THE Dictionary projected by the late Richard Cleasby, and completed, remodelled,
and extended by Gudbrand Vigfusson, is now printed and published by the Delegates
of the Clarendon Press, and it only remains to point out briefly the advantages which
philology in general and English philology in particular will derive from a work on
which so much money and such persistent labour have been expended. And first
let it be said that the Delegates have well appreciated the importance of the object
by undertaking such a work. It is peculiarly fitting that a great Icelandic Dictionary
should be printed in England, and that the vocabulary of that noble tongue should
be rendered and explained in English. It is well known that the Icelandic language,
which has been preserved almost incorrupt in that remarkable island, has remained
for many centuries the depository of literary treasures the common property of all the
Scandinavian and Teutonic races, which would otherwise have perished, as they have
perished in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and England. There was a time
when all these countries had a common mythology, when the royal race in each of
them traced its descent in varying genealogies up to Odin and the gods of Asgard.
Of that mythology, which may hold its own against any other that the world has
seen, all memory, as a systematic whole, has vanished from the medieval literature
of Teutonic Europe. With the introduction of Christianity the ancient gods had
been deposed and their places assigned to devils and witches. Here and there
a tradition, a popular tale, or a superstition bore testimony to what had been lost;
and though in this century the skill and wisdom of the Grimms and their school
have shewn the world what power of restoration and reconstruction abides in intel-
ligent scholarship and laborious research, even the genius of the great master of
that school of criticism would have lost nine-tenths of its power had not faithful
Iceland preserved through the dark ages the two Eddas, which present to us in
features which cannot be mistaken, and in words which cannot die, the very form
and fashion of that wondrous edifice of mythology which our forefathers in the dawn
of time imagined to themselves as the temple at once of their gods and of the worship
due to them from all mankirfd on this middle earth. For man, according to their
system of belief, could have no existence but for those good and stalwart divinities,
who, from their abode in Asgard, were ever watchful to protect him and crush the
common foes of both, the loathly race of giants, or, in other words, the chaotic
natural powers. Any one, therefore, that desires to see what manner of men his
forefathers were in their relation to the gocls, how they conceived their theogony, how
they imagined and constructed their cosmogony, must betake himself to the Eddas
as illustrated by the Sagas, and he will there find ample details on all those points,