Saturday, February 3, 2018

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents Marriage Among The Vikings

It is particularly striking, in reading the Sagas and the ancient laws which corroborate them, to see the high position women occupied in earlier and later pagan times.

If we are to judge of the civilisation of a people in their daily life by the position women held with regard to men, we must conclude that in this respect the earlier Norse tribes could compare favourably with the most ancient civilised nations whose history has come down to us.

A maiden was highly respected, and on becoming a wife she was greatly honoured, and her counsels had great weight; by marrying she became the companion and not the inferior of her husband. She held property in her own right, whatever she received by inheritance and by marriage being her own; though there were restrictions put upon her, as well as upon her husband, in regard to the use of her property.

In a word, a retrograde movement in regard to the rights and standing of women took place after the extinction of the Asa creed. The high position they had occupied before was lost, and it is only latterly that they have striven, and in some countries with success, to regain the authority that once belonged to them in regard to property and other matters.

From the earliest time we see the chivalrous regard that men had for women, and the punishment that any breach of its laws involved. Young men went into warlike expeditions to attain great fame, so that their acts of bravery could be known or extolled, and that they might become worthy of the maiden they wished to woo. The same spirit afterwards spread from the North to other countries in Europe, where, however, the opinion only of women of higher rank was valued. Among the earlier tribes of the North all were respected.

Marriage was not a religious contract or ceremony. It was simply regarded as a civil compact, owing to the relations which man and wife held towards each other in regard to property. It was the means of joining families together, which was called tengja saman, and therefore the relation was called tengdir. Consequently marriage itself was a bargain and on that account was called brud-kaup (bride-buying).

When a man had selected for himself, or by the advice of his parents, a woman or maiden whom he wanted to marry, he, accompanied by his father, or nearest relatives or best friends, and by a retinue, according to his rank, went to get the consent of the father, or of those who were the guardians of the woman. It was the exception for the suitor himself not to go on this journey, which was called bonordsför (suit journey).

The suitor, even if present, had a spokesman who spoke on his behalf, and enumerated his good qualities, deeds of valour, &c., and other qualifications which might speak well for the suit. If the suit was favourably received, a talk ensued in regard to the conditions of the marriage

The qualities which the parents or guardians took most into consideration were good birth, powerful and prominent relatives. Families on both sides had to be well matched in rank, wealth, and personal bravery, the last being highly prized by the one whose hand was sought.

In order that marriage should be regarded as perfectly lawful, the woman had to be “mundi keypt”; that is, bought with mund acquired by a legal agreement between the man on one side, and the parents or guardians of the intended bride on the other, in regard to the dower or property agreed on both sides as belonging to the bride.

Mund was originally the name for all the conditions in regard to the property of both, especially that of the wife. This agreement was the most important thing at the festar (betrothal, fastening). Children born without the payment of it were not inheritance-born—in a word, were considered illegitimate.

If the wife was poor and entirely without property the husband had to give a mund of twelve aurar, in order that the marriage should be regarded as fully legal.

“Next we must know how we shall buy women with mund, so that the child is inheritance-born. The man shall give that woman a poor man’s mund, amounting to 12 aurar, and have witnesses (at the ceremony). He shall have bridesmen, and she bridesmaids, and he shall give her a gift in the morning when they have been together one night, as large as the one at the betrothal. Then the child born thereafter is inheritance-born” (Gulath., 5).

“All men are not inheritance-born though they are free-born. The man whose mother is not bought with mund, with a mark, or still more property, or not wedded, or not betrothed, is not inheritance-born. A woman is bought with mund when a mark consisting of aurar, of the value of 12 feet of vadmal, or more property, is paid or stipulated by hand-shaking. A wedding is lawfully made if the lawful man betroths the woman, and six men at least are present” (Gragas, i. 75).

If a man married a girl without the consent of her parents or guardians, or made a runaway match, the husband was outlawed.

“The mother shall take as much property if her daughter dies childless as she has given her from home, and also the mund without interest. She and her children shall get this in preference to the father. Every man who has given anything for the heimanfylgja shall get it back if the wife dies childless, and also get the mund, if he has declared it at the betrothal or the wedding” (Gragas, i. 174).

The givers-away of the bride were called giptingar-men, and were either parents, kinsmen, or guardians.

After the preliminaries to the marriage had taken place, and the agreement had been announced to the witnesses, the festar or betrothal followed, when the parties became festarmadr or betrothed man, and festarkona or betrothed woman. This was a legal tie which could not be broken with impunity. The suitor went over to the father or guardian of the woman, and the latter betrothed her to him with a “handsal” (hand-shaking); at the same time both parties also named their witnesses to their betrothal. Gragas gives the formula used at this ceremony, which is as follows:—

“A woman is betrothed according to law if a man recites the agreement about the mund; then the guardian and the man to whom the woman is betrothed shall name witnesses to it. The man who is betrothed shall say: ‘We name witnesses that thou N. N. betrothest thyself to me N. N. with a lawful betrothal, and givest me the heimanfylgja with hand-shaking, as the fulfilment and performance of the whole agreement which was a while ago recited between us without fraud and tricks.’ This is a complete and lawful match. It is lawful when the betrother is the one who has the right to betroth according to law; and it is complete if the betrothed is in such health that she would be bought at no less price if she was a bondmaid, or has no other faults or blemishes which would make her cost less or which she had when sixteen winters old. But if these faults are found in the woman, the man who knowing it betrothed the woman is liable to lesser outlawry for it, and the wedding may be prevented if the man betrothed wishes it, provided he had before pronounced the words, ‘a complete and lawful match’—but not otherwise. Now if the betrothed man wants to demand the mund he shall summon the guardian, because he has betrothed the woman knowing such faults in 8her that she would cost less if she were a bondmaid. He shall summon him to lesser outlawry, and summon nine of his neighbours to the Thing. If the witnesses are against him he is to be outlawed, and the mund cannot be claimed. If the witnesses say that the guardian knew not the faults of the woman he can defend himself, but he cannot claim the mund unless he can get five dwellers at the farm of the woman as witnesses that she has not these faults; then the mund is to be paid back” (Gragas, i. 316)

If the betrothed woman was injured or wronged in any way the man had the same right to gain redress as if she were his wife.

“Every man has full rétt on the behalf of his betrothed as well as his wife, as long as it is due; but if she sits at home in the house of a father or brother they have the full rétt on her behalf which her betrothed would otherwise have had” (Frostath., xi. 12).

“If a man runs away with a betrothed woman he shall pay full rétt to the betrothed man and also to her father” (Bjarkey law, 125).

The virtue of a betrothed woman was very carefully guarded.

“If the father dies before the wedding within the twelve months, and the child is begotten, then that child shall take its father’s inheritance as if its mother were bought with mund. But in no other way is a man inheritance-born unless his mother is bought with mund, or he is led lawfully into the family (adopted). Though a man betroth his concubine in order that according to this law his children be inheritance-born, or delays the wedding on account of this, it does not matter, for neither shall inheritance-fraud be committed, nor the wedding be dishonoured by this” (Frostath., 13).

The breaking of a betrothal by either party was severely punished, and the laws on the subject were strict.

“If a man will not take his betrothed he shall be summoned home to take her, and a day be fixed. Thereupon he shall be summoned to the Thing because he flees from his betrothed. Then the thingmen shall make him an outlaw, and he is called a runaway (fudflogi)” (Gulath., 51).

“If a man wants a better match, the father shall betroth his daughter himself if she is a maiden, and the brother shall do it if the father is dead. If the father will not give his daughter to the man to whom she has been betrothed, he shall be summoned home and a day be fixed on which he shall have his betrothed. If the betrother will not let him have her, he shall demand the dowry of his betrothed, and summon him to the Thing for robbery; then the thingmen have to outlaw him. The maiden has no power in this matter, if she does not draw back from the marriage herself. The man who has charge of the betrothed woman may keep her from the betrothed man for a twelvemonth. A widow may betroth herself, but shall take the advice of her kinsmen; then she cannot break her troth. If she has not taken the advice of her kinsmen, she may break it and pay three marks for the breach of faith to the one who was betrothed to her. If a man betroths to a man a woman over whom he has no betrothing power, he shall pay three marks to the one who was betrothed to her. Two or more brothers shall have power over their sister; if one of them betroths her to a man, and the others object, then they shall draw lots who of them shall rule; if the one who betrothed her draws the lot, the betrothal shall be kept, otherwise not, and then the betrother shall pay three marks for breach of faith” (Earlier Gulathing’s Law, c. 51).

The length of the betrothal, if no special agreement had been made, was limited to twelve months, that being the longest time that a woman’s guardian could defer a marriage against the will of her future husband. Three years seems to have been the longest delay allowed; during that time the woman was said to sit as betrothed, if the suitor was away and did not return within that time the agreement was void, and the woman was free to marry another man.

The betrothed who without valid reason did not fulfil her engagement, and the giver-away who kept back the betrothed woman, were outlawed. If she of her free will took another man than her betrothed, both she and the giver-away were outlawed.

“If a man betroths a woman he shall have her married within twelve months if no necessity hinders” (Frostath., iii. 12).

“The giver-away of a woman may keep her from her betrothed man for twelve months” (Gulathing’s Law, 51).

“If she (the betrothed woman) wants to break the betrothal within twelve months, and says she has been betrothed against her will, he can use his witnesses against her words and get her. If he lacks witnesses then she and also her father and mother, or their nearest kinsmen if they do not exist, shall assure it is against her will with an oath, and pay the betrothed man as much as was promised. If this takes place after the wedding she loses her third” (Frostath., iii. 22).

“If the man to whom a woman is betrothed becomes sick he shall send word half a month before (the wedding) to the man who has betrothed the woman that he will not come to the wedding on account of his health, and the woman need not be brought home to him though it was agreed, and the reasons must be told. Then the wedding shall not be before the same time next year, unless the man wants it before, and then word must be sent half a month or more before, and he shall keep the wedding at his sole cost. If he does not recover in the 11next twelvemonth the betrothal is dissolved, unless both wish otherwise” (Gragas, i. 310).

The wedding generally took place at the home of the bride; very seldom at the bridegroom’s: on the wedding-night the mund became the wife’s personal property.

After the marriage the bride and bridegroom were hjón, a word which means man and wife; and then the wife became an eiginkona (own woman, wife, spouse) and hùsfreyja (housewife), and enjoyed the rights belonging to that position.

This bridal linen was a long wide head-dress hanging down the back from the top of the head, or a kind of veil. In Thrymskvida the bride wore such a head-dress, which was fastened on the head with an ornament. At the waist a bunch of keys was placed to show her authority as mistress of the household, and on her breast she had an ornament.

The jötun Thrym had got Thor’s hammer and would not give it back, unless Freyja were married to him. Thor was disguised as Freyja, and sent as a bride to Thrym; he got hold of the hammer, and crushed Thrym and the jötnar.

Then said Thor,
The mighty Ás,
The Asar will me
Effeminate call
If I let myself
Be tied in bridal linen.
Then they tied Thor
In the bridal linen,
And the great
Let keys hang
From his belt,
And woman’s clothes
Hang round his knees,
And broad stones
Be on his breast,
And fastened the cloth
On his head with skill.
We have nothing to show positively that marriage was celebrated with religious ceremonies, but certain forms may have taken place. In the later Edda we have the goddess Vár, who hears the vows of men and women. In Helgi Hjörvardson there are also vows called by her name, and it seems that she was solemnly invoked at weddings, and the sign of the hammer of Thor made over the bride.

Then said Thrym,
The chief of Thursar:
Carry in the hammer
To consecrate the bride,
Lay Mjöllnir
In the maiden’s lap.
Wed us together
With the hand of Var.
The mind laughed
In the breast of Hlórridi
As the hard-minded one
Saw the hammer;
Thrym killed he first,
The lord of Thursar,
And thrashed
The Jötun’s whole kin.
(Earlier Edda; Thrymskvida.)
Marriage without betrothal proceedings and dowry was called skyndibrúdhlaup (hasty wedding), or lausa-brudhlaup (loose wedding). Such an union was illegal, and the children begotten thereby had no right of inheritance.

The father or the guardian of the girl had the decision over her marriage. If the father was dead the brothers were the guardians of the unmarried sister. If she had neither father nor brothers, her mother in connection with the nearest uncle could give her away; and as the maiden had no voice in the matter, she could be forced by her father or guardians into a marriage against her will.

“The giver away next to a father or brother is a lawfully wedded mother. If there is no mother, then the man twenty winters old or more who is the nearest heir after the woman who is married” (Frostath., law ii. 13).

The father did not always exercise his right of deciding about the marriage; sometimes he left the decision of the suit entirely in the hands of the daughter, but such cases must be regarded as an exception.

If a girl married against the will of her parents or kinsmen the latter could disinherit her, and her progeny were illegitimate, and this act of disobedience would even get her self-chosen husband declared an outlaw as a woman-robber.

When a poor girl was given in marriage to a rich man, one of the conditions made was that her clothes and ornaments should be provided, though if she was an heiress and fifteen years of age she could betroth herself with the advice of her kinsmen.

The different Sagas and laws place the age of majority of men as well as of women at fifteen years, and early marriages of women at that age were not uncommon.

“The maiden who becomes an heiress may marry herself to whomever she likes when she is fifteen winters old, with the counsel of those of her kinsmen who are the wisest and nearest both on her father’s and mother’s side” (Frostath., xi. 18).

When girls were of age they could transact their own business.

“There are maidens called baugryg. They shall pay with rings and take rings when they are only children and inheritance-born, till they sit down on a bride’s chair. Then they throw this into the lap of their kinsmen, and shall neither pay nor take rings thereafter” (Frostath., vi. 4).

A widow, who had the same rights as a girl of age, could not be forced into a new marriage by her father or kinsmen, but on the other hand she could not marry without their consent; and the conditions of the marriage were generally settled by the spokesmen of the suitor and her nearest of kin in the usual manner.

“A widow shall betroth herself and take the advice of her kinsmen” (Gulathing’s Law, 51).

People could not marry unless they had means enough to support themselves in comfort. If they acquired wealth afterwards, then he owned two-thirds, and she one-third, both of land and movable property, and the husband could not take his wife’s property out of the country without her consent. Partnership between husband and wife was said to be established after a certain time, which according to Frostathing’s Law was twelve months.

But according to the Gulathing, man and wife could not, without the consent of the heirs of both, enter into partnership before they had children; but when they had, they could make whatever partnership they liked. When they had been married twenty years they were partners according to law.

“If men marry who have less property than one hundred legal aurar, besides their everyday clothes, and no children, then they are liable to lesser outlawry unless the woman is barren. No féránsdóm shall be held, and their property is not confiscated, and they shall leave the land with their children, and not come back unless their property increases 18so much that they own a hundred or more, or the woman is barren” (Gragas, i. 323).

“If man and wife have equal property they shall make partnership if they wish, which is also valid for their heirs. The contract of betrothal is valid between man and wife while its witnesses live and no other contracts are made. But if the witnesses remembering it are dead, then their property is in common, according to law, if he owned a mark or more, and the mund was paid, and they have lived together three winters or more. If they are poor and earn property, their property is in common according to law. According to law the joint partnership is always thus, that he owns two parts, and she one-third” (Gragas, i. 334).

“If a wife loses her husband, and they have lived twelve months together, she owns one-third of the farm and of all loose property, and her clothes besides” (Frostathing, xi. 6).

“If a man marries a widow or maiden who owns a farm, he owns nothing of the farm before they have lived together twelve months. Then the laws lay their property together.

“If two paupers marry according to the laws of the land, and their property increases, then he owns two-thirds, and she one-third of lands and loose property” (Frostathing, ix. 8, 9).

“A man shall not take the property of his wife out of the land, except with her consent. He shall rule over all their property for their use. Neither of them shall by word or deed forfeit the property of the other. Every man has the same rétt for his wife as for himself” (Earlier Gulathing’s Law, 52).

“If a man wants to leave the country with the property of his wife, she may give full powers to any man she wishes to forbid him going, and prosecute him and the men who take him away, if needed” (Grágás, i. 331).

“A wife shall not refuse partnership to her husband. If a man marries a maiden, they cannot enter into partnership unless the men who have right to their inheritance assent; but if they have inheritance-born children, they can enter into such partnership as they like.

“If a man marries a widow, and she has children (inheritance-born children) which are under age, and the man nevertheless wants to enter into partnership with her, ‘then a meeting shall be summoned of the children nearest of kin on their father’s side, and a partnership be made according to the worth of their property; land shall be valued against land, and loose property against loose property,’ and his property valued also if it is more than hers. It cannot be broken if thus made.

“If they enter into partnership in another way, it may be broken, whether his heirs or hers want it, by going to a Thing before they have been twenty winters together, and declaring that the partnership is broken. If this is not done before they have been twenty winters together, he (the husband) can never change it thereafter.

“Wherever husband and wife enter into partnership, they shall declare it before many men. Now if they have lived together twenty winters or more, they are partners according to the laws, if they were not before. Then she owns a third of the property, and he two-thirds. Though it (the partnership) be made, if it is not made public during the twenty winters, it is as if it had not been made” (Gulathing’s Law, 53).

Marriages were forbidden to the fifth degree of relationship.

“It is a new law that marriage is not allowed nearer than the fifth degree in the same degrees of relationship and kinsmanship. If they are both kinsmen in the fifth degree they may marry if they like, but pay a larger tithe of all their property” (Grágás, i. 308).

The wedding feasts, at which the gods were invoked for the happiness of the marriage, were often very splendid, and guests, to whom presents were given, came from long distances. The length of the feasts varied according to the rank and wealth of the family, and were so gorgeous that they remained long in the memories of the people.

In sparsely-settled countries we find that a bondi was obliged to shelter the bridal party.

“A bondi shall feed at least five of them (the bridesmen and bridesmaids). He is an outlaw if he refuses to lodge them. This is if the bride or bridegroom are with them; otherwise he must feed three men” (Kristinrett Thorláks og Ketils biskupa, p. 94).

In the hall where the wedding-feast took place there were bridal benches, which were probably kept in the family for such an occasion; just as to-day the bridal crowns are kept in Norway.
On one of the long benches the bridegroom was seated with his men; on the other, which was opposite, the father of the bride and his male guests. On the cross-bench sat the women, with the bride in the middle; therefore this bench was called brudbekk (bride-bench).

We find that during the feast the bride was seated between the bridesmen and bridesmaids, a custom that has come down to this day; the linfé was then presented to her as she sat under the bridal linen.
“Then he (the bridegroom) shall sit between the bridesmen, and she between the bridesmaids. He shall walk across the floor and give her linfé. That is lawful whether the gift is small or great” (N. G. L., ii. 305, King Magnus’ Laws).

It was the custom to offer to the bride a bekkjar-gjöf (bench-gift) while she sat on the bridal bench.

The man, as the guardian of his wife, had to manage their property; but nevertheless the property of each was quite separate. At the marriage the property of both was valued, and the heimanfylgja, tilgjöf, linfé, and also what she had got or would get by inheritance or other ways, were regarded as the property of the woman.

If the husband died first, his natural heir got his property, while the wife kept hers; but if the wife died first, the husband took back the tilgjöf, and the other property went to her heirs.

If a man did not value the property of his wife at the marriage, then he had to pay the value to her heirs if she died before him, and take an oath that he had not received more. But if he died first, and his property also had not been valued, and they had been married for twelve months, then she got one-third of the loose property and land, besides her clothes.

“A man shall rule over his wife’s property while they are married, and not separated, except that which is stipulated at their betrothal or their marriage; that property shall she answer for and rule herself. If an inheritance falls to a man’s wife, and there are umagi in that inheritance but no property, her husband shall take care of these, and “fit them out,” but her heimanfylgja shall not diminish when it is made public in a drinking-hall. But if there is property in that inheritance, the lands and all loose property shall be valued, and he shall have the care of them and the increase, but he shall pay as much back as he got, except the land-rents which he got afterwards” (Earlier Frostathing’s Law, xi. 5).

“A gift given to a woman shall be her property, in whatever manner she may be separated. All the property of a maiden shall be valued, loose property against loose property, but one half of a widow’s property shall be valued. The valuation shall be lawful in every case except two—if she dies childless or leaves him without a protector” (Gulath., 54).

The only certain examples of polygamy occur among the great chiefs, such as Harald Fairhair. Harald Hardradi had two wives, Elizabeth, the daughter of the King of Gardaríki, and Thora, the daughter of a Norwegian chief; both enjoyed the name of queen.

The husband was obliged to protect his wife, and take as much care of her honour as of his own.
“Now is about the rights of women. Every man has claim on behalf of his wife. A Hauld owns three marks if she is struck; but a widow shall have the same rétt as her last husband (had), and the one she wishes shall prosecute. But if a maiden is struck, her nearest kinsman shall claim her rétt as if it were his own. But if she is to have it herself, the right plaintiff shall summon a Thing” (Earlier Frostathing’s Law, x., c. 37).

The following laws show how strict people were in regard to kisses:—

“If a man kisses a woman (belonging to another) secretly, with her will, he is liable to pay three marks, and the one who would have to prosecute for seduction has to prosecute. If she gets angry at it, she may prosecute herself, and the man is then liable to lesser outlawry. If a man kisses a man’s wife secretly, he is liable to lesser outlawry whether she allows it or refuses it. Nine neighbours are to be called as witnesses to this at the Thing.... If a man puts on a fald or woman’s clothes to deceive a woman, he is liable to lesser outlawry” (Gragas, i. 337).

“If a man makes a song of love on a woman, he is to be outlawed. If the woman is twenty years or older, she shall prosecute the case herself. But if she is younger, or will not prosecute, her legal guardian has to do it” (Gragas, vol. ii., p. 150).

Women’s rights appear to have been not altogether unknown even in these early days; for women who got their own livelihood and whose kinsmen did not trouble themselves about their support, were their own masters.

“If kinsmen will not take proper care of women, and they (the women) get their living themselves, then they shall rule over themselves as they like” (Frostath., xi. 17).

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Shadows in a Timeless Myth Presents Divorce Among The Vikings

A divorce was declared in the following manner. The wife had to declare the separation, and the reason of it, three times in three places in the presence of witnesses—first, in front of them on a bed; secondly, in front of the men’s door; and, thirdly, at the Thing; but separation did not prevent either party from marrying again afterwards.

Mörd gave advice to his daughter Unn how she should separate herself from her husband, Rut, when he was not at home.

“When thou art quite ready thou shalt go to thy bed, and with thee the men who are thy followers; thou shalt name witnesses at the bedside of thy husband, and declare that thou art separated from him by a lawful divorce, as fairly as is possible after the rules of the Althing and the laws of all the people. The same naming of witnesses thou shalt also have at the men’s door, and then thou shalt ride away” (Njala, c. 7).

The causes for divorce were numerous. A cause of divorce was that of wearing clothes belonging to the opposite sex, as when a man wore a shirt so open that you could see his breast; or when women wore breeches; and we find that sometimes these clothes were cunningly made on purpose to bring about a separation.

One day Thórd Ingunnarson asked Gudrún what a woman was liable to if she always wore breeches like men. She answered:

“‘They are to be punished for that just as a man is punished who has such a large opening in his clothes that his bare chest is displayed. Both are reasons for divorce....’ Thórd at once rushed to the law court and named witnesses, he declared himself divorced from Aud, because she wore closed breeches like men” (Laxdæla, c. 35).

“Gudrun, Usvifr’s daughter, was forced by her father to marry Thorvald Halldórsson, of Garpsdal. She always asked him to buy her the most costly things. Once, when she asked him for something, he said that she knew no moderation, and gave her a cheek-horse (box on the ear). She answered: ‘Now thou hast given me what we women think of great importance, and that is a good complexion, and thou hast cured me of importunate requests.’ The same evening Thórd (Ingunnarson, a good friend of hers) came in. Gudrun told him of this disgrace, and asked how she should take revenge for it. Thórd smiled, and replied: ‘I know a good way; make a shirt for him with an opening of divorce, and declare thyself separated from him for this reason.’ Gudrun said nothing against this, and they left off speaking, but that same spring Gudrun declared herself separated from Thorvald, and went home to her father at Laugar” (Laxdæla, ch. 34).

Divorce was easy to get, especially for the man, on the ground of the wife’s infidelity; while the wife could get it on the ground of repeated ill-treatment from her husband.

“If a man does not sleep in the same bed with his wife for six seasons on account of dislike, then her kinsmen can claim her property and also her rétt, but she shall herself keep her property” 

A man could separate from his wife without a lawful reason, but the separation was looked upon as a disgrace by her kinsmen, and revenge was sure to follow.

“If a man wants to separate from his wife, he shall declare himself separated so that each of them may hear the other’s voice, and have witnesses present” (Gulathing’s Law, 54).

 If a husband tried to take his wife out of the country against her will she could separate herself from him.

“If a man wants to take his wife against her will out of this land she shall declare herself separated if she likes, wherever they happen to be, if she can do it with reason; then he is liable to lose her and her property as if they had owned no property together, and he has no more right to that woman after they have separated than to any other woman with whom he has not lived” (Gragas, i. 331).

A wife could not separate without reason, and even if she left her husband with good reason on her side, he could keep her dower, and could force her to come back.

In case of a separation, the wife’s parents or kinsmen could claim the mund and the heimanfylgja.
A bondi, Thorkel, having heard that his wife Asgerd loved another man, was, on his remonstrating, told by his wife to choose one of two alternatives.

“Thou mayst choose one of two conditions. To stay with me as if nothing had happened; otherwise I will at once name witnesses, and declare myself separated from thee, and let my father claim my mund and heimanfylgja” (Gisli Sursson’s Saga, p. 16).

If a separation took place where neither party could be said to have been guilty of criminality, then the wife took the same amount of property as she would have at the death of her husband, or as she would take in case she left him on account of any unfaithfulness on his part. If she left him without any valid cause, or he separated from her on account of her repeated infidelity, then the husband had the right to retain all her property as long as she lived, and her heir had no claim to anything of the tilgjöf

But if she was unfaithful only once, she forfeited her tilgjöf, and kept the rest of her property. If the man drove her away against her will for that single offence, she came into all her rights.

“If a wife commits adultery, or separates from her husband without reason, she has forfeited her mund and her increase of a third (thridjungsauki). If her husband offers to take her back and she will not accept it he shall keep all her property while she is alive and then her next heir shall get her heimanfylgja but no increase of a third. If they are reconciled and he takes her back, their property shall remain as if there had been no breach between them. If she repeats the crime he shall keep her property while he is alive, and if he will not take her back, then it shall be as has already been said. If she does not and promises redress, and offers to live with her husband and he will not take her, then she shall get her heimanfylgja but not the increase of a third. If the husband wants to rob her of her heimanfylgja and says she has committed this crime before, and people have not before heard him accuse her of it, she shall take the einseidi (oath of one) and get her heimanfylgja, but not her increase of a third if he will not take her back. If a hindrance separates them according to God’s laws each of them shall have their respective property” (Frostathing’s Law, xi. 14).

It was a common provision in all the laws that a man was not allowed to beat his wife, under a penalty of paying the same indemnity as he had a right to receive if he himself were beaten. If he had beaten her three times and did it a fourth, then she could leave him, taking with her her heimanfylgja and tilgjöf.

“If a man beats his wife with keys or latches, then he is liable to pay three marks. Also if he takes another woman and puts her in the house; she is called hearth-rival. Thirdly, if a man beats his wife with a horn or with the fist on an ale-bench, then he is to pay three marks. If she three times gets rétt for these reasons, the fourth time she may separate from him, or not, as she likes” (Borgarthing Laws, ii. 8).

“When Börk had left his farm Helgafell Thordis went forward and named witnesses that she declared herself separated from her husband Börk, and pleaded as a reason that he had struck her, and she would not put up with his blows. Their property was divided, and Snorri (a son of her former marriage) took charge of it on behalf of his mother, for he was her heir” (Eyrbyggja, c. 14).
Restrictions were put upon the extravagance of women.

“The wife of a hauld (odal’s bondi) is allowed to buy to the extent of one eyrir, and not more. If she buys for more thebargain shall not be kept, except her husband wishes it so” (Earlier Frostathings Law, xi. 22).

“If a wife gives away her husband’s property he can claim it all, and prosecute the man who received it. If a man sends his wife to the Thing to pay debts or other expenses of theirs, her hand-shaking is valid, and also when she goes to a ship to make bargains with his consent, but no other transactions are valid unless he wishes them to be so. When she buys what is necessary for their household while he is at the Thing, that is also valid. The woman shall not sell half her land, a farm or more, or a godord (dignity of godi), or a seagoing ship, except with the will of her guardian” (Gragas, i. 333).

Compiled from sources in the public domain

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Shadows In a Timeless Myth Presents Tales of The Valkyrie

 The Valkryie or Valkyrja of Norse Legend

“The daughter of King Eylimi was Svava; she was a Valkyrja and rode over air and sea; she gave this name to Helgi, and often afterwards sheltered him in battles” (Helga Kvida Hjörvardssonar).

The following among other poetical and figurative names are given to the Valkyrias:—The maidens of victory, the goddesses of the fight, the graspers of spears, the witches of the shield, the maidens of the slain, the exultant ones, the strong one, the entangling one, the silent one, the storm-raisers. They are mentioned as riding through the air, over the sea, and amid the lightning, helmet-clad, with bloody brynjas, and glittering spears; the spear which carried death and victory being the emblem of Odin. When their horses shake their manes, the froth which comes from their bitted mouths drops as dew into the valleys, and hail falls from their nostrils into the woods.

The slain were called Val (chosen), and belonged to Odin. From the word Val are derived the names of Valkyrias, Valfödr (the father of the slain), Valhalla (the hall of the slain), Valól (field of battle, field of the slain), and probably also of those birds of prey which after the battle visited the field of action.

Skuld, the youngest of the three Nornir, who personified the future, followed the Valkyrias, probably in order to witness the decrees of fate given to men at their birth.

“There are others that have to serve in Valhöll, carry drink and take care of the table-dressing and the beer cups. These are called Valkyrias; Odin sends them to every battle; they choose death for men and rule victory. Gunn and Róta and the youngest Norn, Skuld, always ride to choose the slain and rule man-slayings” (Gylfaginning,).

It was believed that during a battle warriors sometimes saw Valkyrias coming to their help: how grand and beautiful must have been the vision created in their mind by their faith in them, as they thought they saw them riding on their fiery steeds, and sweeping over the battle-field, by land or by sea. It is hard to realise a grander picture for a warrior to behold.

Helgi saw:—
Three times nine maidens,
But one rode foremost
A white maiden under helmet;
Their horses trembled,
From their manes fell
Dew into the deep dales,
Hail on the lofty woods;
Thence come good seasons among men,
All that I saw was loathsome to me.
[Helga Kvida Hjörvardssonar.]
Sometimes the Valkyrias came to earth and remained among men.

“Nidud was a king in Sweden. He had two sons and one daughter, whose name was Bödvild. There were three brothers, sons of the Finna-king, one Slagfinn, the other Egil, and the third Völund; they ran on snow-shoes, and hunted wild beasts. They came to the Ulfdal, where there is a lake called Ulfsjár (Wolf’s lake), and there made themselves a house. Early one morning they found at the shore of the lake three women who were spinning flax, near them lay their swan-skins; they were Valkyrias. 

Two of them were daughters of King Hlödver (Louis), Hladgunn Svanhvit (Svan-white), and Hervör Alvitr (All-wise); and the third Ölrún, daughter of Kjar of Valland. The brothers took them to their house. Egil got Ölrún; Slagfinn, Svan-white; and Völund, All-wise. There they dwelt for seven winters; after which the women went to visit battle-fields, and did not return. Then Egil went on snow-shoes to look for Ölrún, and Slagfinn for Svan-white, while Völund remained in Ulfdal. He was the most skilled smith that is spoken of in ancient Sagas. King Nidud had him captured, as is told in the song” (Völundar Kvida).

Helga Kvida gives an account of how Sigrun, a Valkyria, betrothed herself to Helgi, and of how she comes with other Valkyrias to protect him. Their appearance is thus described:—

Then gleams flashed
From Logafjöll,
And from those gleams
Came lightning;
The high ones rode helmet-clad
Down on the Himinvangar;
Their brynjas were
And from their spears
Sprang rays of light.
Early (in the day) asked
From the wolf-lair
The dögling (the king) about this
The southern disir
If they would home
With hilding
That night go;
There had been clang of bowstrings.
But from the horse
The daughter of Högni (Sigrun)
Hushed the clatter of shields;
She said to the king,
I think we have
Other work to do
Than drink beer
With the ring-breaker. (Helgi)
Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Friday, October 13, 2017

Shadow in a Timeless Myth presents Contemporary Observances On Queen Victoria

Stories of Queen Victoria contemporary to her lifetime, which just goes to prove that speculation, titillating gossip and yellow journalism have always been popular.

In regard to Victoria, Queen of England, the reason why silence is kept in relation to her private life is because of a sneaking regard for the manners, customs, and good opinions of titled individuals among most American travelers.

The Queen has been a good wife and mother, but in these two qualities she is more than equaled by thousands of American women. She is no better and no worse than the average married woman; has her faults, her weaknesses, and her good qualities, and it is among her own people that her failings find their loudest trumpeters.

In honestly dealing with these stories I shall not stop to give the gross yarns which are spun by the Jenkinses of the press, who make what they call an honest penny by chronicling all the loose street scandal that is poured into their ears.

The London Times, the leading paper of England, has on several occasions soundly berated the Queen for her continued seclusion from the public, her exalted position being, it is said, her only excuse, and subsequent to the death of Prince Albert this seclusion was continued so long that the shopkeepers and tradesmen who profit by the receptions, festivals, and gaieties of the court, were loud in their complaints of what they deemed to be an overstrained and extravagant grief.

Several leading modistes or dress makers were obliged to give up business, owing to the Queen having closed her drawing rooms; murmuring loudly that they had been ruined by her Majesty, as their principal business was to make dresses for the ladies of rank who have nothing else to do but go to balls, parties, and drawing-room receptions when invited. Indeed for the past three years there has been a growing dissatisfaction with her Majesty, and sad stories are told of that royal lady in the English capital—chiefly the shopkeepers were enraged—although this class of people are usually the most loyal—then the Fenian affair came and was added as fuel to the general discontent.
But the worst remains to be told, and it is with no feeling of pleasure that I am compelled to lift the veil.

The story is everywhere prevalent that the seclusion of the Queen is owing to her fondness for liquor; this statement has never been openly promulgated in the papers, but is continually hinted at obscurely in the more liberal organs. It is boldly spoken of by private individuals that the temper of her Majesty has of late years become very irascible and is sometimes ungovernable, and the cause is attributed to drink and its consequent delirium which has seized upon this unfortunate lady.

I was told by a clergyman who had it direct from the wife of a former chaplain of her Majesty, that the Queen was in the habit of drinking half a pint of raw liquor per day. The effects of these liberal potations are making visible havoc in her once comely face. I saw her thrice, and her inflamed face and swollen eyes gave her all the appearance of an inebriate. Perhaps the trouble caused by her scapegrace of a son, the Prince of Wales, who, without doubt, is as reckless a scamp as ever existed, has had much to do with his mother's present condition, and has driven her to drinking.

It is also notorious that the Queen has chosen for her body servant one John Brown, a raw boned, robust, and coarse Highlander, and clings to him with more warmth and tenacity than becomes a lady who carried her sorrow for a deceased husband previously to such an extravagant pitch.

This John Brown whom I saw is over six feet in height, a powerful looking fellow; but he has a face that would find favor in the eyes of very few women. He was formerly a body servant of Prince Albert, and was always an attendant on him in his hunting and fishing excursions. The Queen took notice of him at Balmoral, her summer residence in Scotland, and here she made a great pet of him.
After the death of Prince Albert the Queen attached Brown to her person, and ever since he has constantly attended her.

It is the custom of the Queen to have herself pushed around the grounds of her lodge at Balmoral in a perambulator or hand carriage when she visits that charming spot.

The person selected for this duty was the lucky John Brown. Day after day he might be seen pushing around the spacious lawn, the Majesty of England.

During her hours of idleness Brown is always allowed to converse with the Queen in a familiar manner, and it is said presumes on her gracious condescension more than her noblest subject would dare to do.


When the Queen takes her seat in her perambulator it might often occur that a servant would spring forward with a lowly reverence to assist the royal lady, but in every instance the unfortunate flunkey would receive a rebuking frown, and in a moment after might have to undergo the mortification of a sneering laugh from Brown, who at this crisis would make his appearance—strolling in a leisurely fashion toward the perambulator, and stretching his long Celtic legs, his arms full of warm wraps in which he proceeds to enfold the person of the Queen, with as much seeming fondness as if he were the husband instead of the low lackey of royalty, without polish and breeding; then in addition to the silent rebuke of the Queen the offending servant would hear from Brown some such remark as "I say my douce laddie, dinna ya offer yer sarvices till her Majesty asks ya fur them. Dinna ye be sticking yer finger in till anoother mun's haggis or ye moon be scalded."

"That will do Brown," the Queen would say to prevent a scene which would be sure to take place were Brown's violent temper not curbed in time to prevent an explosion, for the tall Highland gillie is no respecter of persons, and cares very little for royalty except in the person of its chief representative.

It is a current anecdote in the Pall Mall clubs, that the Queen's cousin, the Duke of Cambridge, who is also the commander-in-chief of the British Army, having one day desired an audience with the Queen of a private nature, waited upon her at Buckingham Palace and presented his card like any other private citizen. He was desired to wait, and did so until he became tired, and finally he was admitted to the presence, and was somewhat astonished to find the servant, John Brown, in the room.

The Duke being a member of the royal family did not hesitate to say to her majesty in a respectful way: "Will your Majesty be so kind as to ask your footman to leave the saloon, I desire to speak to you on a matter of importance, privately."

"Very well, you may speak without intrusion," said the Queen, turning her head slightly to the window where her servant stood with his back turned coolly upon the Queen's cousin, "there is no one here but Brown, he is very discreet."

Finding that the Highlander could not be prevailed upon to leave the room, the Duke made a virtue of necessity and proceeded to state the purport of his visit. The Queen engaged in conversation with her cousin, and some minutes having elapsed the conversation turned upon different subjects. The Duke was relating a joke about the Clubs for the edification of the Queen, in which a noble person was made to assume a ridiculous position, when all at once he was interrupted with a peal of coarse and irreverent laughter, which rang through the apartments, and the Duke turning around with a thrill of  horror and astonishment, heard Brown scream out while he held his sides to contain his mad mirth:
"Oh! oh! What a d—d fule that fellow must have been."

The Duke for a moment stood petrified with horror, an unpleasant tremor ran down the small of his back, and then being seized with a sudden idea, he took his hat and making a low reverence left the apartment as the Queen said in an irritable tone:
"Oh! never mind, it's only Brown."

The story was too good to keep, and in a few days it was known all over London.

On the day that the Queen opened Blackfriars bridge she rode in a state carriage with Brown behind her, and the act was so flagrant that when the procession passed through the Strand, the Queen was openly hissed by the people who stood on the sidewalks and saw the burly form of the Scotsman in the carriage, so close to her Majesty.

I leave facts to speak for themselves, there is no need of comment. The great rival of Punch is a paper called the Tomahawk, published in Fleet street, and which is edited with fearless ability. The chief artist is a Matthew Morgan who excels all others of his craft in London for the beauty and spirit of his cartoons. Well, one day the Tomahawk appeared with a large two paged cartoon, in which the queen was pictured in her perambulator, and the tall form of Brown behind pushing the vehicle, while he leaned over the back and looked with an affectionate leer into the face of the sovereign of England. There was no inscription at the bottom of the picture, but it was so truthful and telling, that every person who looked, saw the whole scandalous story at a glance. Three editions of this number of the Tomahawk were sold in a few days, and in the corner of the picture the daring artist did not hesitate to sign his initials, "M.M." It is sufficient to state that no proceedings were taken, nor was a suit of libel brought against the editors who publish the paper.

I have here only recounted facts well known in England, and I set them down without malice or extenuation.

The salary or income of Queen Victoria is, I believe, about five thousand two hundred dollars a day, including Sundays, for which she also receives her regular stipend. Like other sovereigns, she does not toil or spin, yet the people must pay the bills all the same. Being of a very economical and thrifty disposition, it is supposed that her Majesty will leave a fortune of many millions of pounds to her scapegrace son when she dies, that is to say, if he has common decency enough too wait for her decease, and ceases to outrage her feelings to much.

Queen Victoria was born May 24th, 1819, and is consequently in her fifty-second year.

Compiled from sources in the Public Domain.

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Shadows in a Timeless Myth Presents The Ancient Tale of the Queen of the Night

The Queen of the Night - An Ancient Tale Revisited

Once upon a time there was an old man who had three daughters. All of them were beautiful, but the youngest, whose name was Rosa, was not only more lovely, but also more amiable and more intelligent than the others. Jealous and envious exceedingly were the two sisters when they found that the fame of Rosa's beauty was greater than the fame of theirs. They, however, refused to believe that Rosa was really more lovely than they were, and they resolved to ask the Sun's opinion on the subject.

So, one day at dawn, the sisters stood at their open window and cried, "Sun, shining Sun, who wanderest all over the world, say who is the most beautiful among our father's daughters?"

The Sun replied, "I am beautiful, and you are both beautiful; but your youngest sister is the most beautiful of all."

When the two girls heard this, they were beside themselves with anger and spite, and determined to get rid of the sister who so outshone them. Saying nothing to her of what the Sun had told them, they on the following day invited Rosa to accompany them to the wood to gather a salad of wild herbs for their father's dinner. The unsuspecting Rosa at once complied, took her basket, and set out with her sisters, who led her to a spot she had never before visited, a long way from her father's house, and surrounded on all sides by forest. When they were arrived, the eldest sister said, "Do thou, Rosa, gather all the herbs that are here; we will go a little farther on, and when we have filled our baskets we will return."

The wicked girls, however, went straight home, abandoning Rosa to her fate. When some hours had passed, and she found that they did not return, she feared that she might, while seeking for the herbs, have wandered from the spot where her sisters had left her. Too innocent to suspect them of the wicked treachery of which they had been guilty, she only blamed herself for her carelessness, and wept bitterly at the thought of remaining all night alone in the wild and lonely wood.

After a time the sun set, the twilight came and passed, and darkness fell. The birds ceased their songs, and the silence of the forest was broken only by the flutter of a bat or great gray moth, the melancholy hoot of an owl, and the faint little rustle made by the other flying and creeping things that come forth with the stars. Seated on a great tree-trunk, Rosa wept more and more bitterly as the darkness deepened, and no one came to her aid. Hours passed, the air grew chilly; and faint with hunger and cold, she was about to lay herself down to die, when suddenly a brilliant light, like the sparkling of many stars, shot through the wood and advanced toward the spot where she sat. It was the Queen of Night, who, attended by all her court, was returning to her palace after her usual journey, for it was now near dawn. Rosa, dazzled and frightened, covered her face with her hands, and wept more bitterly than ever. Attracted by the sound of her sobbing, the Radiant Lady approached the weeping girl, and in a kind and gentle voice asked how she came to be there. Rosa looked up, and, reassured by the benign countenance of the Queen of Night, told her story.
"Come then and live with me, dear girl; I will be your mother, and you shall be my daughter," said the Queen, who knew perfectly well how it had all happened.

Gladly the poor girl accompanied the Queen to her palace, and being, as we know, as amiable and intelligent as she was beautiful, her protectress soon became very fond of her, and did everything in her power to make her adopted daughter happy. She gave Rosa the keys of all her treasures, made her the mistress of her palace, and let her do whatever she pleased.

But let us now leave this lucky girl with the Queen of Night for a little while, and return to her sisters. Though they fully believed she must either have perished of hunger or been devoured by wild beasts, they after a time, to make quite certain, went again to their window and cried, "Sun, shining Sun, who wanderest all over the world, tell us who is the most beautiful of our father's daughters?"

The Sun replied as before, "I am beautiful, and you are both beautiful; but your youngest sister is the most beautiful of all."

"But Rosa has long been dead!"

"No," replied the Sun, "Rosa still lives, and she is in the palace of the Queen of Night."

When the sisters heard this, their rage and spite knew no bounds. Long they consulted together as to the best means of bringing about her death; and finally these wicked girls decided to obtain from a witch of their acquaintance an enchanted kerchief which would make the person wearing it appear to be dead.

Well, they set out, and presently arrived at the palace at an hour when they knew that the Queen of Night would be absent and they might find their sister alone. Rosa was delighted to see them, for though they had often been unkind to her, she loved her sisters very dearly, and welcoming them warmly, she offered them everything she had, and pressed them to remain. They, on their part, pretended to be overjoyed at finding again the sister they had mourned as lost, and congratulated her on her good fortune. When they had eaten and drunk of the good things she set before them, and were about to take their departure, the eldest sister produced from her basket the enchanted kerchief.
"Here, dear Rosa," said she, "is a little present which we should like you to wear for our sakes. Let me pin it round your shoulders. Good-bye, dear!" she added, kissing her affectionately on both cheeks, "we will come and see you again before long and bring our father with us."

"Do, dear sisters, and tell my dear father that I will go to see him as soon as my kind protectress may give me leave."

Rosa watched her sisters from the window till they were out of sight, and then turned to the embroidery-frame which she had laid aside on their arrival. She had not, however, made many stitches, before a feeling of faintness came over her; and letting her work slip from her hands, she fell back on the sofa and lost consciousness. When the Queen of Night came home, she went first, as was her wont, to the chamber of her dear adopted daughter, and finding her thus, she said, as she bent over the maiden and kissed her beautiful mouth, "She has tired herself, poor child, over that embroidery-frame; she is so industrious."

But the beautiful lips were cold and white, and the maiden neither breathed nor stirred. Distracted with grief, the Queen of Night began to unfasten Rosa's dress in order to ascertain whether her death had been caused by the bite of some poisonous reptile, and while doing so, she observed that the kerchief on her shoulders was not one that her daughter was in the habit of wearing. When she had unpinned and taken it off, Rosa heaved a deep sigh, opened her eyes, and seeing the Queen bending over her, smiled and stretched out her arms to her dear mother, saying, "I must have slept a long time! Oh, I remember!" she added, "I was feeling faint and giddy and lay down, and, I suppose, fell asleep immediately, for I don't recollect anything else."

"But where did you get this?" asked the Queen, picking up the kerchief from the floor. "I don't remember having given it to you."

"Oh, I have not told you that I had a great pleasure yesterday. My sisters, who had thought me forever lost, found out where I was and came to see me, bringing this kerchief as a present. Is it not pretty?"
These words told the Queen of Night the secret of the whole matter; but, not wishing to distress her daughter by acquainting her with her sisters' cruel perfidy, she only replied, "Yes, very pretty. Will you give it to me, Rosa? I should like to have it for myself."

Rosa was naturally only too pleased to be able to give her kind protectress something in return for all her favors; and she also promised her, though not without tears, never again to receive any visitors, not even her sisters, when she was left by herself in the palace.

These wicked creatures in a little while again stood at their window and cried, "Sun, shining Sun, who wanderest the world over, say, is there now any one more beautiful than we are?"

But the Sun only replied as before, "I am beautiful; you, too, are beautiful; but Rosa is the most beautiful of all!"

The sisters looked at each other in dismay. "The kerchief has then failed," said the elder to the younger. "We must try some other method of getting rid of her."

So the wretches went to the same old witch who had given them the magic kerchief, and got from her an enchanted sugar-plum. When at nightfall they again knocked at the door of the palace, the porter informed them that his mistress was absent, and had given orders that the palace-gates were not to be opened until her return. They, however, saw Rosa at her window, and pretending to be greatly distressed at their exclusion, asked her at least to accept from them the delicious sugar-plum which they had brought for her.

"Let down a basket," said the eldest; "I will put the sugar-plum inside, and you can draw it up."
Rosa did so, and drew up the sweetmeat.

"Taste it at once," cried the second sister, "and if you like it, we will bring you more of the same kind."

The poor girl, suspecting no evil, put the sugar-plum into her mouth; but scarcely had she tasted it, than she fell back as if dead; and her sisters, seeing this, hurried away home.

When the Queen returned and again found her favorite lifeless, she was both grieved and angry. All her servants, however, when questioned, assured her that no one had entered the palace during her absence, and that Rosa's sisters had only been allowed to speak to her from a distance as she stood at her high window. In the hope of bringing her to life again, as on the previous occasion, the Queen of Night searched every fold of the maiden's dress, but in vain; she could not discover the fatal charm.

"Perhaps," said she to herself, as she sat and gazed on the lifeless features of her adopted daughter, "what I can not discover, chance may, and I could never bring myself to bury her, dead though she seems to be."

So the grieving Queen sent for a cunning workman, who made at her orders a coffer of silver; and after dressing Rosa in her most beautiful clothes and jewels, she laid her in it, closed the lid, fastened the coffer on the back of a splendid horse, and let him loose to wander at will.

The horse, following his fancy, carried his fair burden in a few hours' time into a neighboring country, the ruler of which was the handsomest man of his time; and this King, being that day out hunting with his court, happened to catch sight of the horse. Attracted by its beauty and fleetness, and by the strange shining burden it bore on its saddle, he approached, and seeing the animal to be masterless, he bade his people seize and lead it to the palace. The silver coffer the King caused to be carried into his bed-chamber, and there he opened it. Imagine, if you can, his surprise on seeing within the form of a beautiful maiden. Though apparently lifeless, she was more lovely than any living woman he had ever beheld, and his heart became filled with such ardent love for her that he would sit for hours together gazing upon her beautiful features, neglecting duties and pleasures alike; and when his ministers came and prayed him to accompany them to the council chamber, he only said,
"Go, I pray you, and do justice in my name."

Days passed, his gentlemen tried to tempt him out hunting, but again he only replied, "Do you go without me."

The royal cooks vied with one another in preparing the most delicious dishes for his table; but these he hardly tasted, nor did he even appear to notice what he was eating. When this state of things had continued for some days the ministers became alarmed, and sent a messenger to inform the Queen-Mother, who was away at her country palace. She came with all speed, and was much distressed to find her son so dispirited and melancholy. To all her anxious inquiries, however, he only replied that he was quite well, but preferred to remain alone in his bed-chamber. The Queen had, of course, already heard from the courtiers the story of the riderless horse and the silver chest; and she rightly guessed that her son had been bewitched by what he had found in it, and determined to discover what this might be.

So the very next day, while the King was at dinner with his vizier, his mother went to his chamber—for she had a master-key that would open all the doors in the palace—and there, extended on the divan, she saw the silver chest. Going hastily up to it, she raised the lid which the King had closed before leaving. At first she could only gaze in astonishment at the wonderful beauty of the maiden lying within; but her admiration presently changed to anger when she thought of her son; and seizing poor Rosa by her long hair, she dragged her out of the coffer and shook her violently, saying, "You wicked dead thing! Why are you not decently buried instead of wandering about casting spells on Princes?" But as the Queen shook her the enchanted sugar-plum was jerked out of Rosa's mouth, and she immediately came to life again, and gazed around her in bewilderment. And as she opened her large, lovely eyes, the Queen's anger passed away, and she embraced and kissed Rosa tenderly, weeping with delight the while. The poor girl was so astonished by the strangeness of everything around her, that it was some minutes before she could ask:

"Where am I, noble lady, and where is my dear mother?"

"I know not, my child, but I will be your mother. For you shall marry my son, the King, who is dying for love of you."

As she spoke, footsteps were heard at the door, and the King entered. Imagine, if you can, his amazement and joy at finding, seated on the divan by his mother's side, the maiden he loved so dearly, restored to life, and twenty times lovelier than before. Not to make too long a story of it, the King took her by the hand, and asked her to be his wife. And when Rosa heard of his love for her, and saw how handsome and noble he was, she could not but love him in return. So they were married with great splendor, and there were feasts for the poor, and fountains running honey and wine, and rejoicings for everybody.

Well, the King and Rosa lived very happily together for some time; but her troubles were not over, for her wicked sisters had not yet done their worst to her. They had for long feared to go near the palace again, and nearly a year passed before they learned what had been the result of their last visit. One day, however, in order to make quite sure that Rosa was dead, they once more stood at their window, and cried,

"Sun, shining Sun, who wanderest all over the earth, tell us if thou hast, since our youngest sister died, seen any maiden fairer than we?"

But the Sun only replied as before, "I am beautiful; you, too, are both beautiful; but your youngest sister is the fairest of all."

"But Rosa is dead!"

"No, Rosa lives, and she is the wife of the King of the neighboring country."

Well, if these wicked women could not bear that their sister should be considered fairer than they, still less could they allow her to be a Queen. So, disguised as two old women, they set off at once for Rosa's palace. When they arrived in the royal city, great rejoicings were going on because a baby prince had just been born.

"That is good news," said the elder to the younger when she heard this, "for now we will be the nurses." So they went to the Queen-Mother and gave themselves out to be wonderfully clever nurses from the neighboring country who had nursed the princes there; and the Queen-Mother, deceived by their story, put them in charge of her daughter-in-law and the baby. On the pretext of keeping the young Queen and her child free from evil spells, the make-believe nurses sent away all the other attendants from her apartments; and when they were left alone with their sister, they stack into her head an enchanted pin.

She was immediately changed into a bird, and flew away out of the window; and her eldest sister laid herself down on her bed in her place.

When the King came in to see his wife, he could hardly believe his eyes. This could not be his wife. The false Queen, guessing his thoughts, said,

"You find me changed, dear husband? It is because I have been so ill."

The King, however, pretended not to have observed anything, but his heart froze within him as he looked on the object of this pretended transformation.

It was his custom to breakfast alone every day in the garden; and one day while he was sadly musing there, a pretty bird flew down, perched on a branch overhead, and said, "Tell me, my lord, have the King, and the Queen-Mother, and the little Prince slept well?"

The King smiled and nodded, and the bird continued, "May they ever sleep sweetly. But may she whom they call the young Queen sleep the sleep that knows no waking, and may all things over which I fly wither away!"

This said, the bird spread its wings, and wherever it passed, the grass and flowers withered, and the place became a desert. The gardeners, in despair, asked the King if they might not kill the bird which caused the mischief; but he forbade them, on pain of death, to do it any injury.

Afterward the bird came every day while he was at breakfast in the garden; and the kind voice of the Prince soon made it so tame and fearless that it would perch on his knee and eat from his hand. This familiarity enabled the Prince to observe the bird's plumage more closely, and one day he caught sight of the pin in its head. Surprised at this, he ventured to withdraw it, when the bird disappeared, and his own dear wife stood again by his side. When he had recovered a little from the joy and surprise caused by this strange event, and had welcomed his wife back, he asked her to tell how it had all happened. And Rosa, whose eyes were now fully opened to the malice and wickedness of her sisters, told him all she knew of her own adventures.

When the Prince had learned the evil deeds of his sisters-in-law, he bade his guards bring these wretches before him, and condemned them both to a death suitable to their crimes. In vain did Rosa entreat him to pardon them. The King was inexorable. But when, at sunset, the criminals were being led away to execution, the Queen of Night appeared on the scene, followed by all her train; and touched by the distress of her adopted daughter, she prevailed upon the King to change the sentence he had pronounced. The two evil-doers were then offered the choice of dying a violent death, or living to witness their sister's happiness while deprived of the power of ever again being able to injure her.

They chose the latter fate; and it was not long before they both died of spite and jealousy.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents Two Gems Of Historical Misogyny Circa 1841


A historical reference that greatly predates Dorothy Parker's famous quip, 
"Men seldom make passes
  At girls who wear glasses."

Beauty in spectacles is like Cupid in knee breeches, or the Graces with pocket handkerchiefs—an excrescence of refinement; an innovation of the ideas which spiritualize woman into a goddess; a philosophical blossom of the “march of mind.” Beauty in spectacles! and has it come to this?

Burke said that the age of chivalry was past, and publishers say that the age of poetry has followed it; powder and periwigs destroyed the one, and spectacles have gone far to annihilate the other. Think of the queen of beauty of some tournament—thanks to my Lord Eglintoun for making such words familiar to us—looking on the encountering knights through a patent pair of spectacles!—picture to yourself a beautiful and romantic young lady parting from her lover, taking the “first long lingering kiss of love,” as pretty Miss Pardoe terms it, and just imagine the figure the spectacles would cut in such an encounter; think of Mary Queen of Scots, Lady Jane Grey, Scott’s “Jewess,” or Shakspeare’s “Lady Macbeth,” with such appendages!

I think of a heroine in a novel taking off her spectacles to shed “salt tears” for her lover’s absence, or in the emotion of a distressing juncture throwing herself at the feet of some obdurate tyrant, breaking the lenses of her “sight preservers;” think of all this, and judge of the effect which spectacles, as an ornament, have upon romance.

Beauty has three stages—the coy, the dignified, and the intellectual. The first exists until about twenty, the second until twenty-five, and the last until beauty has made unto itself wings and flown away. It is in this last stage that women wear spectacles.

The symptoms of spectacles begin at an early age. The young Miss has a primness, a staidness, and a miniature severity of aspect, at variance from her years. They never seem young; there is no freshness of heart in them: they become women faster than other girls, and become old faster than other women; they are remarkable for thin lips, sharp noses, and white artificial teeth. They are walking strictures upon human life—bleak visions of philosophy in petticoats—daughters, not it would seem of love, but of Fellows of the Royal Society! They are fond of phrenology and meetings of scientific associations. They like a good pew in church, and write long letters to their unfortunate “friends in the country.” They are generally spinsters, or, if married, motherless. No young wife with “six small children” ever wore spectacles. They go a good deal into company, where they are seen seated on sofas talking to ladies older than themselves, or turning over the leaves of a book, and with interesting abstraction poring over it. They dance quadrilles, but never waltz. Heaven and earth! think of a pair of spectacles whirling in a waltz. They have a genius for the “scholastic profession,” and frequently exercise it as amateurs “never eat suppers;” and are, many of them, members of the Horticultural Society.

The lady with the spectacles! Half a century ago this would have been understood to refer to some one stricken in years, but now-a-days infirmity of eye-sight has been raised to the rank of a charm. The moment spectacles become really useful they are abandoned; it is the harmonious combination of youth and short-sightedness which gives beauty to the guise. Intense interest is expected to be felt towards her, who, still young and lovely, abandons the frivolities of her sex for the calm secluded pleasures of intellect. This is the point our heroines aim at. But we have done with them. They may be very good in their way, but their ways are not as our ways. Flirts, coquettes, prudes, and a host of other orders into which the sex are classified, have their failings, but they, at least, are women; while the “lady with the spectacles” seems hardly a daughter of Eve, but a mysterious being; a new creation, come into the world to gladden the lovers of modern science, and patronise the house of Solomons and Co.—Court Gazette.

Marriage.—It is the happiest and most virtuous state of society, in which the husband and wife set out early together, make their property together, and with perfect sympathy of soul graduate all their expenses, plans, calculations and desires, with reference to their present means, and to their future and common interest. Nothing delights me more than to enter the neat little tenement of the young couple, who within perhaps two or three years, without any resources but their own knowledge or industry, have joined heart and hand, and engage to share together the responsibilities, duties, interests, trials, and pleasures of life. The industrious wife is cheerfully employing her own hands in domestic duties, putting her house in order, or mending her husband’s clothes, or preparing the dinner, whilst, perhaps, the little darling sits prattling upon the floor, or lies sleeping in the cradle—and everything seems preparing to welcome the happiest of husbands and the best of fathers, when he shall come from his toil to enjoy the sweets of his little paradise. This is the true domestic pleasure, the “only bliss that survived the fall.” Health, contentment, love, abundance, and bright prospects, are all here. But it has become a prevalent sentiment, that a man must acquire his fortune before he marries—that the wife must have no sympathy, nor share with him in the pursuit of it, in which most of the pleasure truly consists; and the young married people must set out with as large and expensive an establishment as is becoming those who have been wedded for 20 years. This is very unhappy. It fills the community with bachelors, who are waiting to make their fortunes, endangering virtue and promoting vice—it destroys the true economy and design of the domestic institution, and it promotes idleness and inefficiency among females, who are expecting to be taken up by a fortune, and passively sustained, without any care or concern on their part—and thus many a wife becomes, as a gentleman once remarked, not a “help-mate,” but a “help-eat.”—Winslow.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915