William Morris

Chairman's Comments on talk on Norse Mythology at the Viking Club

Mr. Morris, in introducing the subject, remarked that no history was more complete, as history from one point of view, than popular mythology, because at the time when people were under the influence of superstition they had not learnt the art of lying, or, if they did lie, they did it so transparently that it was very easy to read between the lines and divide the true from the false. So they might say that folklore represented the "absolutely truthful lies," and was therefore in complete opposition to the ordinary newspaper article.


Mr. Morris asked to be allowed to second the vote of thanks from the chair, and in doing so said that he agreed very largely with Mr. Nutt, and quoted, as an instance of a similar legend existing in several places in apparent independence, the story of the apprentice's pillar in Rosslyn Chapel, which is found also at the Cathedrals of St. Ouen and Strassburg, suggested, probably, in each case by the marked superiority of workmanship shown in the work. With regard to Wayland Smith's Cave, with all his love for Sir Walter Scott, he could hardly forgive him for his misuse of that legend in "Kenilworth." He had been greatly struck by the curious similarity of certain negro stories in recent collections to stories found in the Norse. For instance, with regard to shape-changing there was a negro story, in which the "ham," left about while its owner was embodied elsewhere, was peppered and salted to preserve it, causing him much inconvenience on his return, and another resembling that of the man who planted the tails of the slaughtered oxen, and when the troll pulled them up, persuaded him that the animals had gone underground. Were these independent variants or comparatively modern copies? In conclusion, he must point out that the "Gylfaginning" in the prose Edda was very much later than Stemunds Edda.


Chairman's comments on a talk on Norse mythology at the Viking Club


Saga Book of the Viking Club, Vol. 1, 1892-6, pp. 120fff


The talk Morris introduced and commented on was by Mr Albany F. Major, entitled "Survivals of the Asa Faith in Northern Folklore." The talk was criticized by Alfred Nutt, who pointed out that the Eddas were an artificial, literary composition, and that apparent survivals from it were likely to be shared elements of folklore.