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He and the others, who were to have the good fortune of returning home, descended from the larger ship and entered the smaller one, leaving the other half of their company on the doomed vessel, and were about to sail. Suddenly a young Icelander, who had been persuaded by Bjarn to leave his father's house in Iceland and join the expedition, and who had drawn the lot of perishing with the sinking ship, cried out from the latter, “Dost thou mean, Bjarn, to leave me here?” Bjarn answered, “So it seems; it is impossible to do otherwise; the lots are cast.” The youth replied, “Very different was the promise you made to my father, when I went with thee from Iceland, than thus to leave me, for thou saidst to my father we should both share the same fate.” Bjarn then honorably and heroically exchanged places with the young Icelander, whom he put upon the homeward bound boat, while he ascended again and took his place on the doomed and worm-eaten vessel. Bjarn and his unfortunate companions perished amidst a sea of waves and
The smaller boat returned in safety to Iceland and Norway, when the young Icelander and his companions recounted the heroic act of Bjarn Grimolfson. We rejoice in renewing and repeating this souvenir, which the Icelandic Sagas so graphically and admiringly preserve, of this heroic Viking. May his ill deeds be forgotten in this generous act. To Bjarn we address the words of Lord Byron :
“I know thee for a man of many thoughts,
But Thorfinn and Gudrid, and Snorre, their native American son, children of prophecy and favorites of fortune, returned to Greenland and to Norway in their brave ship, which was loaded with a rich cargo of grapes from Vinland, of valuable wood called Mazur, supposed to be bird's-eye maple, furs, and other products of the country. These articles were sold in Norway at fabulous prices, and Thorfinn realized a fortune. He and his family and companions were treated with extreme honor, and he was recognized as having more than realized the prophecies. But his deeds and his fame would have been complete only on his achieving the permanent colonization of Vinland. His failure to do so left the field open to the glorious achievements of Columbus. He spent his last days in Greenland. After his death and the marriage of Snorre, Gudrid made a pilgrimage to Rome, and spent her last years in one of the many religious houses of the Eternal City. Rome was then, as she has been ever since, alive to geographical discoveries, as affording the channel for conveying the faith to heathen peoples. Rome was represented in the western hemisphere by a succession of seventeen bishops in Greenland, and one
of them, Bishop Eric Upsi, became the apostle of Vinland in the twelfth century, a fact which indicates a permanent settlement of Northmen in Rhode Island. It is quite probable that Gudrid's narratives of Thorfinn's expedition, of the birth of Snorre, and of the native races plunged in paganism, made a deep impression at Rome, and that there were not wanting learned and curious geographers to record her story. It is believed that the traditions of these expeditions of the Northmen to distant lands beyond the ocean reached the eager ears of Columbus, that he not only saw and read accounts of them at Rome, but, on the occasion of his voyage to Iceland in the spring of 1477, heard the legends of Vinland from Norse tongues, and learned them more minutely from the Monastic manuscripts preserved in the ancient convents.
The next expedition to Vinland soon followed after the return of Thorfinn. The leading spirit in this attempt was the notorious Freydis, wife of Thorvard. Her husband was the weakest of Vikings, for he was under the complete control of his unscrupulous and covetous wife. Freydis formed a partnership in a voyage to Vinland with two Icelanders, the brothers Helge and Finboge, who arrived in Greenland with three ships in the summer of 1010. Freydis broke faith with her partners at the very start, quarrelled with them immediately on her arrival in Vinland, plotted and accomplished their assassination, and when no Northman in her husband's crew was willing to kill the five women who were with the party of Helge and Finboge, she seized an axe, and with her own hands butchered them on the spot. She seized all the goods and property of her murdered victims, her late partners, and in the spring of 1011 returned to Greenland. In spite of her threats to murder any one who should divulge her crimes, the murder leaked out, and Freydis justly became the opprobrium of her race and of her sex.
Vinland is mentioned in other Sagas, and in connection with subsequent voyages. As the Greenland colonies continued to maintain themselves and to flourish for four hundred years, and as Vinland was well known to the Greenlanders, it would seem improbable, if not impossible, that so adventurous and sea-roving a people could have discontinued their intercourse with this attractive region. As Leif, Thorvald, and Thorfinn had achieved glory by their expeditions to Vinland, and as the two last had also acquired fortunes in the same adventures, the fame of Vinland must have long afterwards resounded throughout Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. The last direct expedition to Vinland, however, of which we have any record in the Sagas, is that of Bishop Upsi, in 1121, and it is related that this zealous and devoted prelate, though appointed Bishop of Garda in Greenland, either re
signed his episcopal office, or, having accepted it, went in search of his flock in Vinland, and devoted himself to the conversion of the natives. It is probable that missionary efforts in Vinland did not cease with Bishop Eric, for we have an account of a new land west of Iceland being discovered by two missionaries who went out from Iceland. Greenland was too well known and too thoroughly colonized to be referred to in this account. Some suppose Newfoundland was the land referred to. And in 1347 mention is made of a voyage from Greenland to Markland. At the time of this latter expedition the plague of the Black Death was raging in Norway, and its population was reduced from two millions to three hundred thousand. The plague continued to rage till 1351, and is supposed to have been communicated to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland, by the ships passing between those countries and Norway. The Black Death is believed to have resulted in the final extinction of the Greenland and Vinland colonies. If any permanent colony was ever established in Vinland by the Northmen, as some suppose, and cite the old tower at Newport as proof of this fact, or if even occasional intercourse was maintained between Greenland and Vinland, all ended with the extermination of the Norwegian colonies in Greenland. It seems singular that the Northmen should have attached so little importance to the discovery of Vinland; but as they did not perplex their minds over the scientific theories involved, and cared not to explore the earth for the information of the inhabitants thereof, or for the benefit of science or general commerce, questions left for Columbus to study and to solve, the indifference of so rude a people seems not unnatural. It is also remarkable that none of the leading men among the Northmen, even those who had acquired fame and profit as explorers of Vinland, such as Leif, Thorvald, and Thorfinn, should have ever thought of persevering in the efforts commenced in that direction. They seem to have acted upon individual impulse or interest, and upon the acquisition of fame and fortune for themselves, they rested upon their honors and enjoyed their fortunes, though comparatively young men, for the remainder of their lives. Gudrid, the wife of Thorfinn Karlsafne, was a warm and generous advocate of Vinland colonization. She, like Isabella of Spain, was the inspiration of the enterprise, and had Thorfinn conquered and colonized Vinland Gudrid would have been the good angel of the country. D'Avezac, Kohl, Rafn, and Gravier are of opinion that Vinland continued to be known and visited by the Greenlanders, Icelanders, and Norwegians generally. Humboldt seems to sympathize in this view, and to attach some historical value to an ancient Ferroese poem in Latin, in which Vinland is mentioned as a populous land governed by kings.
There is nothing that so arouses the cupidity of man or fires his imagination as the discovery of unknown and distant lands. From early ages the civilized portions of the world have often been electrified by such events, and the literature of such ages teems with the most extravagant accounts of what neither historian nor poet had seen. The epic poems of every people and of every age have been imaginative, creative, as well as historical. Thus the Ophir of Solomon has frequently been found and dimly located down to the age of Columbus and his discoveries, and even to the discovery of the gold regions of our own California. El Dorado was not only revived in the Spanish chronicles and poems of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but even then renowned captains and brave soldiers sought it amid the everglades of Florida and the wastes of Mississippi. Not only were these phantom regions enriched with endless treasures, but were governed by mighty kings and emperors, and embellished with every barbaric grandeur. Such extravagances of poet and chronicler have passed away, but the true historic basis of them all remains, and real modern and business-like republics have now succeeded to the Ophir and El Dorado of past centuries. And so it was with Vinland and the Icelandic and Norse poets and historians of the mother countries. And thus we find that the Sagas and Scalds of the Northmen are filled side by side with the most authentic historical records and the wanderings of poetic imaginations. The world has admired such things in Homer and in Ossian. May we not at least tolerate them in the Sagamen and Scalds of the Northmen? It is with such sentiments that we now proceed to mention the ancient Ferroese poem, in a part of which Vinland is mentioned, with scarcely more exaggeration than the contemporaries of Columbus used in heralding and describing the countries discovered by him.
The manuscript of this interesting poem is preserved in the Royal Library at Copenhagen, the Latin text is printed in Professor Rafn's Antiquitates Americana, and Mr. Joshua Toulmin Smith gives a free but substantially correct translation of it in his Northmen in New England, endeavoring to preserve the style, rhythm, and verse employed in the original. The story of the poem is as follows: A certain prince of Sweden had two sons, Holdan the Strong, and Finn the Fair. The former, though the least favored by nature, was to succeed to his father's throne by the right of primogeniture, and the latter, though endowed with rich gifts of mind and person, was without a kingdom or a fortune. He became a redoubtable adventurer, and went forth to seek in marriage the most beautiful princess of the western island. Fair Ingeborg, daughter of a reigning king, was the object of his choice, and she favored his suit. Her father, the king, rejected it with disdain, on account of the inequality of their royal standings. Finn the Fair resented the king's insults, fatal deeds ensued, and Finn was thrown into prison. The beautiful princess sends a trusty messenger to Sweden to acquaint Holdan the Strong with the sad fate of his brother in prison. Holdan was incensed; he descends from his throne and hastens to the relief of his brother, whom he releases from the dungeon-walls, and slaughters the king himself. The two brothers then repair together to the princess to urge again the suit of Finn. The princess informs them that if Finn will sail to Vinland and overcome the three kings of that noted land she will favorably consider his suit and answer make on the return of the conqueror. The brothers repair to the distant Vinland, and Finn challenges the three kings and their twelve hundred warriors to mortal combat. The challenge is accepted, and Holdan witnesses the contest. Finn slays on the first day hosts of the Vinland warriors. On the second day the remainder of the twelve hundred warriors are killed. Finn then by turns overcomes and slaughters two of the kings, and is about to kill the third king when he is himself poisoned by a dragon flying over his head. Holdan now takes up the fight, and slays the third king. He then returns to Ingeborg, the beautiful island princess, relates to her the exploits and death of Finn before overcoming the third king of Vinland, and his own victory over the surviving king; he then offers himself to her in the place of Finn the Fair. Ingeborg informs him that she can never love another than Finn. He urges his suit. The princess reserves her answer till morning and sleeps one night upon her bosom, but, overpowered with grief, she expires before sunrise. Holdan ended his days in misery.
It would be interesting to modern scholars if we had space spread this entire poem of one hundred and four verses upon our pages in the original Latin, but we will content ourselves at present with giving in English only the verses which relate to Vinland. The contest lasted two days or more, and has been likened to the achievements related in the "Famous Ballad of Chevy Chase,” where
“In one day, fifty knights were slain,
With lords of great renown.”
We will now give those verses which, commencing after the narrative of Finn's release from prison, relate to Vinland, in the
ANCIENT BALLAD OF FINN THE FAIR.
“Hail Ingeborg, thou royal maid !
• Both fair and beautiful art thou; Wilt thou this prince elect,' they said,
• And take him for thy husband now?'