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Charles subsequently endeavoured to win the people by other means. He erected bishoprics in various parts of the land, and sent clergy among the people to instruct them. If the clergy found the people sullen and deeply prejudiced against the Christian religion, the blame lay less with them than with the brutal and unchristian policy which, uniting missionary and warlike enterprise in an unholy union, had made Christian baptism the sign of the defeat and dishonour of a brave people.
Perhaps it was because the Saxons were found to be specially prejudiced against the ordinary sermons of ecclesiastics that a new method was made use of to teach them Christianity. At all events, we hear of it now for the first time. Like all the Northern nations, the Saxons were passionately attached to their national songs. These songs, written in a simple alliterative measure, and dedicated to the praise of gods or heroes, were to be heard whenever the German people met together. In national assemblies, on the march, and in the camp, and especially on the eve of battles, these songs played a great and important part in rousing the enthusiasm of the warriors, although the Romans contemptuously compared them to the cries. of wild animals. To give an example from the Northern epic 'Beowulf' in which we have a picture of Northern life, the king is there represented as building a grand hall, in which he and his thanes might feast together. And in describing the festival at which the king of the Danes received the Gothic strangers, the poet writes: There was a bench cleared for the sons of the Goths to sit close together in the beer-hall; there the stout-hearted ones went and sat, exulting clamorously. A thane attended to their wants, who carried in his hands a chased ale flagon, and poured the pure bright liquor. A Scôp between whiles sang with clear voice in Heorot. There was the joy of warriors, a great gathering of noble knights, both Danes and Weders.' 1
The clergy were not favourable to the national songs, nor to the festive gatherings of the people. They considered that the songs had a tendency to keep alive heathenism, and the gatherings were so often occasions of riotous dissipation that we cannot wonder they did not like them. It is probably owing to the dislike which they had for the songs that we have lost the collection made by Charles the Great, for nothing of which they disapproved was likely to survive.
The 'Heliand' is a proof that some adherents of the new faith, whether clergymen or laymen, did not content themselves with mere opposition to customs of which they disapproved, but endeavoured to give the people something in their stead. Perceiving the advantage that would be gained were the histories and doctrines of the new faith wedded to the measures which the people loved, these missionaries for they were so whether they bore the name or not-with
Beowulf: a Heroic Poem of the Eighth Century. With translation by Thomas Arnold, M.A. London: Longmans, Green, & Co. 1876.
a genial courage which augured well for the future of their cause, boldly told the story of the life of Christ to the Saxons, in the verse which had been formerly employed in singing the praises of Wustan and Tyr.
We speak of these singing missionaries in the plural, as it is not probable that so perfect a poem as the Heliand' was a first attempt. The first attempts would be rude and simple, and perish as the earliest gospels of Palestine perished. The Heliand' has a unity which shows that it is the work of one writer-and a writer of real poetic gift-an inspired singer. Except the vague tradition already mentioned, we know nothing of his life, of how he was first led to become the epic poet of Christian Germany. But there is an interesting parallel in the case of the Anglo-Saxon Caedmon-the story of whose call' to the service of religious song is narrated by Bede. We quote the passage from the introduction to Mr. Thorpe's edition of Caedmon :
In this Abbess's Minster was a certain brother extraordinarily magnified and honoured with a divine gift: for he was wont to make fitting songs which conduced to religion and piety; so that whatever he learned through clerks of the holy writings, that he, after a little space, would usually adorn with the greatest sweetness and feeling, and bring forth in the English tongue; and by his songs the minds of many men were often inflamed with contempt for the world, and with desire of heavenly life. . . . The man was placed in worldly life until the time that he was of mature age, and had never learned any poem; and he therefore often in convivial society, when for the sake of mirth it was resolved that they all in turn should sing to the harp, when he saw the harp approaching him, then for shame he would rise from the assembly and go home to his house.
When he so on a certain time did, that he left the house of the convivial meeting, and was gone out to the stall of the cattle, the care of which that night had been committed to him-when he there, at proper time, placed his limbs on the bed and slept, there stood some man by him, in a dream, and hailed and greeted him, and named him by his name, saying, 'Caedmon, sing me something.' When he answered and said, 'I cannot sing anything, and therefore I went out from this convivial meeting, and retired hither, because I could not.'
Again he who was speaking with him said, 'Yet thou must sing to me.' Said he, 'What shall I sing?' Said he, 'Sing me the origin of things.' When he received this answer, then he began forthwith to sing, in praise of God the Creator, the verses and the words which he had never heard, the order of which is
Now we must praise
The Guardian of Heaven's Kingdom, &c.
Then he arose from sleep, and had fast in mind all that he sleeping had sung, and to those words forthwith joined many words of song worthy of God in the same measure.
When came he in the morning to the town-reeve, who was his superior, and said to him what gift he had received, and he forthwith led him to the Abbess, and told, and made that known to her. Then she bade all the most learned men and the learners to assemble, and in their presence bade him tell the dream, and sing the poem; that, by the judgment of them all,
it might be determined why or whence that was come? Then it seemed to them all, so as it was, that to him, from the Lord Himself, a heavenly gift had been given. Then they expounded to him, and said some holy history, and words of godly love; then bade him, if he could, to sing some of them, and turn them into the melody of song. When he had undertaken the thing, then went he home to his house, and came again in the morning, and sang and gave to them, adorned with the best poetry, what had been bidden him.
Whether there were ecstatic experiences in the life of the anonymous author of the 'Heliand' we cannot say. Like a true epic poet, he completely effaces himself in his poem, and speaks only of his Divine Hero. But there is one statement in the above extract which may serve to throw light upon a circumstance which has been considered mysterious. According to tradition the author of the 'Heliand' was a peasant'-a somewhat elastic term, but which excludes his being an ecclesiastic. Doubts have, in consequence, been cast upon the tradition, because there are some indications that the poet had made use of a Latin Harmony of the Gospels then in use in the Church. But it is not indispensable to believe that he himself used the book. He might have derived his knowledge of its contents in the same way as Caedmon got his, through the clerks of the holy writings.'
In order to give an idea of the general character of the narrative portion of the Heliand,' we translate the story of the Temptation. The simple prose version will, we think, convey the author's meaning better than could be done by an imitation of the alliterative measure of the original.
After the Baptism did the Good Lord, the son of the Ruler, betake himself to the wilderness. And there for a long time in the lonely place did the Lord of men remain. And the disciples, His companions, were not with Him. This was His own choice. He desired to allow Himself to be tempted by the strong Wight-by Satan himself, by whom men are always allured to sin and wickedness. The audacity of Satan was known to Him, and his perverse will, and how in the beginning he entrapped with sin and with lies led astray the first pair, Adam and Eve, so that thereafter did the children of the people-the spirits of men-go down to Hell on their departure from this world. This the Mighty God, the Ruler, desired to avert, and to give to the people the high kingdom of the heavens. Therefore sent He to earth the Holy Messenger, His Son. This was a great grief to Satan's heart. He envied the kingdom of heaven to men, and desired to seduce the Mighty One, the Son of the Lord, with the same temptations with which in old days he had spitefully deceived Adam, so that Adam became displeasing to his Lord, and laden with sins. And now he wished to do the same with the Son of the Lord-the Healing Christ. But the Son of the Ruler had made His heart strong against the corruption. It was His will to gain for men the kingdom of heaven.
The Guardian, the Lord of men, remained for forty days fasting in the wilderness. So long as He did not touch food the wicked wight, the envious fiend, did not venture into his presence. For Satan fancied that the Mighty One, the Holy Guardian of the land, was God Himself, and not a being of human race. But when after forty days He began to
hunger, and the manhood in Him desired food, the dark evil-doer drew nearer, for now he thought that He was only a man. And the arch-fiend addressed Him, saying, 'Of all sons the Best, if Thou art the Son of God, wherefore dost Thou not give commandment for these stones to become bread? Heal Thy hunger!' Then spake to him the Holy Christ, and said, 'The children of time must not live by bread alone, but by means of the teaching of God must they subsist in this world, and bring forth the works which are indicated by the holy voice-the voice of God..... Then for the third time did He allow Himself to be brought by the corrupter of the people to a high mountain, where the tempter let Him see the people of the earth, the glad riches and the kingdom of the world, and whatsoever heritage of glorious good things earth bears. Then spake the Fiend and said, 'All this magnificence and high rule will I give to you, if you stoop to me, reckon me your Lord, and to me offer your prayer. If you do this, all the treasures of good things which I have shown to you will be yours.' Then did the Holy Christ will no longer to hear the words of the wretch. . . . He went away, the evil-doer, Satan-he went very sorrowful, and descended to the horrible abysses of torture. Then came a great multitude of the angels of God to Christ-from the All-Ruler— from above. These were to be henceforth His disciples, and to render to Him humble service, as to the people's God, the Lord and King of Heaven.
The blessed Child of God remained for a long time in the forest, until the season arrived when it pleased Him to display His great power and satisfy the desires of His followers. Then left He the leaves of the wood, the lonely place, and sought again the society of men.
The good taste, as well as the devout spirit of the writer, is manifest in his manner of telling the gospel story. He introduces no irrelevant episodes from other parts of Scripture, or from legends, as the example of Northern epics might have suggested. At a later period it was customary in Germany, and in other parts of Europe, to bring the sacred history upon the stage, and in order to please the people strange liberties were taken. Comic characters appeared in the most solemn scenes of the history, whose business was to raise a laugh. There is no approach to this in the Heliand.' The additions made to the original narrative are few, and usually unimportant. They are little more than touches of more detailed description, or expansions of the dialogue. For example, in the account of the Massacre of the Innocents, the mothers are represented as shielding their infants with their arms from the blows of the soldiers. In the narrative of the Baptism, the dove is described as descending from heaven and lighting upon Christ's shoulder. A full description is given of the festivities at Herod's court on his birthday. The king of the Jews' summons a multitude of his dukes from all parts of the land to meet in the guest hall on his birthday. We think as we read of the festival at the beginning of Gudrun. Herod sits on his royal throne with a joyful heart, and wine is handed round in plenty among the guests, and gifts showered upon them by the king. What at first sight appears to be a very odd change is made regarding the dream of Pilate's wife. Her dream is said to have come from the Devil, who, when the soul of Judas descended to hell, learned for the first time that it was the design of Christ, by means of His death, to
redeem mankind from hell, and to lead them into the life of God. Having ascertained this, he was alarmed, and felt that he had committed a fatal blunder in seeking to compass Christ's death—a blunder which he endeavoured to repair through Pilate's wife, but found it to be too late.2
The discourses and sayings of Christ are exceedingly well rendered by the poet of the 'Heliand.' There is the same combination of natural good taste with reverential feeling as in the narrative portion, and much of the elevation and sweetness of the original is preserved throughout. We doubt if any poet has ever preserved them so well. The Sermon on the Mount is beautifully rendered. As a specimen we give the version of Matthew vi. 9-15:
When the heroes surrounded the Son of God, great was their desire to hear His words. They remained silent, and were full of thought. Great was their wish to store up in their minds those wonderful things which now for the first time had been spoken by the Holy Child. Then one of the quick-witted disciples opened his mouth and spake to the Son of God, saying, 'Good Lord, Best of Men, Thy grace is needful for us that we may do Thy will, and obey Thy words. Teach, then, Thy disciples to pray, as John the dear Baptist has done, who daily teaches his disciples how to greet with words the Good Ruler. Do Thou reveal the secret to us Thy disciples.'
Then the Son, the Lord, the Rich One, without delay spake good words, saying: 'When you wish to greet with words God the Lord and Ruler, the most Mighty of Kings, speak as I now teach you. Our Father, Father of the children of Men, Hallowed be Thy name by every word of ours. May Thy strong kingdom come. May Thy will be done here upon earth, even as it is done there in the high kingdom of the Heavens. Give us, Good Lord, what is needful for the day-Thy heavenly aid. Guardian of Heaven, forgive us all our misdeeds as we forgive others. Permit not the miserable wights to lead us astray according to their will, but if we be worthy, help us against all evil deeds.'
In the Heliand,' as in all epic poems, epithets are largely employed. To every personage introduced are one or more names or adjectives applied. Very noticeable from their number and their beauty are those given to Christ, for whom the writer seems to feel a pleasure in thus testifying his unbounded reverence. He calls Him God's Child of Peace,' 'The Good Son of God,' The Holy King of Heaven,' 'The Holy Christ,' 'The Healing Christ,' The Best of Teachers,' &c. The late Mr. Bayard Taylor, in lectures recently published, said of the Christ of the Heliand,' that we might almost fancy Him to be the beautiful god of the Scandinavians, Balder, in a more perfect form. Such a remark is misleading. It is true there is no figure in the whole range of mythology so pure and elevated as Balder, and none therefore that can be so well compared with Christ; but Mr. Taylor's remark is apt to convey the impression that the 'Heliand' is a sort of Christianised Edda, which it certainly is not.
This is really a poetical version of an idea found in the early Fathers, that the Devil was deceived by means of the death of Christ, and that mankind were redeemed from his power by a holy fraud.