The Adventures of Beowulf, translated from the Old English and adapted to the Use of Schools
Miss Thomson’s Paraphrase
The Adventures of Beowulf, translated from the Old English and adapted to the Use of Schools by Clara Thomson1. London: Horace Marshall and Son, 1899. 8o, pp. 95. In the ‘New English Series,’ edited by E. E. Speight.
Aim of the Volume.
‘It is meant mainly to arouse in children an interest in the beginnings of our literature—a subject that is still terribly neglected in schools. It makes no pretension to being an adequate or satisfactory version for grown-up readers.’ —Page 6.
Method of Paraphrase.
‘[Discrepancies in the poem] I have endeavoured to smooth over by omission or by very slight additions; and whenever of two readings of a doubtful passage, one is more easily comprehensible than the other, I have always adhered to this, even if on philological grounds it seems less probable.’...
‘Many of the episodes in the story have been greatly shortened or altogether omitted, since they interrupt the course of the narrative, or divert the interest from the main theme.’ —Pages 5, 6.
This statement is more modest than need be. It will be found that only two of the episodes are passed without mention—the Prolog and the Tale of Thrytho. The Legend of Sigemund and the Tale of Finn are rather fully treated, and the Story of Freawaru and the Battle of Ravenswood are both referred to. In each case the episodes are carefully woven into the story, and that without superfluous words.
The words and sentences which are supplied are very carefully chosen, and most of them have a prototype somewhere in the poem.
Now, though most of Hrothgar’s men rejoiced to see Beowulf, and honoured him for his generous thought in coming to their help, there was one who looked on him with dislike and envy, and was jealous of the favour shown him by the king. This was Hunferth, who was sitting on the daïs at Hrothgar’s feet. And when he heard what this visitor intended to do, he grew angry and moody, because he could not bear that any other man on earth should obtain greater honour than he himself. So he began to rake up old tales that he had heard of Beowulf, and tried to turn them to his hurt, saying scornfully:
‘Art thou that Beowulf who once strove on the wide sea in a swimming-match with Breca, when ye two in boasting dared to breast the wave, and for vainglory risked your lives in the deep water? There was no man, friend nor foe, who could dissuade you from that sorrowful journey; but ye swam in the surf, stretching out your arms over the waves, and stirring up the surge with your hands. So did ye glide across the ocean, while the waves weltered in wintry storms, and for seven nights ye laboured in the tumult of the seas. But in the end the victory was with Breca, for his might was the greater. Then on the morning of the eighth day the tide bore him to the shore of Norway, whence he visited his beloved home, the fair city of safety, where he ruled over many people, over towns and treasure. Truly he did perform all his boast against thee.’
In the opinion of the present writer, no better paraphrase of Beowulf exists.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the word ‘translated’ is used on the title-page, for this is misleading. The proper form is that used on the cover of the book, ‘Beowulf, told by Miss Clara Thomson.’
It were sufficient praise to point out that the author has contrived to retain practically all of the poem, without ever falsifying its spirit by introducing a superabundance of explanatory phrases2. She is always true to the story (as Miss Ragozin3 is not, for example, in the first section of her work); she is equally true to the spirit of the poem (as Mr. Gibb4 is not). The style is both vigorous and simple, not unworthy of the story it tells.
It will be surprising if Miss Thomson’s work is not popular in England, and the book should be known and used in this country.
1. Miss Thomson is better known as the biographer of Samuel Richardson. See Samuel Richardson, a Biographical and Critical Study. London, 1900.
2. The author’s argument against inserting the Prolog is sound enough; but the omission of any part of the poem in a paraphrase so good as Miss Thomson’s is to be regretted.