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Art. V.-Critisk Undersögelse af Saros Histories syo Sidster

Böger. Ved Dr. Peter Erasmus Müller, Biskop i Siælland.

Kiobenhavn, 1830. The reign of the Danish kings Valdemar I. (the Great), and of his son Knut or Canute VI. (1157—1202), was a remarkable period of premature light and improvement in the history of the middle ages. The complete security enjoyed by the kingdom in consequence of the suppression of the piratical incursions of the pagan Wends, and other barbarous tribes, on the borders of the Baltic sea, was followed by the natural consequence of rapid improvement in all the arts of life. The progress of civilization, measured by any modern standard, was, indeed, painfully slow, and almost imperceptible. The stage of comparative advancement it had now reached was followed by a long night of ignorance and barbarity, extending to the period of the Reformation. But if the account given by Adam of Bremen, of the internal state of Denmark, little more than a century before this period, be compared with that of Arnold of Lubeck, whose chronicle was written at the commencement of the thirteenth century, a sensible improvement will be manifest in agriculture, commerce, and the arts of life connected with those branches of industry.

“ The Danes,” says this chronicler," having for a long time carried on an extensive trade with Germany, have adopted the arms and dress used by other nations. Formerly they were clothed in the garb of mariners, because the nation was always engaged in expeditions by sea. Now they are luxuriously dressed in stuffs of various colours, and even purple and fine linen. The source of their riches is the fishery on the coast of Scania, which is frequented by the vessels of all nations, who exchange their most valuable wares for the fish which the divine goodness so liberally bestows upon this people. The country of the Danes is also full of fine horses, fed in their fertile pastures ; and they distinguish themselves in war by their cavalry as well as naval armaments. They have besides made no inconsiderable progress in learning. The nobility of that country are accustomed to send their sons to Paris, to be instructed in the learning necessary for the ecclesiastical profession as well as civil life. In this manner they have acquired a thorough knowledge of the French tongue, and bave become well versed in theology and the belles-lettres ; and as they have a natural aptitude for study, have become not only subtle logicians, but able canonists, and deeply versed in the learning necessary for the management of ecclesiastical affairs. Lastly, religion flourishes eminently among the Danes, as one may judge by the great numbers of convents of monks of various orders founded by the Archbishop of Lund, the pious Eskill, who, after resigning all bis digvities, retired to finish bis holy life in the monastery of Clairvaux."*

* Chron. Slav. lib. iii. cap. 5. Arnold was Abbot of the Benedictine Monks at Lubeck. His work is a continuation of the Slavonic Chronicle of Helmoldus.

This eulogium is followed by our chronicler with that of Absalon, who succeeded Eskill in the archiepiscopal see of Lund, and was equally distinguished as a churchman, warrior, and statesman. Absalon was then Bishop of Roskilde. His real or affected reluctance to accept the high diguity of Primate and Apostolical Legate of the North was overcome by the coinmands of King Valdemar, the authority of the Pope, and the clamours of the people, who declared that they would have no other archbishop. Absalon, whose Danish name of Axel was thus latinized, after the fashion of the age, was born near Sorö, in the island of Zealand, in 1128. He died in 1201, the year preceding the decease of bis beloved friend and sovereign, Canute. He had constantly guided by his counsels, and followed, or rather led, both Canute and his predecessor Valdemar the Great, in all their warlike expeditious, until his strength was at last exhausted by old age and unremitted toil. He was of the same illustrious stock which had already produced so many distinguished Danish prelates and rvarriors, being descended from the famous Palnatoke on the father's side, and on the mother's from St. Canute the king. His immediate paternal ancestors were distinguished military chieftains (hofdingjar), and though destined for the church, he was early trained in all the manly exercises becoming his illustrious birth, which in that age were by no means thought incompatible with the clerical character. The young nobleman was sent to pursue his studies iu the University of Paris, where a college for students of the Danish nation (Collegium Dacicum) had been founded in the reign of Louis VII. Here he was instructed in canon law, and in philosophy and theology, as they were taught in the twelfth century. He also imbibed a taste for Greek and Roman literature, and returning to his native country with a high reputation for learning and talents, became connected in the most intimate bonds of friendship with Valdemar. In 1158, the episcopal see of Röskilde having become vacant, a sharp dissention ensued between the clergy and the people respecting the choice of a bishop. The latter had not yet lost their original share in the episcopal election, and were often disposed to exercise their right of confirmation contrary to the wishes of the clergy. The king declared to the dean and chapter, that though their cathedral had been founded and endowed by the liberality of his royal predecessors, he would in no wise interfere with their liberty of choice. There were three candidates for the vacant see, and the name of Absalon was added to the list " on account of his merit;" the king commanded four books to be laid out upon a table, in which the clergy inscribed their votes, and it was found upon inspection that



all the suffrages were united in favour of Absalon. His election was confirmed by the acclamations of the people.

At this time," says the Knytlingasaga, “ died Bishop Ossur, and Absalon, Asbjörn Snarre's brother, was chosen bishop in his place. This Absalon was a wise man and the best of clerks, and afterwards became a very great chieftain."

In thus assuming the episcopal crosier, Absalon did not lay down the sword he had so often drawn to chastise the pirate Wends, the enemies of his religion and country. He left his episcopal palace to fall to decay, whilst he built upon the shores of his island-diocese rude huts of boughs and turf, where he watched night and day, guarding his flock like a true shepherd against the stealthy approaches of the heathen wolves. Even in the dead of winter he cruised along the coasts of Zealand to interrupt the sea-rovers, and was often called from the altar, where he was performing divine service, to march against these ferocious foes. He was once preparing to celebrate Palm-Sunday at Röskilde, when information was suddenly brought him that a powerful band of Wends had landed from their ships, and were laying waste the country, plundering and destroying on all sides. Absalon hastily armed his “ housecarles," choristers, and other church vassals, with as many of the neighbouring peasantry as he could collect, and making a sudden onset upon the enemy, drove them back to their ships with signal slaughter. The patriotprelate also swayed by his wisdom and eloquence the decisions of the popular assembly of the " Lands-thing,” which were too often overborne by the factious violence of the turbulent magnates. After his accession to the archiepiscopal throne, the sphere of his patriotic exertions became enlarged, so as to embrace the whole kingdom. He erected on the coasts of the islands and the continental provinces of Scania and Jutland, strongholds to defend he land against the harassing incursions of the Baltic pirates, Among other positions he fortified the present capital of Denmark, then an obscure fishing village, with a strong castle, against the sea-rovers, upon the spot where now stands the magnificent palace of Christiansborg. * At the same time Absalon founded, and richly endowed, monasteries for the various fraternities of monks, who swarmed from the Catholic countries of southern and western Europe. The primate reformed the abuses which had

The fortress erected by the archbishop was called Axel Huus, Absalon's House ---and in the diplomas of the time, Castrum de Havn. The town afterwards received the name of Kiobmanshaven, or " Merchants' Harbour," whence the modern name Kiobenhavn. Mallet says, that mention is inade at this period of the site of the Danish capital for the first time. But this is a mistake; it is mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas as early as the war between Svend Estrithson and King Magnus of Norway, under the name of Höfn, as in Knytlingasaga, kap. xxii.

gradually crept into the discipline of the national church, and established uniformity of worship in the place of the various rituals imported by the Anglo-Saxon and German priests, by whom Christianity had been originally planted in Denmark. He vindicated with the sword the claim of the clergy to tithes as a legal right, which had been long and pertinaciously resisted by the nation as the most grievous burthen sought to be imposed upon them by the Romish see. These are the monuments of Absalon's fame on which the cotemporary annalists delight to dwell with the most complacency. But his fairest title to the esteem of posterity must be sought for in his unaffected love of letters and patronage of learned men. Besides the knowledge of the classical writers of Greece and Rome, acquired in his early studies at Paris, he was familiarly acquainted with the works of the Icelandic Skalds and Sagamen. He retained in his service one Arnold, a native Icelander, a man well versed in the poetry and history of the ancient North, consulted him on the most important occasions, and was generally accompanied by him on his military expeditions against the pirate Wends. The primate was a zealous antiquarian, and rescued from destruction many a Runic inscription, which, but for his care, would have been irretrievably lost. He is said to have founded and endowed the monastery of Sorö with the express view that the colony of Cistercian monks planted there should devote themselves to the task of recording the national annals. The same motives induced him to stimulate and patronize the historical labours of Saxo Grammaticus and Sueno Aggonis. Although a man of strong and cultivated mind, Absalon was far from being exempt from the deeply rooted prejudices of his age. He believed implicitly in the augury of dreams and prodigies; but in a much more enlightened period the gifted Melancthon put full faith in the puerilities of astrology, and the warrior-bishop of the twelfth century must not be judged by modes of thinking universally current in the nineteenth. His character is well summed up, according to the prevailing notions of his own times, by his cotemporary Abbot William, a French monk from the convent of St. Genevieve, at Paris, whom Absalon had invited to Denmark, and who was subsequently employed by him in several important negociations with the Court of Rome.

“ He was,” says William, “ distinguished for wisdom in council, the ornament of the clerical order, charitable to the distressed and needy, a pious friend of the monks of whatever fraternity, a terror to the pagan Wends, the jewel of the faith, the mirror of nobility and virtue, a burning and shining light in God's church, and its strong, unshaken pillar."*

The life and character of Archbishop Absalon has been recently illustrated by Professor Estrup, in a biographical sketch entitled Absalon, om Held, Staatsman, og Biskop.

Saxo, surnamed Grammaticus, was a churchman, and secretary or chancellor to Archbishop Absalon, who sent him to Paris for the purpose of inviting Abbot William to Denmark. The particular circumstances of Saxo's life are involved in great obscurity. The period of his birth is uncertain, but he died in 1204, having spent twenty years of his life in the composition of a Danish History, in Latin, from the earliest times to the reign of Canute VI. The first part of his work relating to the heroic or Pagan age, though not entirely destitute of authority, is filled with many incredible fictions, borrowed partly from the romantic and mythic songs and sagas of that period, or from sources quite foreign to real Danish history. But the last seven books, which is the portion of his work examined by the learned Bishop Müller in the memoir now before us, and containing the annals of Denmark from the time of Harald Gormson, may, for the most part, be regarded as authentic history, though it cannot always be reconciled with the Icelandic accounts recently brought to light by the diligence of the national antiquaries. Saxo’s Latin style is highly wrought, often eloquent, and always lively and picturesque, though not faultless, nor in general formed upon the best classical models. But when considered as the work of a Danish ecclesiastic in the twelfth century, it may be regarded as a prodigy of taste and genius, worthy of the warm .commendations extorted from a scholar like Erasmus, who praises its copiousness and rapid flow of language, its glowing fervour, and admirable variety of figures, so that he could never sufficiently wonder whence a Danish writer of that age could acquire such a powerful elo


The posterity of Knut or Canute the Great, having failed in the person of Harde-Knut or Hardecanute King of Denmark and England, in 1042, the Danish nation called to the vacant succession Svend, son of Canute's sister Estrith and of Ulfr Jarl, who left by his various wives and concubines a numerous progeny of sons, five of whom reigned after him successively to the exclusion of the children of each. Immediately upon his death, a contest for the vacant sceptre arose between his eldest son Harald and a younger son Knut, who had been recommended to the choice of the nation in preference to his elder brother by Svend Estrithson himself. . According to Saxo, the election was held at the Isefiord

The best edition of Saxo is that of Stephanius, Soræ, 1644, fol. A new and improved edition may soon be expected from the learned Bishop P. E. Müller, whose deep knowledge of the Icelandic authorities will probably enable him to throw new light upon this valuable historical monument, and to purify the text from the corruptions which have crept in for the want of MSS. there being no complete one now extant.

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