The national literature of Iceland holds a distinct and eminent position in the literature of Europe. In that remote and cheerless isle, separated by a wi de and stormy ocean from the more genial climates of southern lands, religion and learning took up t heir tranquil abode, before the south of Europe had yet emerged from the mental darkness which followed the fall of the Roman Empire. There the unerring memories of the Skalds and Sagamen were the depositories of past events, which, handed down from age to age in one unbroken line of historical tradition, were committed to writing on the introduction of Christianity, and now come before us with an internal evidence of their truth, which places them among the highest order of historical records.
To investigate the origin of this remarkable advancement in mental culture, and trace the progressive steps by which Icelandic literature attained an eminence which even now imparts alustre to that barren land, is an object of interesting and instructive inquiry, and will, it is presumed, form an acceptable introduction to the per usual of the ancient Icelandic manuscripts, which constitute the text of the present volume. The author has, therefore, availed himself of an able essay by Bishop Muller on this interesting subject, to put before his readers, in a concise form, the leading characteristics of that peculiar state of society, which generated these evidences of peaceful and civilized pursuits, and gave birth to productions, which, like their own Aurora, stood forth the Northmen’s meteor in the shades of night!
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