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Near this coast we have the island (Nantucket) between which and the main the Northmen held their course. Beyond or westward of the Marvellous Strand we find, in conformity with their descriptions, the coast deeply indented and beset with sandbanks. Buzzard's inlet is probably their Straumfiord; and Mount-Hope Bay, above Rhode Island, corresponds with their description of the Hop or opening (called sometimes a lake) vear which Karlsefne spent a winter. It would be easy to lengthen the list of coincidences which serve to prove that the Vinland of the Northmen was situated on the southern coasts of Massachusets and Rhode Island; but we conceive that what we have already advanced is fully sufficient to establish that point, and shall content ourselves therefore with merely observing that when the English settlers first arrived on those coasts, they found the vine growing wild on the hills, Indian-corn on the plains, the inlets and rivers abounding in fish, and the islands covered with innumerable wild fowl, just as it is stated in the narratives of the Northmen.
We must not however dissemble an apparent difficulty which arises from the discrepancies of our authorities, and which M. Rafn passes over in silence. In the fragment entitled the History of Karlsefne we read that his expedition sailing southwards from Biarney, or Disco Island, which is far to the north, reached Helluland in two days. He then steered south-eastwards to Markland, and again, to make Vinland, he changed his course to south. Now the distance from Disco Island to Newfoundland is not less than 1400 nautical miles, which it would be absurd to imagine could be run over in two days; and as to the course subsequently steered to Vinland, it will be sufficient to remark that it is not only irreconcileable with our hypothesis respecting the situation of that country, but even with any possibility of discovery whatever. Yet no one possessing common sense and candour, who reads that historical fragment, can harbour a suspicion of its genuineness and general truth. How then are we to explain the incongruity of the above-mentioned statements ? Simply by supposing that the author of the Karlsefne's Saga gave little attention to, and consequently remained ignorant of, the nautical and hydrographical details of the voyage to Vinland. And indeed this fact is manifest; for though copious on other matters, his accounts of the shores visited are meagre enough and seem to be in a great measure borrowed from the histories of the previous voyages to that quarter. The author of the piece in question was in fact an ecclesiastic, who wrote, not for the purpose of promoting geography, but merely to record the memorable deeds of his ancestors. He discloses his profession by his remarks on the ancient rites of burial in Greenland and some similar passages. It will be easily understood that in early times, when the historian gathered his materials not from books but from tradition, his writings would be more strongly impressed with the defects and peculiarities of his mental habits than is likely to be the case in a literary age. The student of books has sources of information independent of himself, and full and ample perhaps on the very topics to which he is naturally inadvertent. But the materials of the writer who depends on tradition, as well as the use he makes of them, are modified by his intellectual bias and habits of attention. It is not very surprising therefore that a bishop of Iceland, in writing the history of the voyages to Vinland, should be neglectful of the details of distances and bearings.
Whoever opens the Northern Collection of American Antiquities, and learns, from the epitome of its contents in the English language prefixed to it by M. Rafn, that Thorfinn Karlsefne sailed two days from Greenland before he arrived at Helluland, and that his course to Vinland was S. and S.W. will be not a little surprised to find, on looking at the Danish and Latin versions of the original Icelandic, that Karlsefne's voyage between the above-named places, occupied but one natural day (in the Latin) or a day and night (as in the Danish). It appears that the Icelandic word daegr, like the English day, is somewhat ambiguous and may signify either the natural day of twenty-four or the artificial day of twelve hours. In translating the Icelandic text the preference was given to the latter acceptation of the term; but in writing the geographical commentaries, the editor perceived the advantages of the former. Hence there is a continual variance between the texts wherever reference is made to time, which is likely to prove a stumbling-block to the careless reader. With respect to the courses steered, M. Rafn has adopted the dangerous expedient of tacitly correcting his author; but his error here lies merely in not duly advertising his readers of the motives which made him deviate from his original.
It is a much more serious error than the preceding to overstate a good case. The common sense which finds no difficulty in the plain narrative of the Scandinavian discoverers, and can at once identify their Vinland with the coasts of New England, revolts at the production of untenable arguments and the pretence of demonstration in such a matter. We have already quoted from the account of Leif's voyage to Vinland, a sentence on the climate of that country, which purports that the sun there, on the shortest day, was nine hours above the horizon. In quoting that sentence we purposely refrained from commenting on its disputable character, or allowing the discussion of its meaning to interrupt our narrative. But we now feel called upon to declare it to be a most dark and inextricable passage. It is obscurer even than the brumal solstice to which it refers. We confess that we have studied with little profit the dissertations which pretend to give an exact interpretation of it, and can only console ourselves with the reflection that the Icelandic doctors are in the same predicament. Some of them, we believe, explain the passage in question to signify that the sun on the shortest day in Vinland was only six hours above the horizon. The great majority of the learned in the north, led by Torfæus and Wormskiold, allow the wintry sun eight hours to sport in upper air. M. Rafn with a select few, confiding in the authority of Paul Vidalin and Finn Johnsen, extends the shortest day in Vinland to nine hours; and from this astronomical observation, as he is pleased to call it, he calculates the latitude of the place to be 41° 24' 10", which is in fact a mean between the latitudes of the points at the entrance of Mount Hope Bay, the supposed site of Karlsefne's winter quarters. Thus, to enjoy the phantom of a demonstration, he is willing to place his otherwise reasonable hypothesis in the clouds. He candidly admits, indeed, that the Northmen cannot be supposed to have had in the year 1000, instruments with which they could make observations so remarkably exact. Why then does he lay so much stress on a passage which is so easily turned to account by the enemy? Malte Brun and others have decided on the authority of that passage, following Torfæus in the interpretation of it, that the Vinland of the Northmen was in Newfoundland. They overlooked the general statements respecting the climate and productions of that country, and affecting an obedience to science, preferred the obscure and dubious to the clear and explicit indications. We regret that the learned Martinus Scriblerus never thought of criticizing or elucidating the astronomical observation above alluded to, but we believe that we shall not stray far from the spirit of the original if we translate it as follows:-" there (in Vinland), on the shortest day, the sun is up from breakfast till supper.” This appears to us to be too rude an approximation to the expression of an astronomical fact to merit all the pains bestowed on it; and whatever sense the learned may at last agree to give it, we do not think that they are likely to add materially to its value.
We have as little faith in the Runic inscriptions supposed to be found in the neighbourhood of Rhode Island, as in the astronomical observations said to have been made there by the North
It appears that in the Taunton River, a few miles above Mount Hope Bay, there is a rock commonly known by the name
of the Dighton-writing Rock, which is covered with what are popularly termed hieroglyphics. Under the dominion of the old theories it was thought that the characters discernible on it were Phænician. Some were pleased, with a license as well-founded, to style them Ethiopic; others again discovered in them a close resemblance to inscriptions found by Strahlenberg in Siberia. Now however it is discovered that they are Icelandic Runes, the work of Thorfinn and his followers, who reckoned it no doubt among their amusements during their sojourn in Vinland,
" To cut their names on bark of trees,
With true-love-knots and flourishes." When the Danish Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries applied to the Historical Society of Rhode Island for fresh copies and some account of those supposed inscriptions, they were replied to with a zealous outpouring of information, intended to foster theory, but quite fatal, in our opinion, to the conclusion at which they aimed. They were told that sculptured rocks, similar in appearance to that in Taunton River, are to be seen in Kentucky, in the vicinity of Lake Erie, and in other parts of the United States ; that barrows or tumuli, and the remains of various constructions, evidently not the work of the Indians, occur within the same limits. But are we to ascribe all these to the Northmen? And if not, why should the Dighton rock be separated from the fortunes of its fellows and owe the fret-work on its surface to Scandinavian chisels ; while the other rocks must submit to bear the ignoble names of Phænicians or even Siberians ? Nevertheless the Danish antiquarians, little daunted by the rivalry of Kentuckian rocks, or by the circumstance that the rock which was the subject of their inquiries, is below the level of high-tide and undergoes the fretting action of the water, were not slow to discover Runes upon its surface. Finn Magnusen read with ease
and why not ? faith which can remove mountains, may also read Runic inscriptions-he read we say, as follows : “ CXXXI N(orth) M(en) NM OR (nam or, our possessions);” or in plain terms, “ 151 Northmen took possession of this country.” Our reader must recollect that Thorfinn's expedition consisted of 160 persons, which number was reduced to 151 by the departure of Thorhall and eight others; and it must likewise be observed that the Icelandic hundred was or might be composed of twelve decads; that is, it might equal 120. All which being understood and admitted, the felicitous exactness of the inscription is apparent. We confess however that Finn Magnusen's interpretation appears to us to have been improved upon by M. Rafn; who, finding the letters FINS lurking at the heels of OR, and then shrewdly conjecturing that TH was wanting at the beginning of the word, styli aut temporis lapsu, has succeeded in restoring the name of Thorfinn. But enough of these antiquarian absurdities. We are bound however to state that engraved copies of the various drawings made of the Dighton hieroglyphics, accompany M. Rafn’s volume, and fairly exhibit to the cool-headed reader the progress from the representation of a rudely carved and time-worn rock to that of an elaborate theory.
We must not be supposed to undervalue the Collection of Northern Antiquities because we find in it some manifestations of an excessive antiquarian zeal. It contains enough to prove that the American continent was known to the Northmen at the beginning of the eleventh century; and we frankly avow that it appears to us to contain much also, which, whatever be its pretension, proves nothing at all. It is doing an injustice to authentic history to mix it up in the same category with fiction or incoherent tradition. We therefore regret to find that M. Rafn has yielded so ready and unconditional a credence to the ancient traditions respecting the Great Ireland or Whiteman's Land, which was said to be six days sail westward from Ireland. It was a Christian country and known earlier than Vinland. The Northmen appear to have received their information respecting it chiefly from the traders to Limerick. Without venturing to deny the possibility of the Atlantic having been crossed by Europeans and Christians before the days of Biarne, Leif, and Karlsefne, we contend that the discovery of Whiteman's Land differs materially in evidence and authenticity from that of Vinland, and ought not to be allowed to interfere with or obscure it. Karlsefne on his return home from Vinland, caught on the shores of Markland as we have already mentioned, two young Skrællings or Esquimaux. From these he learned, that opposite to their country was another in which were men who wore white clothes, and who had long poles with flags (as it was understood) appended to them. “ This country," says the old historian," is supposed to be Whiteman's Land.” M. Rafn adopts this conclusion, and endeavours to prop up the opinion that there was at that time a European colony further south, by the traditions of the Shawanee Indians; which traditions however, manifestly refer, not to the tenth century, but to the arrival of the Spaniards in Florida. It appears to us that the country “ opposite their own" alluded to by the young Esquimaux, was no other than Greenland ; and that by the poles and cloths attached to them, they intended merely to describe the masts and sails of the Whitemen's ships.
We are careful to prevent the true sources of the history of early discovery in the west, from being contaminated by the streams