Norrœna Society

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The Norrœna Society was the imprint of a private publishing venture that between 1905 and 1911 produced multi-volume sets of reprints of classic 19th-century editions, mostly translations, of Old Norse literary and historical works, Northern European folklore, and medieval literature.

Historical Background[edit]

The Norrœnna Society was founded around 1896 as "a federation of Anglo-Nordic men of letters",[1] by King Oscar II of Norway and Sweden for the purpose of “resurrecting, reproducing, collecting and collating or indexing every thing that pertained to the early history of the Anglo Saxon, Celtic, Teutonic, and Scandinavian races— to furnish the people of Northern Europe with their own vital history.” [2] Under his ægis, the Society grew rapidly, becoming international in scope, represented in London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, New York and Berlin.[3] In Great Britain, where the name of the Society was changed to the Anglo-Saxon Society, membership reached 30,000. Upon expanding into America, the name was again changed to The International Anglo-Saxon Society. At that stage, the Society began issuing elaborate, official certificates of membership. According to surviving examples, known members included Dr. Johnathan Ackerman Coles of Newark, New Jersey[4] and E.F. Wehrle of Los Angeles, California.

The Norrœna Society was led by Rasmus B. Anderson, who served as United States Ambassador to Denmark (1885-9)[5] and the founding head of the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the oldest such department in an American university.[6][7] He spearheaded the "large literary venture"[8] as part of his lifelong aim to educate others, particularly Americans, about the culture, history and pre-Christian religion of Northern Europe, publishing a wide range of works on these subjects.

In Old Norse, Norrœna means "Norse" or "Norwegian."[9] Anderson himself used the term to apply to medieval Northern European literature, which he also referred to as Anglo-Saxon classics, according to faceplates in all volumes of the Norrœna Library. In academic references to these publications, the word Norrœna is commonly transliterated as Norroena and less often as Norraena.

From 1905 to 1907, Rasmus Anderson acted as editor-in-chief of the Norrœna Library,[10] a multi-volume subscription set, which he considered “the crowning part of my efforts in the service of Scandinavian literature.”[11] The purpose of this effort was to make reprints of important works in the field widely available to the English-speaking world, particularly the American public. Eight of the volumes were his own translations. The remainder were by other translators with their consent. Various bibliographic references to these sets list as few as eight volumes[12] and as many as sixteen.[13] The most common number of volumes listed is fifteen. James William Buel (1849–1920), a prolific American author, compiler, and editor of numerous books in a wide range of subjects,[14] acted as managing editor. T.H. Smart held the copyright. Despite the fact that the Norroena Society has been recognized as a federation of learned men, Andrew Wawn questions the existence of an actual society. The majority of the editions contain a frontispiece stating that the volumes were “privately printed for members,” and a "certificate of membership" was bound into the first volume at least one known set. The most common criticism of these editions is the fact that they were considered inexpensive reprints of earlier works. Still many collectors held these sets, many finely bound, in high regard. In a letter to Anderson, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt stated that he kept his set in the most valued part of his library.[15]


At the time of their publication, the Norrœna Library was the largest collection of medieval Nordic literature published outside of Scandinavia. Bound in ten different historical bindings, each set originally sold for USD $50 to $2,500 per set, priced according to print, paper quality, illustrations, and binding.[15] Each edition had a limited print run. These sets were usually hand-numbered and all contained hand-colored illustrations. The Stanford University Library and the Library of Congress hold unnumbered sets. Individual works do not contain markings indicating volume number, and volume numbers sometimes vary between sets, according to catalogued library holdings. Known editions of the set include:

The American Limited Edition, bound in dark blue leather, embossed with elaborate gilt designs, with a print run of 10 complete sets.
The Royal Edition (1907), bound in red leather, with a print run of 450 complete sets.
The Editor’s Autograph Edition (1907), with a print run of 500 sets.
The Memorial Edition (1907), with a print run of 350 complete sets.
The Imperial Edition, with a print run of 350 sets. Leather bound with gilt-tooled designs, according to the subject matter of the volume. All volumes have gilt edges and marbled endpapers.

Each of these contain an elaborately illustrated color frontispiece stating, "Anglo-Saxon Classics. Norrœna Embracing the History and Romance of Northern Europe” with the words “privately printed for members” at the base of the illustration. The remainder of the sets contain a simple frontispiece consisting of a decorated border framing the descriptive phrase, "The History and Romance of Northern Europe; a Library of Supreme Classics Printed in Complete Form.” These editions include:

The Viking Edition (1906) of which there are at least two known versions, each consisting of a print run of 650 copies. One version is bound in dark green cloth with an illustrated lithograph, containing the title of the work, pasted to the spine. The other is bound in dark blue cloth with black leather trim joined with gold thread, embossed with gilt-tooled designs.
The Vinland Edition (1906), with a print run of "100 numbered and registered complete sets."

Other known editions include:

The Saxo Edition.[16]

This list is not inclusive. Other editions may exist. Public and private libraries across the United States and Europe purchased many of these sets.[17] The remainder are held by private collectors and booksellers.

Complete Works[edit]

Volume numbers are based on the Imperial Edition (1906). According to bibliographic references, volume numbering may have varied by edition. Since volumes do not contain internal markings indication their order, these variations may be due to individual library cataloging procedures.

  • Books 1-2. The Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus in Two Volumes. Translated by Oliver Elton, B.A. with some considerations on Saxo’s sources, historical methods and folk-lore by Frederick York Powell, M.A., F.S.A. (reprint of the original 1899 version, single volume)
  • Books 3-5. Teutonic Mythology, Gods and Goddesses of the Northland, in Three Volumes by Viktor Rydberg Ph.D. Authorised translation from the Swedish by Rasmus B. Anderson, LL. D. (reprint of Teutonic Mythology, 1889, single volume. The subtitle has been added after the author's death).
  • Book 6. The Volsunga Saga. Translated from the Icelandic by Eirikr Magnusson and William M. Morris with introduction H. Halliday Sparling, supplemented with legends of the Wagner Trilogy by Jessie L. Weston. (Supplemented reprint from the 1888 edition).
  • Books 7-9. The Heimskringla. A History of the Norse Kings by Snorre Sturlason done into English out of the Icelandic by Samuel Laing, Esq. with Revised notes by Hon. Rasmus B. Anderson. (This version of Heimskringla excludes Samuel Laing's translation of Ynglingasaga.)
  • Book 10. The Story of Burnt Njal. The Great Icelandic Tribune, Jurist, and Counsellor. Translated from Njal’s Saga by the late Sir George Webbe Dasent, D.C.L. With Editor's Prefatory Note and Author's Introduction.

Books 11-15 are known collectively (and erroneously) as "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles":[18]

  • Book 11. The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson. Translated from the Original Old Norse Text into English by Benjamin Thorpe and The Younger Edda of Snorre Sturleson Translated from the Original Old Norse Text into English by I.A. Blackwell. (Benjamin Thorpe’s 1865-1866 translation, originally titled The Edda of Sæmund the Learned, has been amended to exclude the poem Hrafnagaldur Óðins or Forspallsljóð).
  • Book 12. Romances and Epics of our Northern Ancestors: Norse, Celt and Teuton. Translated from the Works of Dr. W. Wagner with introduction by W. S. W. Anson. (A reprint of Epics and Romances of the Middle Ages: adapted from the work of Dr. W. Wägner by M.W. Macdowall, ed. W.S.W. Anson, 1883).
  • Book 13. A Collection of Popular Tales from the Norse and North German by George Webbe Dasent D.C.L., with an introductory essay on the origin and diffusion of popular tales [by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen]
  • Book 14. The Arthurian Tales. The Greatest of Romances Which Recount the Noble and Valorous Deeds of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Compiled by Sir Thomas Malory, Knight, and Edited from the Text of the Edition of 1634, with an introduction by Ernest Rhys.
  • Book 15. The Norse Discovery of America. A Compilation in Extenso of all the Sagas, Manuscripts, and Inscriptive Memorials Relating to the Finding and Settlement of the New World in the Eleventh Century. With Presentations of Freshly Discovered Proofs, in the form of Church Records Supplied by the Vatican of Rome, Never Before Published. Translations and deductions by Arthur Middleton Reeves, North Ludlow Beamish, and Hon. Rasmus B. Anderson.

In addition, a sixteenth volume was published by the Norreona Society in 1906 without either frontispiece which characterizes the Norroena Library editions, accounting for bibliographic references to a sixteen volume set:

  • The Flatey Book and recently discovered Vatican Manuscripts concerning America as early as the tenth century, etc. [19] Ed. Rasmus B. Anderson. With reproductions of the Hauk Book (1906). Bound in brown and green leather, embossed with a belt and ship design under the title "PreColumbian Historical Treasures 1000-1492".

References[edit]

  1. ^ The American Register, Vol. 5, Issue 7, 1930.
  2. ^ Johnston, Harold D., “The International Anglo-Saxon Society; Its History and Purpose” in The Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, Vol. 6, 1908, pp. 119-121.
  3. ^ American Register, ibid.
  4. ^ Who's Who in the World, 1912, p. 298
  5. ^ Leonard, John William, Albert Nelson Marquis, editors. Who's Who in America, Volume 6, p. 39.
  6. ^ Hustvedt, Lloyd. Rasmus Bjørn Anderson, Pioneer Scholar. pp. 122, 334.
  7. ^ Wawn, Andrew. The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2002. ISBN 0-85991-644-8. p. 161.
  8. ^ Knaplund, Paul. Rasmus B. Anderson, Pioneer and Crusader (Volume 18: p. 23). NAHA
  9. ^ Vigfusson, Gudbrand and Richard Cleasby. An Icelandic-English Dictionary, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1957, p. 457, s.v. "Norræna," "Norrænn."
  10. ^ Progressive Publishing Company. Progressive Americans of the Twentieth Century, containing biographical sketches of distinguished Americans, 1910, p. 39.
  11. ^ Anderson, Rasmus Björn. The Life Story of Rasmus B. Anderson, 1915, p. 664.
  12. ^ The most informative reference to an eight-volume set is by Wawn, p. 161: "Eight volumes were duly published in a limited edition including Oliver Elton's Saxo Grammaticus translation, Benjamin Thorpe's 1866 Edda, Thomas Percy's Northern Antiquities in the revised 1847 edition, Laing's Heimskringla, and two volumes by George Dasent—Popular tales from the Norse, and Burnt Njal." However, since there are no known Norroena Library editions of Mallet's Northern Antiquities, Wawn must be referring to that portion of the revised edition which contains I.A. Blackwell's translation of Snorri's Edda. As Wawn notes on p. 184, in the 1847 edition, the translation of the Prose Edda is by I.A. Blackwell, replacing Bishop Thomas Percy's translation from the French of Paul Henri Mallet.
  13. ^ Motter, H.L. The International Who's Who in the World, 1912, p. 29.
  14. ^ Buel, J.W. Heroes of the Dark Continent: A Complete History of All the Great Explorations and Discoveries in Africa, from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time, 1890.
  15. ^ a b Anderson, p. 665.
  16. ^ Cornell University Libraries. Islandica, Vol. 1-2, 1908, "Bibliography of the Icelandic Sagas," p. 83.
  17. ^ worldcat.org
  18. ^ From an advertised copy at: Greenfield Books, Winnipeg, Canada; www.antiqbook.com (last viewed 12/25/10).
  19. ^ on Google Books