Historical Lectures and Essays

Charles Kingsley
Historical Lectures and Essays

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Charles Kingsley
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Title: Historical Lectures and Essays
Author: Charles Kingsley
Release Date: May 12, 2005 [eBook #1360]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)

Transcribed from the 1902 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price,
email [email protected]

The First Discovery of America Cyrus, Servant of the Lord Ancient
Civilisation Rondelet Vesalius Paracelsus Buchanan

Let me begin this lecture {1} with a scene in the North Atlantic 863
years since.
"Bjarne Grimolfson was blown with his ship into the Irish Ocean; and
there came worms and the ship began to sink under them. They had a
boat which they had payed with seals' blubber, for that the sea-worms
will not hurt. But when they got into the boat they saw that it would not

hold them all. Then said Bjarne, 'As the boat will only hold the half of
us, my advice is that we should draw lots who shall go in her; for that
will not be unworthy of our manhood.' This advice seemed so good that
none gainsaid it; and they drew lots. And the lot fell to Bjarne that he
should go in the boat with half his crew. But as he got into the boat,
there spake an Icelander who was in the ship and had followed Bjarne
from Iceland, 'Art thou going to leave me here, Bjarne?' Quoth Bjarne,
'So it must be.' Then said the man, 'Another thing didst thou promise
my father, when I sailed with thee from Iceland, than to desert me thus.
For thou saidst that we both should share the same lot.' Bjarne said,
'And that we will not do. Get thou down into the boat, and I will get up
into the ship, now I see that thou art so greedy after life.' So Bjarne
went up into the ship, and the man went down into the boat; and the
boat went on its voyage till they came to Dublin in Ireland. Most men
say that Bjarne and his comrades perished among the worms; for they
were never heard of after."
This story may serve as a text for my whole lecture. Not only does it
smack of the sea-breeze and the salt water, like all the finest old Norse
sagas, but it gives a glimpse at least of the nobleness which underlay
the grim and often cruel nature of the Norseman. It belongs, too, to the
culminating epoch, to the beginning of that era when the Scandinavian
peoples had their great times; when the old fierceness of the
worshippers of Thor and Odin was tempered, without being
effeminated, by the Faith of the "White Christ," till the very men who
had been the destroyers of Western Europe became its civilisers.
It should have, moreover, a special interest to Americans. For--as
American antiquaries are well aware--Bjarne was on his voyage home
from the coast of New England; possibly from that very Mount Hope
Bay which seems to have borne the same name in the time of those old
Norsemen, as afterwards in the days of King Philip, the last sachem of
the Wampanong Indians. He was going back to Greenland, perhaps for
reinforcements, finding, he and his fellow-captain, Thorfinn, the
Esquimaux who then dwelt in that land too strong for them. For the
Norsemen were then on the very edge of discovery, which might have
changed the history not only of this continent but of Europe likewise.
They had found and colonised Iceland and Greenland. They had found
Labrador, and called it Helluland, from its ice-polished rocks. They had

found Nova Scotia seemingly, and called it Markland, from its woods.
They had found New England, and called it Vinland the Good. A fair
land they found it, well wooded, with good pasturage; so that they had
already imported cows, and a bull whose lowings terrified the
Esquimaux. They had found self-sown corn too, probably maize. The
streams were full of salmon. But they had called the land Vinland, by
reason of its grapes. Quaint enough, and bearing in its very quaintness
the stamp of truth, is the story of the first finding of the wild fox-grapes.
How Leif the Fortunate, almost as soon as he first landed, missed a
little wizened old German servant of his father's, Tyrker by name, and
was much vexed thereat, for he
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