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240
ICELAND

Upsala, at Stockholm, and in the old royal collection at Copenhagen. Those in the university library in the latter city perished in the fire of 1728. Sagas were printed at Upsala and Copenhagen in the 17th century, and the Arna-Magnaean fund has been working since 1772. In that year appeared also the first volume of Bishop Finn Jonsson’s Historia Ecclesiastica Islandiae, a work of high value and much erudition, containing not only ecclesiastical but civil and literary history, illustrated by a well-chosen mass of documents, 870-1740. It has been continued by Bishop P. Peterson to modern times, 1740-1840. The results, however, of modern observers and scholars must be sought for in the periodicals, Safn, Felagsrit, Ny Felagsrit and others. John Espolin’s Arbækr is very good up to its date, 1821.

A brilliant sketch of Icelandic classic literature is given by Dr

Gudbrandr Vigfusson in the Prolegomena to Sturlunga Saga (Oxford, 1879). It replaces much earlier work, especially the Sciagraphia of Halfdan Einarsson (1777), and the Saga-Bibliotek of Müller. The numerous editions of the classics by the Icelandic societies, the Danish Société des Antiquités, Nordiske Litteratur Samfund, and the new Gammel Nordisk Litteratur Samfund, the splendid Norwegian editions of Unger, the labours of the Icelanders Sigurdsson and Gislason, and of those foreign scholars in Scandinavia and Germany who have thrown themselves into the work of illustrating, publishing and editing the sagas and poems (men like P. A. Munch, S. Bugge, F. W. Bergmann, Th. Möbius and K. von Maurer, to name only a few), can only be referred to here. See also Finnur Jónsson, Den Oldnorske og Oldislanske Litteraturs Historie (Copenhagen, 1893-1900); R. B. Anderson’s translation (Chicago, 1884) of Winkel Horn’s History of the Literature of the Scandinavian North; and W.

Morris and E. Magnusson’s Saga Library.

 (F. Y. P.) 

Recent Literature

The recent literature of Iceland has been in a more flourishing state than ever before since the 13th century. Lyrical poetry is by far the largest and the most interesting portion of it. The great influence of Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) is still felt, and his school was the reigning one up to the end of the 19th century, although then a change seemed to be in sight. The most successful poet of this school is Steingrímr Thorsteinsson (b. 1830). He is specially famous for his splendid descriptions of scenery (The Song of Gilsbakki), his love-songs and his sarcastic epigrams. As a translator he has enriched the literature with The Arabian Nights, Sakuntala, King Lear and several other masterpieces of foreign literature. Equal in fame is Matthías Jochumsson (b. 1835), who, following another of Jónas Hallgrímsson’s many ways, has successfully revived the old metres of the classical Icelandic poets, whom he resembles in his majestic, but sometimes too gorgeous, language. He is as an artist inferior to Steingrímr Thorsteinsson, but surpasses him in bold flight of imagination. He has successfully treated subjects from Icelandic history Grettisljóð, a series of poems about the famous outlaw Grettir. His chief fault is a certain carelessness in writing; he can never write a bad poem, but rarely a poem absolutely flawless. He has translated Tegnér’s Frithiofs Saga, several plays of Shakespeare and some other foreign masterpieces. The great religious poet of Iceland, Hallgrímr Pétursson, has found a worthy successor in Valdemar Briem (b. 1848), whose Songs of the Bible are deservedly popular. He is like Matthías Jochumsson in the copious flow of his rhetoric; some of his poems are perfect both as regards form and contents, but he sometimes neglects the latter while polishing the former. An interesting position is occupied by Benedict Gröndal (b. 1826), whose travesties of the old romantic stories,[1] and his Aristophanic drama Gandreiðin (“The Magic Ride”) about contemporary events, are among the best satirical and humorous productions of Icelandic literature.

Influenced by Jónas Hallgrímsson with regard to language and poetic diction, but keeping unbroken the traditions of Icelandic medieval poetry maintained by Sigurðr Breiðfjörð (1798-1846), is another school of poets, very unlike the first. In the middle of the 19th century this school was best represented by Hjálmar Jónsson from Bóla (1796-1875), a poor farmer with little education, but endowed with great poetical talents, and the author of satirical verses not inferior to those of Juvenal both in force and coarseness. In the last decades of the 19th century this school produced two poets of a very high order, both distinctly original and Icelandic. One is Páll Olafsson (b. 1827). His songs are mostly written in the medieval quatrains (ferskeytla), and are generally of a humorous and satirical character; his convivial songs are known by heart by every modern Icelander; and although some of the poets of the present day are more admired, there is none who is more loved by the people. The other is Þorsteinn Erlingsson (b. 1858). His exquisite satirical songs, in an easy and elegant but still manly and splendid language, have raised much discussion. Of his poems may be mentioned The Oath, a series of most beautiful ballads, with a tragical love-story of the 17th century as their base, but with many and happy satirical allusions to modern life; Jörundr, a long poem about the convict king, the Danish pirate Jörgensen, who nearly succeeded in making himself the master of Iceland, and The Fate of the Gods and The Men of the West (the Americans), two poems which, with their anti-clerical and half-socialistic tendencies, have caused strong protests from orthodox Lutheran clergy. Near to this school, but still standing apart, is Grímur Thomsen (b. 1820).

In the beginning of the ’eighties a new school arose—having its origin in the colony of Icelandic students at the University of Copenhagen. They had all attended the lectures of Georg Brandes, the great reformer of Scandinavian literature, and, influenced by his literary theories, they chose their models in the realistic school. This school is very dissimilar from the half-romantic school of Jónas Hallgrímsson; it is nearer the national Icelandic school represented by Páll Olafsson and Þorsteinn Erlingsson, but differs from those writers by introducing foreign elements hitherto unknown in Icelandic literature, and—especially in the case of the prose-writers—by imitating closely the style and manner of some of the great Norwegian novelists. Their influence brought the Icelandic literature into new roads, and it is interesting to see how the tough Icelandic element gradually assimilates the foreign. Of the lyrical poets, Hannes Hafsteinn (b. 1861) is by far the most important. In his splendid ballad, The Death of Skarphedinn, and in his beautiful series of songs describing a voyage through some of the most picturesque parts of Iceland, he is entirely original; but in his love-songs, beautiful as many of them are, a strong foreign influence can be observed. Among the innovations of this poet we may note a predilection for new metres, sometimes adopted from foreign languages, sometimes invented by himself, a thing practised rarely and generally with small success by the Icelandic poets.

No Icelandic novelist has as yet equalled Jón Thóroddsen (1819-1868). The influence of the realistic school has of late been predominant. The most distinguished writer of that school has been Gestur Pálsson (1852-1891), whose short stories with their sharp and biting satire have produced many imitations in Iceland. The best are A Home of Love and Captain Sigurd. Jónas Jónasson (b. 1856), a clergyman of northern Iceland, has, in a series of novels and short stories, given accurate, but somewhat dry, descriptions of the more gloomy sides of Icelandic country life. His best novel is Randiðr from Hvassafell, an historical novel of the middle ages. Besides these we may mention Torfhildur Hólm, one of the few women who have distinguished themselves in Icelandic literature. Her novels are mostly historical. The last decade of the 19th century saw the establishment of a permanent theatre at Reykjavik. The poet Matthías Jochumsson has written several dramas, but their chief merits are lyrical. The most successful of Icelandic dramatists as yet is Indrði Einarsson, whose plays, chiefly historical, in spite of excessive rhetoric, are very interesting and possess a true dramatic spirit.

In geography and geology Þorvaldr Thoroddsen has acquired a European fame for his researches and travels in Iceland, especially in the rarely-visited interior. Of his numerous writings in Icelandic, Danish and German, the History of

  1. E.g. “The Battle of the Plains of Death,” a burlesque on the battle of Solferino.