De Costa Benjamin Franklin - The Pre-Columbian discovery of America by the Northmen

Author : De Costa Benjamin Franklin
Title : The Pre-Columbian discovery of America by the Northmen, with translations from the Icelandic sagas
Year : 1901

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Preface. The chief aim of this work is to place within the reach of the English-reading public every portion of the Icelandic Sagas relating to the Pre-Columbian Discovery of America by the Northmen, and to the steps by which that discovery was preceeded. The reader will, therefore, find in this volume material from the Sagas not to be found in any other work in an English form. The Sagas have been left, in the main, to tell their own story, though the necessary notes and explanations have been added. So long ago as the year 1838, a distinguished writer in the North American Review, in closing a valuable and appreciative article on the Sagas relating to America, said: "We trust that some zealous student of these subjects will be immediately found, who will put the Icelandic authorities into an English dress, and prepare then, with proper literary apparatus, for the perusal of the general reader." More than twenty years ago this suggestion was acted upon by the writer. Availing himself of the studies of those who had preceeded him, he brought out a volume devoted to the subject. That work, however, owing to an unexpected demand, soon went out of print; while the progress of discussion, and the nearness of the propesed Columbian Celebration, seem to justify a new publication. In treating the Sagas, the writer has not felt called upon to modify his views on any important point, and, substantially, his interpretation of these documents is the same as that undertaken in the original work. Time has only served to strengthen his belief in the historical character of the Sagas, while all his geographical studies point now as formerly to New England as the scene of the Northman's exploits, many of which have left no record, though valuable traces of Icelandic occupation may yet be found between Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. The author is strengthened in his opinions, not only by his own studies, but by the growing favor with which the profoundest scholars in Europe regard the Icelandic historical literature. Everywhere societies, as well as distinguished students of history, are in one way or another expressing their belief in the authenticity of the Sagas relating to the Pre-Columbian Discovery of America. Speaking of the Icelandic voyagers, and their acquaintance with America, Professor Max Muller says: "I have not met with nothing to shake my belief in the fact that the Northmen possessed such knowledge." This work is not issued with any intention of seeking to detract from the glory of the achievements of Columbus, though we should remember that the time is rapidly approaching when history will summon us to honor the Cabots, the great fellow countrymen of the Genoese, who saw the Continent of America before Columbus himself viewed it. The desire is to place before the reader the story which precedes that of 1492, and which is so interesting and important. The author hopes that the text of the Sagas has not been misinterpreted, or left obscure, especially as the Sagas relating to the Pre-Columbian voyages are given in Professor Rafn's work on the Antiquities of America, accompanied by helpful notes and versions in Latin and Danish. In every thing relating to the latter tongue, the author has had the invaluable assistance and advice of one who has spoken it from childhood. He has also had most important and indispensable aid in connection with the Icelandic. The grammatical structure of the Icelandic is simple, and the aim has been throughout to maintain this simplicity in the translations, so far as the genius of our own tongue would permit. This work being strictly historical, both in spirit and design, the poetical extracts which occur here and there are translated as literally as possible, without any attempt to garnish them with metre and rhyme. Nevertheless examples in rhyme are given in the Notes. It will be seen that the author differs on some points from Professor Rafn; yet it is believed that if that great student of Northern Antiquities could have gone over the subject again, studying it on the ground, and amid the scenes in which so many of the exploits of the Northmen were performed, he would have modified some of his views. On the other hand, the author has sought to strengthen several of the conclusions of that noble and laborious investigator, and particularly by bringing out more fully the truthfulness of the Icelandic descriptions of the coast of Cape Cod, which centuries ago presented an aspect that it does not now possess. Let us remember, too, that in vindicating the Northmen we honor those who not ony gave us the first knowledge possessed of the American Continent, but to whom we are indebted for much beside that we esteem valuable. In reality we fable in a great measure when we speak of our "Saxon inheritance." It is rather from the Northmen that we have derived our vital energy, our freedom of thought, and, in a measure that we do not yet suspect, our strength of speech. Yet, happily, the people are fast becoming conscious of the indebtedness; so that it is to be hoped that the time is not far distant when the Northmen may be recognized in their right social, political and literary characters, and at the same time, as navigators, assume their true position in the Pre-Columbian Discovery of America. ...

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