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which denotes “ smoothers and polishers of language." The origin of their art was attributed to Odin, or WODEN, the father of their gods, and the professors of it were held in the highest estimation. Their skill was considered as something divine; their persons were deemed sacred; their attendance was solicited by kings; and they were everywhere loaded with honours and rewards. In short, Poets and their art were held among them in that rude admiration which is ever shown by an ignorant people to such as excel them in intellectual accomplishments.
As these honours were paid to Poetry and Song from the earliest times in those countries which our Anglo-Saxon ancestors inhabited before their removal into Britain, we may reasonably conclude that they would not lay aside all their regard for men of this sort immediately on quitting their German forests. At least, so long as they retained their ancient manners and opinions they would still hold them in high estimation. But as the Saxons, soon after their establishment in this island, were converted to Christianity, in proportion as literature prevailed among them this rude admiration would begin to abate, and poetry would be no longer a peculiar profession. Thus the Poet and the MINSTREL early with us became two persons (D). Poetry was cultivated by men of letters indiscriminately, and many of the most popular rhymes were composed amidst the leisure and retirement of monasteries. But the minstrels continued a distinct order of men for many ages after the Norman Conquest, and got their livelihood by singing verses to the harp at the houses of the great (E). There they were still hospitably and respectfully received, and retained many of the honours shown to their predecessors, the BARDS and Scalds (F). And though, as their art declined, many of them only recited the compositions of others, some of them still composed songs themselves, and all of them could probably invent a few stanzas on occasion. I have no doubt but most of the old heroic ballads in this collection were composed by this order of men, for although some of the larger metrical romances might come from the pen of the monks or others, yet the smaller narratives were probably composed by the minstrels who sang them. From the amazing variations which occur in different copies of the old pieces, it is evident they made no scruple to alter each other's productions; and the reciter added or omitted whole stanzas according to his own fancy or convenience.
In the early ages, as was hinted above, the profession of oral itinerant Poet was held in the utmost reverence among all the Danish tribes; and therefore we might have concluded that it was not unknown or unrespected among their Saxon brethren in Britain, even if history had been altogether silent on this subject. The original country of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors is well known to have lain chiefly in the Cimbric Chersonese, in the tracts of land since distinguished by the name of Jutland, Angelen, and Holstein. The Jutes and Angles in particular, who composed two-thirds of the conquerors 5 Torfæi, Præfat. ad Orcad. Hist.-Pref, to “Five Pieces of Runic Poetry," &c.
6 Vide Chronic. Saxon. à Gibson, pp. 12, 13, 4to.-Bed. Hist. Eccles. à Smith, lib. i. c. xy.“ Ealdsexe [Regio antiq. Saxonum) in cervice Cimbricæ Chersonesi, Holsatiam
of Britain, were a Danish people, and their country at this day belongs to the crown of Denmark ;? so that when the Danes again infested England, three or four hundred years after, they made war on the descendants of their own ancestors. From this near affinity we might expect to discover a strong resemblance between both nations in their customs, manners, and even language; and in fact we find them to differ no more than would naturally happen between a parent country and its own colonies, that had been severed in a rude, uncivi. lized state, and had dropt all intercourse for three or four centuries; especially if we reflect that the colony here settled had adopted a new religion, extremely opposite in all respects to the ancient Paganism of the mother-country; and that even at first, along with the original Angli, had been incorporated a large mixture of Saxons from the neighbouring parts of Germany; and afterwards, among the Danish invaders, had come vast multitudes of adventurers from the more northern parts of Scandinavia. But all these were only different tribes of the same common Teutonic stock, and spoke only different dialects of the same Gothic language.
From this sameness of original and similarity of manners we might justly have wondered if a character so dignified and distinguished among the ancient Danes as the Scald or Bard had been totally unknown or unregarded in this sister nation. And indeed this argument is so strong, and at the same time the early annals of the Anglo-Saxons are so scanty and defective (G), that no objections from their silence could be sufficient to overthrow it. For if these popular bards were confessedly revered and admired in those very countries which the Anglo-Saxons inhabited before their removal into Britain, and if they were afterwards common and numerous among the other descendants of the same Teutonic ancestors, can we do otherwise than conclude that men of this order accompanied such tribes as migrated hither; that they afterwards subsisted here, though perhaps with less splendour than in the North ; and that there never was wanting a succession of them to hand down the art, though some particular conjunctures may have rendered it more respectable at one time than another? And this was evidently the case. For though much greater honours seem to have been heaped upon the northern Scalds, in whom the characters of historian, genealogist, poet, and musician were all united, than appear to have been paid to the Minstrels and Harpers (H) of the Anglo-Saxons, whose talents were chiefly calculated to entertain and divert, while the Scalds professed to inform and instruct, and were at once the moralists and theologues of their Pagan countrymen ; yet the Anglo-Saxon Minstrels continued to possess no small portion of public favour, and the arts they professed were so extremely acceptable to our ancestors, that the word Glee, which
proprie dictam, Dithmarsiam, Stormariam, et Wagriam, complectens.” Annot. in Bed. à Smith, p. 52. Et vide Camdeni Britan.
7 “Anglia Vetus, hodie etiam Anglen, sita est inter Saxones et Giotes [Jutos), habens oppidum capitale . . . . Sleswick."-Ethelwerd. lib. i.
& See Northern Antiquities, &c., vol. i. pp. 7, 8, 185, 259, 260, 261. 9 Ibid. Preface, p. xxvi.
peculiarly denoted their art, continues still in our own language to be of all others the most expressive of that popular mirth and joility, that strong sensation of delight, which is felt by unpolished and simple minds (I).
II. Having premised these general considerations, I shall now proceed to collect from history such particular incidents as occur on this subject; and, whether the facts themselves are true or not, they are related by authors who lived too near the Saxon times, and had before them too many recent monuments of the Anglo-Saxon nation, not to know what was conformable to the genius and manners of that people; and therefore we may presume that their relations prove at least the existence of the customs and habits they attribute to our forefathers before the Conquest, whatever becomes of the particular incidents and events themselves. If this be admitted, we shall not want sufficient proofs to show that Minstrelsy and Song were not extinct among the Anglo-Saxons, and that the professor of them here, if not quite so respectable a personage as the Danish Scald, was yet highly favoured and protected, and continued still to enjoy considerable privileges.
Even so early as the first invasion of Britain by the Saxons an incident is recorded to have happened which, if true, shows that the Minstrel or Bard was not unknown among this people, and that their princes themselves could, upon occasion, assume that character. Colgrin, son of that Ella who was elected king or leader of the Saxons in the room of Hengist,' was shut up in York, and closely besieged by Arthur and his Britons. Baldulph, brother of Colgrin, wanted to gain access to him, and to apprize him of a reinforcement which was coming from Germany. He had no other way to accomplish his design but to assume the character of a Minstrel. He therefore shaved his head and beard, and, dressing himself in the habit of that profession, took his harp in his hand. In this disguise he walked up and down the trenches without suspicion, playing all the while upon his instrument as a Harper. By little and little he advanced near to the walls of the city, and making himself known to the sentinels, was in the night drawn up by a rope.
Although the above fact comes only from the suspicious pen of Geoffrey of Monmouth (K), the judicious reader will not too hastily reject it, because if such a fact really happened, it could only be known to us through the medium of the British writers ; for the first Saxons, a martial but unlettered people, had no historians of their own, and Geoffrey, with all his fables, is allowed to have recorded many true events that have escaped other annalists.
We do not however want instances of a less fabulous era, and more indubitable authority; for later history affords us two remarkable facts (L), which I think clearly show that the same arts of poetry and song, which were so much admired among the Danes, were by no means unknown or neglected in this sister nation; and that the
1 See Rapin's Hist. (by Tindal, fol. 1732, vol. 1, p. 36), who places the incident here related under the year 495.
privileges and honours which were so lavishly bestowed upon the northern Scalds were not wholly withheld from the Anglo-Saxon Minstrels.
Our great King Alfred, who is expressly said to have excelled in music, being desirous to learn the true situation of the Danish army, which had invaded his realm, assumed the dress and character of a minstrel (m); when, taking his harp, and one of the most trusty of his friends disguised as a servant, (for in the early times it was not unusual for a minstrel to have a servant to carry his harp), he went with the utmost security into the Danish camp; and, though he could not but be known to be a Saxon by his dialect, the character he had assumed procured him a hospitable reception. He was admitted to entertain the king at table, and stayed among them long enough to contrive that assault which afterwards destroyed them. This was in the year 878.
About sixty years after, 4 a Danish king made use of the same disguise to explore the camp of our king Athelstan. With his harp in his hand, and dressed like a minstrel (N), Aulaff,5 king of the Danes, went among the Saxon tents; and, taking his stand near the king's pavilion, began to play, and was immediately admitted. There he entertained' Athelstan and his lords with his singing and his music, and was at length dismissed with an honourable reward, though his songs must have discovered him to have been a Dane (0) Athelstan was saved from the consequences of this stratagem by a soldier, who had observed Aulaff bury the money which had been given him, either from some scruple of honour, or motive of superstition. This occasioned a discovery.
Now if the Saxons had not been accustomed to have minstrels of their own, Alfred's assuming so new and unusual a character would have excited suspicions among the Danes. On the other haud, if it bad not been customary with the Saxons to show favour and respect to the Danish Scalds, Aulaff would not have ventured himself among them, especially on the eve of a battle (P). From the uniform procedure, then, of both these kings we may fairly conclude that the same mode of entertainment prevailed among both people, and that the Minstrel was a privileged character with each.
But, if these facts had never existed, it can be proved from andoubted records, that the Minstrel was a regular and stated officer in the court of our Anglo-Saxon kings ; for in Domesday-book, Joculator Regis, the King's Minstrel is expressly mentioned in Gloucestershire; in which county it should seem that he had lands assigned him for his maintenance (Q).
III. We have now brought the inquiry down to the Norman
2 By Bale and Spelman.-See note (M.
3 Ibid. 4 Anno 938.-Vide Rapin, &c.
3 So I think the name should be printed, rather than Anlaff, the more usual form (the same traces of the letters express both names in MS.), Aulaff being evidently the genuine northern name Olaff, or Olave, Lat. Olaus. In the old Romance of Horn-Childe, (See vol. ii. page 95,) the name of the king his father is Allof, which is evidently Olaf, with the vowels only transposed.
Conquest; and as the Normans had been a late colony from Norway and Denmark, where the Scalds bad arrived to the highest pitch of credit before Rollo's expedition into France, we cannot doubt but this adventurer, like the other northern princes, had many of these men in his train who settled with him in his new duchy of Normandy, and left behind them successors in their art: so that, when his descendant, William the Bastard, invaded this kingdom in the following century, that mode of entertainment could not but be still familiar with the Normans. And that this is not mere conjecture will appear from a remarkable fact, which shows that the arts of Poetry and Song were still as reputable among the Normans in France as they had been among their ancestors in the north; and that the profession of Minstrel, like that of Scald, was still aspired to by the most gallant soldiers. In William's army was a valiant warrior, named Taillefer, who was distinguished no less for the minstrel arts (R) than for his courage and intrepidity. This man asked leave of his commander to begin the onset, and obtained it. He accordingly advanced before the army, and with a loud voice animated his countrymen with songs in praise of Charlemagne and Roland, and other heroes of France; then rushing among the thickest of the English, and valiantly fighting, lost his life.
Indeed, the Normans were so early distinguished for their minstreltalents, that an eminent French writer (3) makes no scruple to refer to them the origin of all modern pcetry, and shows that they were celebrated for their songs near a century before the Troubadours of Provence, who are supposed to have led the way to the poets of Italy, France, and Spain.
We see, then, that the Norman Conquest was rather likely to favour the establishment of the minstrel profession in this kingdom, than to suppress it: and although the favour of the Norman conquerors would be probably confined to such of their own countrymen as excelled in the minstrel arts; and in the first ages after the Conquest no other songs would be listened to by the great nobility, but such as were composed in their own Norman-French; yet as the great mass of the original inhabitants were not extirpated, these could only understand their own native Gleemen or Minstrels, who must still be allowed to exist, unless it can be proved that they were all proscribed and massacred, as, it is said, the Welsh Bards were afterwards by the severe policy of King Edward I. But this we know was not the case ; and even the cruel attempts of that monarch, as we shall see below, proved ineffectual (82).
The honours shown to the Norman or French Minstrels by our princes and great barons, would naturally have been imitated by their English vassals and tenants, even if no favour or distinction had ever been shown here to the same order of men in the Anglo-Saxon and
6 Rollo was invested in his new duchy of Normandy A.D. 912. William invaded England A.D. 1066.
7 Vide Hist. des Troubadours, 3 tom. passim; and vide Fableaux ou Contes des XII. et du XIII. Siècle, traduits, &c., avec des Notes historiques et critiques, &c., par M. Le Grand. Paris, 1781. 5 tom. 12mo.