Haarfagr's kindred lasted some three centuries in Norway; Sverrir's lasted into its third century there; how long after this, among the neighboring kinships, I did not inquire. For, by regal affinities, consanguinities, and unexpected chances and changes, the three Scandinavian kingdoms fell all peaceably together under Queen Margaret, of the Calmar Union (A.D. 1397); and Norway, incorporated now with Denmark, needed no more kings.
The History of these Haarfagrs has awakened in me many thoughts: Of Despotism and Democracy, arbitrary government by one and self-government (which means no government, or anarchy) by all; of Dictatorship with many faults, and Universal Suffrage with little possibility of any virtue. For the contrast between Olaf Tryggveson, and a Universal-Suffrage Parliament or an "Imperial" Copper Captain has, in these nine centuries, grown to be very great. And the eternal Providence that guides all this, and produces alike these entities with their epochs, is not its course still through the great deep? Does not it still speak to us, if we have ears? Here, clothed in stormy enough passions and instincts, unconscious of any aim but their own satisfaction, is the blessed beginning of Human Order, Regulation, and real Government; there, clothed in a highly different, but again suitable garniture of passions, instincts, and equally unconscious as to real aim, is the accursed-looking ending (temporary ending) of Order, Regulation, and Government;—very dismal to the sane onlooker for the time being; not dismal to him otherwise, his hope, too, being steadfast! But here, at any rate, in this poor Norse theatre, one looks with interest on the first transformation, so mysterious and abstruse, of human Chaos into something of articulate Cosmos; witnesses the wild and strange birth-pangs of Human Society, and reflects that without something similar (little as men expect such now), no Cosmos of human society ever was got into existence, nor can ever again be.
The violences, fightings, crimes—ah yes, these seldom fail, and they are very lamentable. But always, too, among those old populations, there was one saving element; the now want of which, especially the unlamented want, transcends all lamentation. Here is one of those strange, piercing, winged-words of Ruskin, which has in it a terrible truth for us in these epochs now come:—
"My friends, the follies of modern Liberalism, many and great though they be, are practically summed in this denial or neglect of the quality and intrinsic value of things. Its rectangular beatitudes, and spherical benevolences,—theology of universal indulgence, and jurisprudence which will hang no rogues, mean, one and all of them, in the root, incapacity of discerning, or refusal to discern, worth and unworth in anything, and least of all in man; whereas Nature and Heaven command you, at your peril, to discern worth from unworth in everything, and most of all in man. Your main problem is that ancient and trite one, 'Who is best man?' and the Fates forgive much,—forgive the wildest, fiercest, cruelest experiments,—if fairly made for the determination of that.
Theft and blood-guiltiness are not pleasing in their sight; yet the favoring powers of the spiritual and material world will confirm to you your stolen goods, and their noblest voices applaud the lifting of Your spear, and rehearse the sculpture of your shield, if only your robbing and slaying have been in fair arbitrament of that question, 'Who is best man?' But if you refuse such inquiry, and maintain every man for his neighbor's match,—if you give vote to the simple and liberty to the vile, the powers of those spiritual and material worlds in due time present you inevitably with the same problem, soluble now only wrong side upwards; and your robbing and slaying must be done then to find out, 'Who is worst man?' Which, in so wide an order of merit, is, indeed, not easy; but a complete Tammany Ring, and lowest circle in the Inferno of Worst, you are sure to find, and to be governed by."
All readers will admit that there was something naturally royal in these Haarfagr Kings. A wildly great kind of kindred; counts in it two Heroes of a high, or almost highest, type: the first two Olafs, Tryggveson and the Saint. And the view of them, withal, as we chance to have it, I have often thought, how essentially Homeric it was:—indeed what is "Homer" himself but the Rhapsody of five centuries of Greek Skalds and wandering Ballad-singers, done (i.e. "stitched together") by somebody more musical than Snorro was? Olaf Tryggveson and Olaf Saint please me quite as well in their prosaic form; offering me the truth of them as if seen in their real lineaments by some marvellous opening (through the art of Snorro) across the black strata of the ages. Two high, almost among the highest sons of Nature, seen as they veritably were; fairly comparable or superior to god-like Achilleus, goddess-wounding Diomedes, much more to the two Atreidai, Regulators of the Peoples.
I have also thought often what a Book might be made of Snorro, did there but arise a man furnished with due literary insight, and indefatigable diligence; who, faithfully acquainting himself with the topography, the monumental relies and illustrative actualities of Norway, carefully scanning the best testimonies as to place and time which that country can still give him, carefully the best collateral records and chronologies of other countries, and who, himself possessing the highest faculty of a Poet, could, abridging, arranging, elucidating, reduce Snorro to a polished Cosmic state, unweariedly purging away his much chaotic matter! A modern "highest kind of Poet," capable of unlimited slavish labor withal;—who, I fear, is not soon to be expected in this world, or likely to find his task in the Heimskringla if he did appear here.Top of page