The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

Site Diary
Site Search


From the Scandinavian














G. J. PINWELL                    W. SMALL                    A. B. HOUGHTON
E. DALZIEL                         T. DALZIEL                  J. LAWSON
                                         & J. D. WATSON











TRANSMITTED, in the same manner as the Scottish and Breton ballads, as a precious heritage from father to son, the old ballads of Scandinavia were preserved by popular recitation. With all their contradictions and inconsistencies, they are national—no ballads more so—distinguishable from the Scottish writings of the same class, although possessing many delicate points of similarity. As for the themes, some are of German and others of Southern origin, while many are chiefly Scandinavian. The adventurers who swept southward langsyne, to range themselves under the banners of strange chiefs, not seldom returned home brimful of wild exaggerated stories, to beguile many a winter night; and these stories in course of time became so imbedded in popular tradition, that it was difficult to guess whence they primarily came, and gathered so much moss of the soil in the process of rolling down the years, that their foreign colour soon faded into the sombre greys of Northern poesy. Travellers flocking northward in the middle ages added to the stock, bringing subtle delicacies from Germany, and fervid tendernesses from Italy and Spain. But much emanated from the North itself—from the storm-tost shores of Denmark, and from the wild realm of the eternal snow and midnight sun. There were heroes and giants breasting the Dovre Fjord, as well as striding over the Adriatic. Certain shapes there were which loved the sea-surrounded little nation only. The Lindorm, hugest of serpents, crawled near Verona; but the Valrafn, or Raven of Battle, loved the swell and roar of the fierce North Sea. The Dragon ranged as far south as Syria; but the Ocean-sprite iv liked cold waters, and flashed, icy bearded, through the rack and cloud of storm. In the Scottish ballad we find the Kelpie, but search in vain for the Mermaid. In the Breton ballad we see the ‘Korrigaun,’ seated with wild eyes by the side of the wayside well, but hear little of the mountain-loving Trolds and Elves. It is in supernatural conceptions, indeed, in the creation of typical spirits to represent certain ever-present operations of Nature, that the Danish ballads excel—being equalled in that respect only by the German Lieder, with which they have so very much in common. They seldom or never quite reach the rugged force of language shown in such Breton pieces as ‘Jannedik Flamm’ and the wild early battle-song. They are never so refinedly tender as the best Scottish pieces. We have to search in them in vain for the exquisite melody of the last portion of ‘Fair Annie of Lochryan,’ or for the pathetic and picturesque loveliness of ‘Clerk Saunders,’ in those exquisite lines after the murder

‘Clerk Saunders he started, and Margaret she turned
     Into his arms, as asleep she lay;
And sad and silent was the night
     That was between thir twae.

‘And they lay still, and sleepèd sound,
     Until the day began to daw,
As kindly to him she did say,
     “It’s time, true love, ye were awa’!”

‘But he lay still and sleepèd sound,
     Albeit the sun began to sheen;
She looked atween her and the wa’,
     And dull and drowsy were his een.’

But they have a truth and force of their own which stamp them as genuine poetry. In the mass, they might be described as a rough compromise of language with painfully vivid imagination. Nothing can be finer than the stories they contain, or more dramatic than the situations these stories entail; but no attempt is made to polish the v expression or refine the imagery. They give one an impression of intense earnestness—of a habit of mind at once reticent and shadowed with the strangest  mysteries. That the teller believes heart and soul in the tale he is going to tell, is again and again proved by his dashing, at the very beginning of his narrative, into the catastrophe—

‘It was the young Herr Haagen,
     He lost his sweet young life!’

And all because he would not listen to the warnings of a mermaid, but deliberately cut her head off. There is no such pausing, no such description, as would infer a doubt of the reality of any folk in the story. The point is, not to convey the fact that sea- maidens exist, a truth of which every listener is aware, but to prove the folly of disregarding their advice when they warn us against going to sea in bad weather.
     The region to which we are introduced being that of tradition, not of history, we must have plenty of faith if we wish to be happy there. Everything we see is colossal, things as well as men being fashioned on a mighty scale: the adventurous nature burns fierce as fire, lives fall thickly as leaves in harvest, and the heroes sweep hither and thither, strong as the sword-blow, bright as the sword-flash. Two powers exist—physical strength and the command of the supernatural. Again and again, however, we leave the battle-field, and come upon ‘places of nestling green,’ where dwell those gentler emotions which belong to all time and are universal. We have love-making, ploughing and tilling, drinking and singing. At every step we meet a beautiful maiden, frequently unfortunate, generally in love, and invariably with golden hair.
     Among the pieces founded on popular superstition, appear, as has been suggested, many of the gems of Danish ballad literature. In nearly every one of them we hear of enchantment, of men and maidens transformed into strange shapes; and it is remarkable that the worker of the foul witchcraft is invariably a cruel stepmother. The best of them are terse and strong, and impress us more solemnly than do the ‘Battle Ballads.’ We are in a strange region, as we read;—and everywhere vi around us rises the wail of people who are doomed to visit the scenes of their humanity in unnatural forms.

‘In nova fert Animus mutatas dicere formas

might be the motto of any future translator of these pieces. How the Bear of Dalby turned out to be a King’s son; how Werner the Raven, through drinking the blood of a little child, changed into the fairest knight the eye of man could see; how an ugly serpent changed in the same way, and all by means of a pretty kiss from fair little Signe. But there are other and finer kinds of supernatural manifestation. The Elves flit on ‘Elfer Hill,’ and slay the young men; they dance in the grove by moonlight, and the daughter of the Elf King sends Herr Oluf home, a dying man, to his bride. The ballad in which the latter event occurs, bears, by the way, a striking resemblance to the Breton ballad of the ‘Korrigaun.’ The dead rise. A corpse accosts a horseman who is resting by a well, and makes him swear to avenge his death; and, late at night, tormented by the sin of having robbed two fatherless bairns, rides a weary ghost; the refrain concerning whom has been reported verbatim, for no earthly purpose, by Longfellow, in his ‘Saga of King Oluf:’—

‘Dead rides Sir Morten of Foglesang!’

The Trolds of the mountain besiege a peasant’s house, and the least of them all insists on having the peasant’s wife; but the catastrophe is a transformation—a prince’s son. ‘The Deceitful Merman’ beguiles Marstig’s daughter to her death, and the piece in which he does so is interesting as being the original of Goethe’s ‘Fisher.’* Another ballad, ‘Agnete and the  Merman,’ begins—

‘On the high tower Agnete is pacing slow,
Sudden a Merman upsprings from below,
                   Ho! ho! ho!
A Merman upsprings from the water below!’


* Goethe found the poem translated in Herder’s ‘Volkslieder.’


vii ‘Agnete! Agnete!’ he cries, ‘wilt thou be my true-love—my all-dearest?’ ‘Yea, if thou takest me with thee to the bottom of the sea.’ They dwell together eight years, and have seven sons. One day, Agnete, as she sits singing under the blue water, ‘hears the clocks of England clang,’ and straightway asks and receives permission to go on shore to church. She meets her mother at the church-door. ‘Where hast thou been these eight years, my daughter?’ ‘I have been at the bottom of the sea,’ replies Agnete, ‘and have seven sons by the Merman.’ The Merman follows her into the church, and all the small images turn away their eyes from him. ‘Hearken, Agnete! thy small bairns are crying for thee.’ ‘Let them cry as long as they will;—I shall not return to them.’ And the cruel one cannot be persuaded to go back. This pathetic story, so capable of poetic treatment, has been exquisitely paraphrased by Oehlenschläger, whose poem I have here translated in preference to the original. The Danish Mermen, by the way, seem to have been good fellows, and badly used. One Rosmer Harmand does many kindly acts, but is rewarded with base ingratitude by everybody. The tale of Rosmer bears a close resemblance to the romance of Childe Rowland, quoted by Edgar in ‘Lear.’
     Of the large mass of ballads dealing with ordinary sorrows and joys consequent on the domestic affections, it is unnecessary to offer any description, since they form the bulk of the pieces here printed. The longest and best of them all is ‘Axel and Walborg.’ This exquisite poem has been for centuries popular over all Scandinavia; places innumerable claim the honour of possessing Walborg’s grave, and rude pictures of the hapless lovers are scattered far and wide among the cottages of the North. As a picture of manners and customs alone, the ballad is priceless. Note, for example, the ecclesiastic ceremony, wherein the rascally Prince Hogen plays so black a part.
     In addition to a selection of old ballads, I have given, for the sake of variety, a few modern pieces, by Oehlenschläger and others. Out of the numerous originals, I have selected for the present purpose those which seemed the purest and best, passing over with reluctance several viii fine specimens which had been well rendered by previous translators. My task, on the whole, has been one of no ordinary anxiety. Next to the difficulty of writing a good ballad ranks the difficulty of translating a good ballad, and very few men have succeeded in doing either. Had I consulted my own taste, and translated throughout in broad old Scotch (the only really fitting equivalent for old Danish), I should not only have hopelessly bewildered English readers, but have laid my efforts open to dangerous comparison with those of Jamieson.* I have, therefore, done the best I could in the English dialect, using Scotch words liberally, but only such Scotch words as are quite familiar to all readers of our own ballads.
                                                                                                                                                               R. B.


     * Robert Jamieson, who, among his ‘Popular Ballads,’ published in 1806, gave five from the Danish, rendered with a rugged picturesqueness transcending the best efforts in that direction of Scott himself. This Jamieson was a veritable singer, and struck some fine chords from a Scotch harp of his own.







INDUCTION: THE SUNKEN CITY                         F. L. Höedt                                     1

EVEN-SONG                                                           Christian Juul                                 5

SIGNELIL THE SERVING-MAIDEN                       Antique                                           6

THE SOLDIER                                                         Eric Bögh                                       11

THE CHILDREN IN THE MOON                           Oehlenschläger                               12

HELGA AND HILDEBRAND                                   Antique                                           16

THE WEE, WEE GNOME                                         Antique                                           21

THE TWO SISTERS                                                 Antique                                           28

EBBE SKAMMELSON                                             Antique                                           32

MAID METTELIL                                                     Antique                                         45

THE OWL                                                                 P. L. Möller                                   50

THE ELF DANCE                                                     Antique                                         52

THE LOVER’S STRATAGEM                                 Antique                                           56

THE BONNIE GROOM                                           Antique                                           63

CLOISTER ROBBING                                             Antique                                           68      x

AGNES                                                                     Oehlenschläger                               76

HOW SIR TONNE WON HIS BRIDE                     Antique                                           84

SIR MORTEN OF FOGELSONG                             Antique                                           97

THE LEAD-MELTING                                             Claudius Rosenhoff                     100

YOUNG AXELVOLD                                               Antique                                         103

THE JOINER                                                             Claudius Rosenhoff                       111

AAGE AND ELSIE                                                   Antique                                         112

AXEL AND WALBORG; OR, THE COUSINS       Antique                                         117

THE BLUE COLOUR                                               Claudius Rosenhoff                     158

THE ROSE                                                                 Claudius Rosenhoff                     159

LITTLE CHRISTINA’S DANCE                               Antique                                         160

THE TREASURE-SEEKER                                       Oehlenschläger                             166

SIGNE AT THE WAKE                                           Antique                                         171




                       Subject.                                                                       Artist.                       Page


‘But go there, lonely,
     At eventide,
And hearken, hearken
     To the lisping tide.’
                                                              T. DALZIEL.                   3


‘“My son hath plighted his troth to thee,
     Signelil, my maiden!
Say, what gifts did he dare to gie?”
     But the sorrow stings so sorely!’
                                          A. B. HOUGHTON.        7

‘“Thou art my dearest, thou art my bride, 
     Signelil, my maiden!
Thou shalt sit, thou shalt sleep, full soon at my side.”
     But the sorryw stings so sorely!’
                                          A. B. HOUGHTON.        9


‘To the wayside well they trotted,
     Filled their little buckets there,
And the Moon-man, looking downward,
     Saw how beautiful they were.’                                            
T. DALZIEL.                  13


‘“My seam is wild and my work is mad
     Because my heart is so sad—so sad!”’
                                A. B. HOUGHTON.      17

THE WEE, WEE GNOME                                                                                                           xii

‘The wee, wee gnome leapt up and laughed,
     And chucked her ’neath the chin!
Her knees grew weak, and her face grew pale,
     And her heart was cold within.’
                                          E. DALZIEL.                25


‘They doff their garb from head to heel.;
Their white skins slip into skins of steel.’
                                  A. B. HOUGHTON.     29


‘“Far better marry Peter, my son,
     With his red towers by the sea,
Than wait and pine for one who loves
     Another more than thee.”
’                                                    J. D. WATSON.             35

‘Alone in the wild wood wanders Ebbe Skammelson!’             J. D. WATSON.              43


‘“Rise up, Sir Oluf, and open the door—
On my forehead of white the damp dews pour.”’
                    G. J. PINWELL.             47


‘The Elf King’s daughter is featest of all:
She grips his rein with her fingers small.’
                                  E. DALZIEL.                 53


‘Upon her throbbing heart
     His tender hand laid he.’
                                                      W. SMALL.                  61


‘The bonnie groom stands up in court,
     And taps her with his sword.’
                                              A. B. HOUGHTON.      66


‘All silent stood the holy maids,
     Reading by candlelight.’
                                                      A. B. HOUGHTON.      71


‘Maid Agnes musing sat alone
     Upon the lonely strand.’
                                                      T. DALZIEL.                  77

‘The Little herd-boy drove his geese
     Seaward at peep o’ day,
And there, her hands upon her breast,
     Sweet Agnes sleeping lay.’
                                                    T. DALZIEL.                 82

HOW SIR TONNE WON HIS BRIDE                                                                                        xiii

‘Herr Tonne in the rose grove rode,
     With glittering lance rode he,
And there he met the dwarf himself
     A-riding moodily.’
                                                                A. B. HOUGHTON.      91

‘He slew the bear that watched the door,
     And broke the great door-pin,
And gazed upon the captive maid,
     The sweet Maid Ermelin.’
                                                    A. B. HOUGHTON.      95


‘“Say that my chamber slippers lie
     Without my chamber door,
Andif she look at dead of night,
     They will be full of gore.”’
                                                    G. J. PINWELL.            99


‘They dropt the lead in water clear,
     With blushing palpitations,
And as it hissed, with fearful hearts
     They sought its revelations.’
                                                E. DALZIEL.              101


‘God save thee, foster-mother dear!
     And listen unto me:
Tell me the name of my dear mother,
     For it is known to thee.’
                                                        G. J. PINWELL.          105

‘Fair Ellen clutched her brooch of gold,
     And eke her golden crown,
She held her hand upon her heart,
     With moist eyes drooping down.’
                                          G. J. PINWELL.          109


‘Home went little Elsie,
     Her heart was chilly cold,
And ere a month had come and gone
     She lay in kirkyard mould.’
                                                  E. DALZIEL.              115


‘They scattered dice on the golden board,
     And blithe and merry were they;
The two fair ladies, face to face,
     Smiled at the wondrous play.’
                                              J. LAWSON.               119

‘In cloister walls she learns to read,
     And silken seams she sews;
She turns into a maiden fair,
     The bonniest flower that grows.’
                                          J. LAWSON.              121

‘There on the castle balcony,
     By earth and heaven above,
By everything that solemn is,
     They sware a vow of love.’
                                                  J. LAWSON.               127

“‘Lord, saddle, saddle ten good steeds,
     And ride in lordly state;
Follow thy sons! stand by her side!
     It is not yet too late!”’
                                                          J. LAWSON.              139

‘Sir Axel Thorsen sat apart,
     Beside his lost ladie.’
                                                            J. LAWSON.              147

‘With eight red wounds upon his breast
     Sank Axel, worn and spent;
Deeply he breathed, brightly he bled,
     As they bare him to his tent.’
                                              J. LAWSON.               151

‘So sweet Walborg in cloister dwelt
     A weary nun for long,
And never missed the blessed Mass
     Or holy vesper-song.’
                                                          J. LAWSON.               157


‘Little Christina, come dance with me,
And a silken sark will I give to thee.’
                                      T. DALZIEL.                161

‘The monarch trembled and tried to speak,
Then plucked the mantle of blue from his cheek.’
                  T. DALZIEL.                163


‘And bearing spade on shoulder
     Enters a peasant boy,
And though his face be haggard,
     He smiles as if with joy.’
                                                      E. DALZIEL.                167


‘Into the wake-room Signe tript;
Wildly the dancers twirled and skipt.’
  (Frontispiece.)            A. B. HOUGHTON.



The illustrated edition of Ballad Stories of the Affections: from the Scandinavian was published by George Routledge & Sons in December, 1866. In 1869, a cheap edition, minus the illustrations, was published by Sampson Low, Son, and Marston (London) and Scribner, Welford and Co. (New York).


The motto on the cover of this edition,"The stretched metre of an antique song" is taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 17. Keats also used the line as the epigraph to Endymion: A Poetic Romance (1818).

Apart from a few minor changes (‘countree’ in the original edition is replaced by ‘countrie’ in the cheap edition), the text of the poems is substantially the same. The Preface (‘Translator’s Preface’ in the cheap edition) has a few minor changes (‘in genius’ follows ‘distinguishable’ in the second sentence, ‘langsyne’ is replaced by ‘long ago’, and ‘Foglesong’ is corrected) but there is also an additional footnote: 
Page vii:
Of the large mass of ballads dealing with ordinary sorrows and joys consequent on the domestic affections, it is unnecessary to offer any description, since they form the bulk of the pieces here printed. *

* Udvalgte Danske viser fra Middelalderen, efter A. S. Vedels og P. Syvs trykte Udgaver og efter Laandskrevne Samlinger udgivne paa ny af Abrahamson, Myerup, og Rahbek. (Copenhagen, 1812.) Such is the title of the work from which most of the antique ballads here translated have been taken; but numerous other collections—Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish—have been referred to and used. The modern pieces by Oehlenschläger are to be found among his collected poems, in the editions published at Copenhagen. Those by Hoëdt and Bögh are taken from a little miscellaneous collection of verse, edited by Ingemann, and picked up by me for a trifle at a Danish bookstall.—R. B.

The Latin quotation, “In nova fert Animus mutatas dicere formas Corpora,” in the Preface is the first line of Ovid’s Metamorphoses - “My mind leads me to tell of forms changed into new bodies ... ”.

The November, 1866 edition of The Argosy contained two poems from Ballad Stories of the Affections - ‘Agnes’ by ‘R.  B.’ (‘after Oehlenschläger’), ‘The Lead-Melting’ by ‘Robert Buchanan’ (with no indication that it was a translation) - and there was also ‘Convent-Robbing’ by ‘Walter Hutcheson’, which was a complete reworking of the story of ‘Cloister Robbing’. Buchanan also included ‘Agnes’ at his second Reading at the Hanover-Square Rooms on 3rd March, 1869.

None of the poems in Ballad Stories of the Affections: from the Scandinavian are included in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan (although ‘Convent Robbing’ is in the ‘Early Poems’ section). However, one poem, ‘The Lead-Melting’ was included in The New Rome (1898) and was also included in the 1901 edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan, with no indication that it was a translation of the work of Claudius Rosenhoff.



From Chapter IX of Harriett Jay’s biography:

“Shortly after his marriage Mr. Buchanan went to Denmark. ‘Being one of the very few Englishmen of that day who knew the Danish language, he went to Schleswig-Holstein towards the end of the war as correspondent of the Morning Star. It was on his return from thence that he wrote so freely on Scandinavian literature, an unknown world to the bookmen of that day.’ (Pearson’s Weekly) He was accompanied on this expedition by his father (who also, I should imagine, went in some official capacity), and during the absence of the pair the young wife went to stay with her mother-in-law, who at that time was living in the neighbourhood of Shepherd’s Bush. It was during that visit to Denmark that he met Hans Christian Andersen; he also visited the famous Thorwaldsen Museum, and was so much impressed by the figures of Christ and the Apostles, that he purchased the one of Christ and brought it home as a present to his wife.”

The Second War of Schleswig lasted from February to July 1864. Further details of the conflict are available on wikipedia.

The picture below of the sculpture of Christ, which so impressed Buchanan, is from the Thorvaldsen Museum’s website.]


Reviews of Ballad Stories of the Affections: from the Scandinavian

Back to Poetry








The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


Site Diary
Site Search