Monday, July 18, 2016

Saxon Idols in America, 1837-38

Freya, or Friga.  Ladies' Garland 12, 1838.
I recently came across a bound volume of The Ladies' Garland, vol. 1 (1837-38), which, as the subtitle suggests, was "devoted to Literature, Amusement and Instruction," and contained "Original Essays, Female Biography" and a variety of other things. 

I was especially interested to get this volume because of the set of seven illustrations and brief essays on seven so-called "Saxon Idols," the supposed Anglo-Saxon dieties that gave us our modern English names for the days of the week. 

Nothing in the essays or illustrations, really, was new: much of it was derived directly from Richard Verstegen's 1605 book, A Restitvtion of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities, Concerning the Most Noble and Renovvmed English Nation (usefully discussed by Rolf Bremmer in his essay "The Anglo-Saxon Pantheon According to Richard Verstegen")

But whoever wrote these essays for The Ladies' Garland also consulted Sharon Turner, a much more up-to-date historical source, though Verstegen's illustrations were almost certainly the direct source for these new cuts, which may well have been executed in America.

Thomas Jefferson, of course, promoted the study of Old English at
The Idol of the Moon
the University of Virginia, so there has long been an interest in Anglo-Saxon studies in America. But these brief essays and their illustrations must mark an early example of Anglo-Saxonism in American popular discourse: they are fascinating and strange, even if the volume I have is well worn, foxed, and with many of its pages browned. 

It is not really clear to me why this material was felt to be suitable for the audience of The Ladies' Garland, but the series did run through seven issues, and among the Female Biographies the magazine included was Joan of Arc, so perhaps the editors simply had a medieval bent. And unfortunately, neither the images nor the essays are accompanied by signatures or other identifiers. The identity of this early American antiquarian may no longer be recoverable.

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