Besides these tnere is still another series of Sagas. Those relating to events in
the lives of Icelanders at home and abroad. These are the most interesting, because
they are the most truthful of all. The Sagas of gods and heroes are mythical,
altogether out of our horizon, and deal with supernatural beings which do not breathe
our common air. In those elevated mythological regions respiration is impeded, and
we only half live; the gods and heroes have it too much their own way, and we are
amazed rather than sympathetic. In the lives of the kings, again, it requires an effort
of the imagination to raise ourselves to the level of their daily life, rough and rude as
it often was. We are more at our ease than when we are witnesses of the wanderings
of Odin and the feats of Thor, but still we are not quite at our ease, and feel as
many a stranger must have felt in the halls of Harold Hardrada and Magnus Barelegs.
It is with the every-day life of the Icelanders that we feel ourselves thoroughly at
home. In the hall of the gallant Gunnar at Lithencl, or with the peaceful and law-skilled
Njal at Bergthorshvol, we meet men who think and act as men of noble minds and
gentle hearts have ever acted, and will never cease to act so long as human nature
remains the same. Gisli the generous outlaw and Snorri the worldly-wise priest, Mord
Valgardson the wily traitor and Hallgerda the overbearing hateful wife, are characters
true for all time, whose works and ways are but eminent examples of our common
humanity, and at once arouse our sympathy or our antipathy. It is this great store
of Sagas relating to daily life in an age eminently poetic and attractive that forms
the wealth of the medieval vernacular literature of Iceland. It may be said to begin
with Landnáma, the Doomsday-Book of the colonisation of Iceland in the Qth century,
and it extends down to the Sturlunga Saga in the I4th century, ending with that,
perhaps the most interesting of all the Sagas, and thus bringing down the domestic
history of the island to the day when it lost its independence. No other country in
Europe possesses an ancient vernacular literature to be compared with this; and if to
this be added the translations and adaptations from the cycle of Romance literature,
and the homilies and works of religious edification, as well as those on physical and
moral science, of which Iceland possesses her full share, we shall see that, whether in a
literary or in a philological point of view, no literature in Europe in the Middle Ages
can compete in interest with that of Iceland. It is not certainly in forma pauperis
that she appears at the bar of the tribunal of learning.

Nor should it be forgotten that the early customs and laws of Iceland are of great
importance for England. While our jurists have wearied themselves in tracing at home
the origin of many of the institutions now peculiar to England, and while our legal anti-
quaries have fathered trial by jury, the bulwark of Englishmen's rights, on King Alfred,
the source of that mode of trial, as well as of our special demurrers and other sub-
tleties of pleading, is to be found in Iceland, where, as early as the loth century,
a form of trial almost exactly answering to that in which our juries de vicineto played
a part in the i3th century, may be seen in full vigour as described in the famous
trial of the Burners in Njála.

There can be little doubt that this form of trial and these legal subtleties are

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