) The Fight at Finnsburg. It only exists in a copy of it made by Hickes from a leaf of parchment used in the binding of a manuscript of homilies. This leaf, found in Lambeth Palace Library, is now lost. (ii.) Two vellum leaves found by Professor Werlauff in the National Library at Copenhagen contain two fragments of a poem to which the name of Waldhere has been given.



it may

“ Widsit told his tale, unlocked his word-hoard,” is the beginning of the earliest poem we possess in the English tongue. Widsith — that is, “the Far-Traveller” — may be the actual name of the writer, or a name which as a wandering poet he assumed; or, as it occurs only in the introduction, which was probably written much later than the body of the poem, be a title given to the poet by the writer of the introduction, and this seems the best explanation of the term. The suggestion that it is another name for Woden, and that Widsith is therefore a mythological person, does not seem to have sufficient ground for its adoption. He is rather the “poetic representative of the singer” who loved to wander from court to court and land to land; and his name, whether assuined by himself or given to him by an after-writer, expresses this very well.

The poem begins with an introduction of nine lines. This is followed by a catalogue, from the tenth to the seventy-fifth line, of the various places and kings and tribes that Widsith had visited. An interpolation then of twelve lines succeeds, and may have been inserted in the seventh century, and in England. The conclusion contains a personal account of the poet's way of living and of his last journey, and this runs on from verse 87 to the close. The catalogue and the personal account are very old, older than anything else we have of Anglo-Saxon poetry, and may date from the time when the English as yet kept their seats upon the continent. The theories concerning the origin and date of the poem are numerous, and I place in a note at the end of this volume a short discussion of them. To treat of them here would confuse the personal impression which the poem was certainly intended to make.

1 Verses 131-134 are, it is supposed, a later interpolation.

The Preface (lines 1-9) which may have been written in the old Angle-land, tells us that Widsith, “who most of all men visited kindreds and nations, received in the hall for his singing memorable gifts." Born among the Myrgings," he became the singer of the court, and while still young went, in this capacity,“ with Queen Ealdhild the weaver of peace,” the daughter of Eadwine and the wife of Eadgils King of the Myrgings, to seek the home of Eormanric (Hermanric), King of the Ostrogoths who lived "east from Ongle”; and this was his first journey.

Here the Introduction ceases, and at the 10th line Widsith himself, writing in his old age, describes his journeys. “Many men and rulers I have known," he says; “through many stranger-lands I have fared, throughout the spacious earth, parted from my kinsmen. Therefore I may sing in the meadhall how the high born gave me gifts.” Two among the rest were most gracious to him, Guthere the Burgundian, “who gave me an arm-ring, no sluggish king was he, and Ælfwine in Italy, Eadwine's bairn. He was of all men swiftest of hand in winning of honour, and freest of heart in the dealing of rings.”

These names occur in the long list of kings and tribes whom he visited - a list which has certainly undergone some later interpolations. Many of the ancient names belong to the North German cycle of romance. A special place is given to Offa of Ongle. We hear also of personages known to us from the poem of Beowulf, of Finn, and Hnaef, of Hrothgar, Ingeld, and of the town of Heorot. It is a list of great importance for the history of the ancient tribes of Germany and for the heroic sagas of that country, but it has no literary value, and no personal interest. The personal interest comes in at line 87, after an interpolation of twelve lines. Widsith tells of his voyage to Eormanric, of his return, of the welcome his lord gave him, and of the songs he sung at home with his brother bard Scil

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i The Myrgings, the dwellers near the mark, lived perhaps in the Elbeland between the Elbe and the Eyder, and were neighbours of the Angles.

2 I assume here, for literary purposes, that the poem was written by one man, and that it is a personal account of his wanderings. In that way we can see the thing as Ælfred saw it, and it is the first way in which we should look at it. The critical consideration of its genuineness comes in afterwards, and will be found in a note at the end of this volume.

3 On the supposition that this list is the genuine work of Widsith, that is, of a poet who in his early youth, visited Hermanric, this “ Ælfwine in Italy" cannot be Alboin, but, as Guest conjectures, some Chief fighting in Italy, probably during the inroad of Alaric and under his banner, in the beginning of the fifth century. If that explanation be rejected, the name Ælfwine, unless we advance the date of the poem to the seventh century, must have been interpolated, for Alboin died in 572, two hundred years later than the death of Hermanric (375) whom Widsith says he visited in his youth.

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