The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 5. Temple and The Death-Song of Ragnar
Of course, the whole of modern literature is full of the Middle Ages; the most disdainful modern classicist owes, in France, his alexandrine verse to the twelfth century and, in England, his heroic verse to a tradition older still. The poet who stands for the perfection of the renascence in Italy, Ariosto, derives his stanza from the lyric school of Provence, and is indebted for most of his matter to old romances. Through Chaucer and Spenser, through The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, through many chapbooks and through the unprinted living folklore of England, the Middle Ages formed the minds of Dryden and Pope and their contemporaries. But, for a distinct and deliberate notice of something medieval found by study and considered to be available in translation or adaptation, one must go to Sir William Temple’s remarks about The Death-Song of Ragnar Lodbrok; it is hard to find anything of the same sort earlier. What marks it out is not so much the literary curiosity which selects it, but the literary estimate which judges this ancient northern piece to have a present value. Thereby, Sir William Temple begins the modern sort of literary study which looks for suggestion in old remote and foreign regions, and he sets a precedent for the explorations of various romantic schools, wandering through all the world in search of plots, scenery and local colour.