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bute the invention of them to Odin. These letters are extremely unlike any that have been in use in other countries, and are only sixteen in number. They were used for the purpose of writing as well as in magical operations*. Many ancient monuments engraven with Runic inscriptions have been found in Iceland, as well as in Denmark and
* In the Havanial, or Sublime Discourse of Odin, it is said "Runic characters destroy the effect of imprecations"; and in Resenus' edition of the Fragments of the Ancient Edda, a little Poem is added, which is called "the Runic Chapter, or the Magic of Odin." In it that conqueror relates the wonders he is able to perform, either by means of these characters, or by the operations of poetry. "Do you know," says he, "how to engrave Runic characters? how to explain them? how to procure them? how to prove their virtue? If I see a man dead, and hanging aloft on a tree,. I engrave Runic characters so wonderful, that the man immediately descends and converses with me :" and Angantyr, in the Incantation of Hervor (of which we have a translation in the 'Fife Pieces. of Runic Poetry), says to Hervor, "Young maid, I say thou art of man-like courage, who dost rove about, by night, among tombs, with a spear engraven with magic spells, with helmet and coat of mail, before our hall:"—these magic spells were Runic characters, engraven on the weapon to prevent their being dulled, or blunted by inchantment. Norway, and even in England, as mentioned by Hickes; and a vast number of books, written in this character *, still exist in the libraries of the north; but of these, M. Mallet observes that the most ancient appear to have been written about the time that Christianity took place in the north, as is judged from several proofs, particularly from the frequent
So, too, in the Ode on the Descent of Odin, when this "Father of Magic, having reached the deep abode of 'death, stops near the tomb of the prophetess and looks towards the north, he engraves Runic characters on her tomb; and he utters mysterious words."
•" Right against the eastern gate
Gray's Translation of the Descent of Odin.
* Printed characters may be seen in the first volume of Northern Antiquities, p. 370; fac similes of some inscriptions, in the Atlas of the Voyage en Islande, t. xx, and in the title-page of the Five Pieces of Runic Poetry.
intermixture of Roman letters in them. In the year 1000, Isleif founded a school at Skalholt, and soon after four other, when the Roman characters were universally adopted, and the youth instructed in the Latin tongue, divinity, and parts of theoretic philosophy. At this period, also, many Icelanders studied at foreign universities, though others received their education entirely in their own country. Iceland was now in the zenith of her literary glory, and, from the introduction of the christian religion till the year 1264, when the whole island became subject to Norway, she continued one of the few countries in Europe, and the only one in the North, where the sciences were cultivated and held in esteem *. It appears extraordinary, says M. Mallet, to hear a historian of Denmark cite for his authority the writers of Iceland; but this wonder will cease, when the reader is informed, that, from the earliest times, the inhabitants of that island had a particular fondness for history, and that from among them have sprung those poets, who, under the name of Scalds, rendered themselves so
famous throughout the north for their songs, and for the credit they enjoyed with kings and people. In fact, they have always taken great pains to preserve the remembrance of «very remarkable event that happened, not •only at home, but among their neighbors, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Swedes, the Scotch, the English, the Greenlanders, &c. The first inhabitants of Iceland carried with them the verses, together with other historical monuments of former times; and the odes of these Icelandic Scalds were continually in every body's mouth; containing, according to Torfaeus, the genealogies. and exploits of kings, princes, and heroes: and, as the poets did not forget to arrange them according to the order of time, it was not difficult for the Icelandic historians to compose afterwards, from such memoirs, the chronicles they have left us. Indeed *, the poetical and historical works of this country have bid defiance to time. Her ancient chronicles shew what clear notions they had of morality, philosophy, natural history, and astronomy. Her divines read the works
* Von TroiL
of the fathers of the church; and no fewer than two hundred and thirty poets*, some of them known and esteemed at foreign courts, are enumerated in the Skaldatal, an ancient manuscript, in which is preserved a list of those scalds or poets who have distinguished themselves in the three northern kingdoms, from the reign of Regncr Lodbrog to that of Valdemer n: that is, from A.d. 750 to 1157. Among them is more than one crowned head, and, what is no less remarkable, the greatest part of them are natives of Iceland. Driven, perhaps, by poverty, some of them were induced to visit foreign courts, and Wormius, in his Litteratura Danica, states that Canute had no less than eight Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic poets, who flourished in his court and enjoyed his friendship. Others doubtless travelled in distant countries for the sake of acquiring knowledge
* Northern Antiquities, 1. p. 391.
f "Praestantes olim (Islandi)