beginler than the beginning. Thus has our stock of intelligence come rushing out on us quite promiscuously and pellmell; whereby the whole matter could not but acquire a tortuous, confused, altogether inexplicable and even dreary aspect; and the class of well-informed persons' now find themselves in that uncomfortable position, where they are obliged to profess admiration, and at the same time feel that, except by name, they know not what the thing admired is. Such a position towards the venerable Nibelungen, which is no less bright and graceful than historically significant, cannot be the right one. Moreover, as appears to us, it might be somewhat mended by very simple means. Let any one that had honestly read the Nibelungen, which in these days is no surprising achievement, only tell us what he found there, and nothing that he did not find : we should then know something, and, what were still better, be ready for knowing more. To search out the secret roots of such a production, ramified through successive layers of centuries, and drawing nourishment from each, may be work, and too hard work, for the deepest philosopher and critic; but to look with natural eyes on what part of it stands visibly above ground, and record his own experiences thereof, is what any reasonable mortal, if he will take heed, can do.

Some such slight service we here intend proffering to our readers : let them glance with us a little into that mighty maze of Northern Archæology; where, it may be, some pleasant prospects will open. If the Nibelungen is what we have called it, a firm sunny island amid the weltering chaos of antique tradition, it must be worth visiting on general grounds ; nay, if the primeval rudiments of it have the antiquity assigned them, it belongs specially to us English Teutones as well as to the German.

Far be it from us, meanwhile, to venture rashly, or farther than is needful, into that same traditionary chaos, fondly amed the • Cycle of Northern Fiction, with its Fourteen Sectors (or separate Poems), which are rather Fourteen


shoreless Limbos, where we hear of pieces containing a hundred thousand verses,' and seventy thousand verses,' as of a quite natural affair! How travel through that inane country; by what art discover the little grain of Substance that casts such multiplied immeasurable Shadows? The primeval Mythus, were it at first philosophical truth, or were it historical incident, floats too vaguely on the breath of men : each successive Singer and Redactor furnishes it with new personages, new scenery, to please a new audience ; each has the privilege of inventing, and the far wider privilege of borrowing and new-modelling from all that have preceded him. Thus though Tradition may have but one root, it grows like a Banian, into a whole overarching labyrinth of

Or rather might we say, it is a Hall of Mirrors, where in pale light each mirror reflects, convexly or concavely, not only some real Object, but the Shadows of this in other mirrors; which again do the like for it: till in such reflection and re-reflection the whole immensity is filled with dimmer and dimmer shapes; and no firm scene lies round us, but a dislocated, distorted chaos, fading away on all hands, in the distance, into utter night. Only to some brave Von der Hagen, furnished with indefatigable ardour, and a deep, almost religious love, is it given to find sure footing there, and see his way. All those Dukes of Aquitania, therefore, and Etzel's Court-holdings, and Dietrichs and Sigenots we shall leave standing where they are. Such as desire farther information, will find an intelligible account of the whole Series or Cycle, in Messrs. Weber and Jamieson's Illustrations of Northern Antiquities ; and all possible furtherance, in the numerous German works above alluded to; among which Von der Hagen's writings, though not the readiest, are probably the safest guides. But for us, our business here is with the Nibelungen, the inhabited poetic country round which all these wildernesses lie; only as environments of which, as routes to which, are they of moment to us.

Perhaps our shortest and smoothest route will be

through the Heldenbuch (Hero-book); which is greatly the most important of these subsidiary Fictions, not without interest of its own, and closely related to the Nibelungen. This Heldenbuch, therefore, we must now address ourselves to traverse with all despatch. At the present stage of the business too, we shall forbear any historical inquiry and argument concerning the date and local habitation of those Traditions ; reserving what little is to be said on that matter till the Traditions themselves have become better known to

Let the reader, on trust for the present, transport himself into the twelfth or thirteenth century; and therefrom looking back into the sixth or fifth, see what presents itself.


Of the Heldenbuch, tried on its own merits, and except as illustrating that other far worthier Poem, or at most as an old national, and still in some measure popular book, we should have felt strongly inclined to say, as the Curate in Don Quixote so often did, Al corral con ello, Out of window with it! Doubtless there are touches of beauty in the work, and even a sort of heartiness and antique quaintness in its wildest follies ; but on the whole that George-and-Dragon species of composition has long ceased to find favour with any one ; and except for its groundwork, more or less discernible, of old Northern Fiction, this Heldenbuch has little to distinguish it from these. Nevertheless, what is worth remark, it seems to have been a far higher favourite than the Nibelungen, with ancient readers : it was printed soon after the invention of printing ; some think in 1472, for there is no place or date on the first edition; at all events, in 1491, in 1509, and repeatedly since ; whereas the Nibelungen, though written earlier, and in worth immeasurably superior, had to remain in manuscript three centuries longer. From which, for the thousandth time, inferences might be drawn as to the infallibility of popular taste, and its value as a criterion for poetry. However, it is probably in virtue of this neglect, that the Nibelungen boasts of its actual

purity; that it now comes before us, clear and graceful as it issued from the old Singer's head and heart; not overloaded with Ass-eared Giants, Fiery Dragons, Dwarfs and Hairy Women, as the Heldenbuch is, many of which, as charity would hope, may be the produce of a later age than that famed Swabian Era, to which these poems, as we now see them, are commonly referred. Indeed, one Casper von Roen is understood to have passed the whole Heldenbuch through his limbec, in the fifteenth century ; but like other rectifiers, instead of purifying it, to have only drugged it with still fiercer ingredients to suit the sick appetite of the time.

Of this drugged and adulterated Hero-book (the only one we yet have, though there is talk of a better) we shall quote the long Title-page of Lessing's Copy, the edition of 1560; from which, with a few intercalated observations, the reader's curiosity may probably obtain what little satisfaction it wants :

Das Heldenbuch, welchs auffs new corrigirt und gebessert ist, mit shönen Figuren geziert. Gedrückt zu Frankfurt am Mayn, durch Weygand Han und Sygmund Feyerabend, &c. That is to say :

• The Hero-book, which is of new corrected and improved, adorned with beautiful Figures. Printed at Frankfurt on 'the Mayn, through Weygand Han and Sygmund Feyera· bend.

Part First saith of Kaiser Ottnit and the little King Elberich, how they with great peril, over sea, in Heathendom, won from a king his daughter (and how he in lawful 'marriage took her to wife).'

From which announcement the reader already guesses the contents : how this little King Elberich was a Dwarf, or Elf, some half-span long, yet full of cunning practices, and the most helpful activity ; nay, stranger still, had been Kaiser Ottnit of Lampartei or Lombardy's father, — having had his own ulterior views in that indiscretion. How they sailed



with Messina ships, into Paynim land; fought with that unspeakable Turk, King Machabol, in and about his fortress and metropolis of Montebur, which was all stuck round with christian heads; slew from seventy to a hundred thousand of the Infidels at one heat; saw the lady on the battlements; and at length, chiefly by Dwarf Elberich's help, carried her off in triumph; wedded her in Messina ; and without difficulty, rooting out the Mahometan prejudice, converted her to the creed of Mother Church. The fair runaway seems to have been of a gentle, tractable disposition, very different from old Machabol; concerning whom it is here chiefly to be noted that Dwarf Elberich, rendering himself invisible on their first interview, plucks out a handful of hair from his chin; thereby increasing to a tenfold pitch the royal choler; and, what is still more remarkable, furnishing the poet Wieland, six centuries afterwards, with the critical incident in his Oberon. As for the young lady herself, we cannot but admit that she was well worth sailing to Heathendom for ; and shall here, as our sole specimen of that old German doggerel, give the description of her, as she first appeared on the battlements during the fight; subjoining a version as verbal and literal as the plainest prose can make it. Considered as a detached

passage, it is perhaps the finest we have met with in the Heldenbuch.

Ihr herz brann also schone,
Recht als ein rot rubein,
Gleich dem vollen mone
Gaben ihr äuglein schein.
Sich hett die maget reine
Mit rosen wohl bekleid
Und auch mit berlin kleine ;
Niemand da tröst die meid.

Her heart burnt (with anxiety) as beautiful
Just as a red ruby,
Like the full moon
Her eyes (eyelings, pretty eyes) gave sheen.
Herself had the maiden pure
Well adorned with roses,

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