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|Transcriber's Note: This is a translation from Icelandic |
|and there are inconsistencies in punctuation which |
|have been left as they were in the original. |

[Illustration: The Story of Burnt Njal
From the Icelandic of Njal Saga]



"_Fair is Lithe: so fair that it has never seemed to me so fair; the
corn fields are white to harvest, and the home mead is mown: and now I
will ride back home, and not fare abroad at all._"

The Story of Burnt Njal

From the Icelandic of the Njals Saga

By the late Sir George Webbe Dasent, D.C.L.

_With a Prefatory Note, and the Introduction, Abridged, from the
Original Edition of 1861_

New York E. P. Dutton & Co.
London Grant Richards


_The design of the cover made by the late James Drummond, R.S.A.,
combines the chief weapons mentioned in_ The Story of Burnt Njal:
_Gunnar's bill, Skarphedinn's axe, and Kari's sword, bound together by
one of the great silver rings found in a Viking's hoard in Orkney._


_SIR GEORGE DASENT'S translation of the Njals Saga, under the
title The Story of Burnt Njal, which is reprinted in this volume, was
published by Messrs. Edmonston & Douglas in 1861. That edition was in
two volumes, and was furnished by the author with maps and plans; with a
lengthy introduction dealing with Iceland's history, religion and social
life; with an appendix and an exhaustive index. Copies of this edition
can still be obtained from Mr. David Douglas of Edinburgh._

_The present reprint has been prepared in order that this incomparable
Saga may become accessible to those readers with whom a good story is
the first consideration and its bearing upon a nation's history a
secondary one--or is not considered at all. For_ Burnt Njal _may be
approached either as a historical document, or as a pure narrative of
elemental natures, of strong passions; and of heroic feats of strength.
Some of the best fighting in literature is to be found between its
covers. Sir George Dasent's version in its capacity as a learned work
for the study has had nearly forty years of life; it is now offered
afresh simply as a brave story for men who have been boys and for boys
who are going to be men._

_We lay down the book at the end having added to our store of good
memories the record of great deeds and great hearts, and to our gallery
of heroes strong and admirable men worthy to stand beside the strong and
admirable men of the Iliad--Gunnar of Lithend and Skarphedinn, Njal and
Kari, Helgi and Kolskegg, beside Telamonian Aias and Patroclus, Achilles
and Hector, Ulysses and Idomeneus. In two respects these Icelanders win
more of our sympathy than the Greeks and Trojans; for they, like
ourselves, are of Northern blood, and in their mighty strivings are
unassisted by the gods._

_In the present volume Sir George Dasent's preface has been shortened,
and his introduction, which everyone who is interested in old Icelandic
life and history should make a point of reading in the original edition,
has been considerably abridged. The three appendices, treating of the
Vikings, Queen Gunnhillda, and money and currency in the tenth century,
have been also exised, and with them the index. There remains the Saga
itself (not a word of Sir George Dasent's simple, forcible, clean prose
having been touched), with sufficient introductory matter to assist the
reader to its fuller appreciation._

_Sir George Webbe Dasent, D.C.L., the translator of the Njals Saga, was
born in 1817 at St. Vincent in the West Indies, of which island his
father was Attorney-General. He was educated at Westminster School, and
at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where he was distinguished both as a fine
athlete and a good classic, He took his degree in 1840, and on coming
to London showed an early tendency towards literature and literary
society. The Sterlings were connected with the island of' St. Vincent,
and as Dasent and John Sterling became close friends, he was a constant
guest at Captain Sterlings house in Knightsbridge, which was frequented
by many who afterwards rose to eminence in the world of letters,
including Carlyle, to whom Dasent dedicated his first book, Dasent's
appointment in 1842 as private secretary to Sir James Cartwright, the
British Envoy to the court of Sweden, took him to Stockholm, where under
the advice of Jacob Grimm, whom he had met in Denmark, he began that
study of Scandinavian literature which has enriched English literature
bu the present work, and by the_ Norse Tales, Gísli the Outlaw, _and
other valuable translations and memoirs. On settling in London again in
1845 he joined the_ Times _staff as assistant editor to the great
Delane, who had been his friend at Oxford, and whose sister he married
in the following year. Dasent retained the post during the paper's most
brilliant period. In 1870 Mr. Gladstone offered him a Civil Service
Commissionership, which he accepted and held until his retirement in
1892, at which time he was the Commission's official head. He was
knighted "for public services" in 1876, having been created a knight
of the Danish order of the Dannebrög many years earlier._

_In addition, to his Scandinavian work, Sir George Dasent wrote several
novels, of which_ The Annals of an Eventful Life _was at once the most
popular and the best. He died greatly respected in 1896._




What is a Saga? A Saga is a story, or telling in prose,
sometimes mixed with verse. There are many kinds of Sagas, of all
degrees of truth. There are the mythical Sagas, in which the wondrous
deeds of heroes of old time, half gods and half men, as Sigurd and
Ragnar, are told as they were handed down from father to son in the
traditions of the Northern race. Then there are Sagas recounting the
history of the kings of Norway and other countries, of the great line of
Orkney Jarls, and of the chiefs who ruled in Faroe. These are all more
or less trustworthy, and, in general, far worthier of belief than much
that passes for the early history of other races. Again, there are Sagas
relating to Iceland, narrating the lives, and feuds, and ends of mighty
chiefs, the heads of the great families which dwelt in this or that
district of the island. These were told by men who lived on the very
spot, and told with a minuteness and exactness, as to time and place,
that will bear the strictest examination. Such a Saga is that of Njal,
which we now lay before our readers in an English garb. Of all the Sagas
relating to Iceland, this tragic story bears away the palm for
truthfulness and beauty. To use the words of one well qualified to
judge, it is, as compared with all similar compositions, as gold to
brass.[1] Like all the Sagas which relate to the same period of
Icelandic story, Njala[2] was not written down till about 100 years
after the events which are described in it had happened. In the
meantime, it was handed down by word of mouth, told from Althing to
Althing, at Spring Thing, and Autumn Leet, at all great gatherings of
the people, and over many a fireside, on sea strand or river bank, or up
among the dales and hills, by men who had learnt the sad story of Njal's
fate, and who could tell of Gunnar's peerlessness and Hallgerda's
infamy, of Bergthora's helpfulness, of Skarphedinn's hastiness, of
Flosi's foul deed, and Kurt's stern revenge. We may be sure that as soon
as each event recorded in the Saga occurred, it was told and talked
about as matter of history, and when at last the whole story was
unfolded and took shape, and centred round Njal, that it was handed down
from father to son, as truthfully and faithfully as could ever be the
case with any public or notorious matter in local history. But it is not
on Njala alone that we have to rely for our evidence of its genuineness.
There are many other Sagas relating to the same period, and handed down
in like manner, in which the actors in our Saga are incidentally
mentioned by name, and in which the deeds recorded of them are
corroborated. They are mentioned also in songs and Annals, the latter
being the earliest written records which belong to the history of the
island, while the former were more easily remembered, from the
construction of the verse. Much passes for history in other lands on far
slighter grounds, and many a story in Thucydides or Tacitus, or even in
Clarendon or Hume, is believed on evidence not one-tenth part so
trustworthy as that which supports the narratives of these Icelandic
story-tellers of the eleventh century. That with occurrences of
undoubted truth, and minute particularity as to time and place, as to
dates and distance, are intermingled wild superstitions on several
occasions, will startle no reader of the smallest judgment. All ages,
our own not excepted, have their superstitions, and to suppose that a
story told in the eleventh century,--when phantoms, and ghosts, and
wraiths, were implicitly believed in, and when dreams, and warnings, and
tokens, were part of every man's creed--should be wanting in these marks
of genuineness, is simply to require that one great proof of its
truthfulness should be wanting, and that, in order to suit the spirit of
our age, it should lack something which was part and parcel of popular
belief in the age to which it belonged. To a thoughtful mind, therefore,
such stories as that of Swan's witchcraft, Gunnar's song in his cairn,
the Wolf's ride before the Burning, Flosi's dream, the signs and tokens
before Brian's battle, and even Njal's weird foresight, on which the
whole story hangs, will be regarded as proofs rather for than against
its genuineness.[3]

But it is an old saying, that a story never loses in telling, and so we
may expect it must have been with this story.

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