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energy to find that he had mastered a language which was hardly known, at that time, by any one in Europe, except a few learned Icelanders, whose native tongue made it easy for them to understand Norrona. Gray must have puzzled it out for himself, probably with the help of the Index Linguæ Scytho-Scandicae of Verelius. At that time what he rightly calls the Norse Tongue was looked upon as a sort of mystery; it was called "Runick," and its roots were supposed to be derived from the Hebrew. The Fatal Sisters is a lay of the eleventh century, the text of which Gray found in one of the compilations of Torfous (Thormod Torveson), a great collector of ancient Icelandic vellums at the close of the seventeenth century. It is a monologue, sung by one of the Valkyriur or Choosers of the Slain to her three sisters; the measure is one of great force and fire, an alternate rhyming of seven-syllable lines, of which this is a specimen :

Now the storm begins to lower,
(Haste, the loom of Hell prepare!)
Iron-sleet of arrowy shower

Hurtles in the darkened air.

Ere the ruddy sun be set

Pikes must shiver, javelins sing,
Blade with clattering buckler meet,
Hauberk crash, and helmet ring.

Sisters, hence with spurs of speed;

Each her thundering faulchion wield;
Each bestride her sable steed,

Hurry, hurry to the field!

The Descent of Odin is a finer poem, better paraphrased. Gray found the original in a book by Bartolinus, one of the


five great physicians of that name who flourished in Denmark during the seventeenth century. The poem itself is the Vegtamskvida, one of the most powerful and mysterious of those ancient lays which form the earliest collection we possess of Scandinavian poetry. It is probable that Gray never saw the tolerably complete but very inaccurate edition of Sæmundar Edda which existed in his time, nor knew the wonderful history of this collection, which was discovered in Iceland, in 1643, by Brynjólfr Sveinnson, Bishop of Skálaholt. The text which Gray found in Bartolinus, however, was sufficiently true to enable him to make a better translation of the Vegtamskvida than any which has been attempted since, and to make us deeply regret that he did not "imitate " more of these noble Eddaic chants. He even attempts a philological ingenuity, for, finding that Odin, to conceal his true nature from the Völva, calls himself Vegtam, Gray translates this strange word "traveller," evidently tracing it to veg, a way. He omits the first stave, which recounts how the Æsir sat in council to deliberate on the dreams of Balder, and he also omits four spurious stanzas, in this showing a critical tact little short of miraculous, considering the condition of scholarship at that time. The version itself is as poetical as it is exact:

Right against the eastern gate,
By the moss-grown pile he sate;
Where long of yore to sleep was laid
The dust of the prophetic Maid.
Facing to the northern clime,
Thrice he traced the runic rhyme;
Thrice pronounced, in accents dread,
The thrilling verse that wakes the Dead;

Till from out the hollow ground

Slowly breathed a sullen sound.


Mantling in the goblet see

The pure beverage of the bee,
O'er it hangs the shield of gold;
"Tis the drink of Balder bold.
Balder's head to death is given.

Pain can reach the sons of Heaven!

Unwilling I my lips unclose,

Leave me, leave me, to repose,

must be compared with the original to show how thoroughly the terse and rapid evolution of the strange old lay has been preserved, though the concise expression has throughout been modernized and rendered intelligible.

In these short pieces we see the beginning of that return to old Norse themes which has been carried so far and so brilliantly by later poets. It is a very curious thing that Gray in this anticipated, not merely his own countrymen, but the Scandinavians themselves. The first poems in which a Danish poet showed any intelligent appreciation of his national mythology and history, were the Rolf Krake and Balder's Död of Johannes Ewald, published respectively in 1770 and 1773. Gray therefore takes the precedence not only of Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Morris and other British poets, but even of the countless Danish, Swedish, and German writers who for a century past have celebrated the adventures of the archaic heroes of their race.

In a century which was inclined to begin the history of English poetry with the Life of Cowley, and which distrusted all that was ancient, as being certainly rude and probably worthless, Gray held the opinion, which he expresses in a letter of the 17th of February, 1763, "that without any respect of climates, imagination reigns

in all nascent societies of men, where the necessaries of life force every one to think and act much for himself." This critical temper attracted him to the Edda, made him indulgent to Ossian, and led him to see more poetry in the ancient songs of Wales than most non-Celtic readers can discover there. In 1764 Evans published his Specimens of Welsh Poetry, and in that bulky quarto Gray met with a Latin prose translation of the chant written about 1158 by Gwalchmai, in praise of his master Owen Gwynedd. The same Evans gave a variety of extracts from the Welsh epic, the Gododin, and three of these fragments Gray turned into English rhyme. One has something of the concision of an epigram from the Greek mythology :Have ye seen the tusky boar, Or the bull, with sullen roar, On surrounding foes advance? So Caradoc bore his lance.

The others are not nearly equal in poetical merit to the Scandinavian paraphrases. Gray does not seem to have shown these romances to his friends, with the same readiness that he displayed on other occasions. From critics like Hurd and Warburton he could expect no approval of themes taken from an antique civilization. Walpole, who did not see these poems till they were printed, asks :— "Who can care through what horrors a Runic savage arrived at all the joys and glories they could conceive,the supreme felicity of boozing ale out of the skull of an enemy in Odin's Hall?" This is quite a characteristic expression of that wonderful eighteenth century through which poor Gray wandered in a life-long exile. The author of the Vegtamskvida a "Runic savage"! No wonder Gray kept his "Imitations" safely out of the sight of such critics.



THE seven remaining years of Gray's life were even less eventful than those which we have already examined. In November 1763 he began to find that a complaint, which had long troubled him, the result of failing constitution, had become almost constant. For eight or nine months he was an acute sufferer, until in July 1764 he consented to undergo the operation without which he could not have continued to live. Dr. Wharton volunteered to come up from Durham, and, if not to perform the act, to support his friend in "the perilous hour." But Gray preferred that the Cambridge surgeon should attend him, and the operation was not only performed successfully, but the poet was able to sustain the much-dreaded suffering with fortitude. As he was beginning to get about again, the gout came in one foot, "but so tame you might have stroked it, such a minikin you might have played with it; in three or four days it had disappeared. This gout which troubled him so constantly, and was fatal to him at last, was hereditary, and not caused by any excess in eating or drinking; Gray was, in fact, singularly abstemious, and it was one of the accusations of his enemies that he affected to be so dainty that he could touch nothing less delicate than apricot marmalade.

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