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From thirty to sixty years ago appeared the greater number of the English translations of the Icelandic sagas. Since then the reading of these heroic tales has so completely gone out of style that their names are rarely mentioned in schools or even colleges. What boy feels his blood stir at the mention of Grettir? How many lovers of good reading know that the most human of all epics lie untouched on the shelves of the public libraries? The wisdom of Njal, the chivalry of Gunnar, the villainy of Mord, the manhood of Kari, the savagery of Viga-Glum, the craft of Snorri, and the fine qualities of Biarni, of Biorn, of Skarphedinn, of Illugi, of Kolskegg, of Hrut, of Blundketil—all these are forgotten in the curious turn of taste which has made the stories of a wonderful people almost a lost literature. For the Icelanders were a wonderful people. To escape the tyranny of kings they settled a new land, and there built up the laws and customs in which we see the promise of modern civilization. Few early peoples had such a body of laws; few developed such manhood. No better pictures of a law-abiding, rural, and yet valiant race have ever been made than in the tales which the Icelanders had the skill to weave about their heroes, those men who, at home in their island, or so far abroad as Constantinople, made the name of Icelander respected.

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