Lonnrot collected these, and tried by interpolations to make an epic out of them; but the point, as Comparetti has proved, is that he failed. There is no Finnish epic, only a mass of Volkslieder. Cauer's other argument, that the German popular tales, Grimm's tales, were unwritten till 1812, is as remote from the point at issue. Nothing can be less like an epic than a volume of Marchen.
When Jenny Lind first sang in America one of the most accomplished critics said that he must wait a little to decide whether she was a great singer. That critic could never really hear her. Another said that she was a consummate ventriloquist. He meant that in the Herdsman's Song and the other Volkslieder and native melodies there was an effect of vocalism which seemed to him a trick.
Although the Niebelungen Lied and Gudrun, the Songs of Love and Volkslieder, as well as Mysteries and Passion Plays, existed from an early date, we can scarcely speak of a German Literature before the sixteenth century, when Albert Dürer and the younger Holbein painted their great pictures, while Luther, Melanchthon and their sympathizers disseminated the doctrines of advancing Protestantism.
But as far as nature can make men happy, these husbandmen are surely to be reckoned fortunate, and in their songs we find little to remind us of what is otherwise than sunny in their lot. A translator of these Volkslieder has to contend with difficulties of no ordinary kind.
That I too added my entreaties can easily be imagined; nor, upon her making mention of some little Courland Volkslieder or popular songs, did I desist from my entreaties until she stretched out her left hand towards the instrument and tried a few notes by way of introduction.
Professor Child, of Harvard, is publishing a beautiful critical collection of English Volkslieder, with all known variants from every country. A comparison of the collections proves that among all European lands the primitive 'versicles' of the people are identical in tone, form, and incident.
The young men laughed and sang as only German students can sing, making the night musical with blithe drinking songs, tender love-lays, battle-hymns, and Volkslieder sweeter than any songs across the water.
Then there was the village schoolmaster, who could actually play the violin, and whom little Joseph watched with wondering eyes, extracting those marvellously sweet sounds from his wooden instrument, until, with the child's spirit of imitation, as his parents sang their "Volkslieder," the little fellow, perched on a stone bench, gravely handled two pieces of wood of his own as if they were bow and fiddle, keeping exact time, and flourishing the bow in the approved fashion of the schoolmaster.
I wish he had, for the boys' sake." Then, to bring back completely the old times, Mr. Egger was prevailed upon to sing one of his Volkslieder, that which had been Waymark's especial favourite, and which he had sung on an occasion memorable to Sally and her husband in the little dining-room at Richmond.
Noble and simple, learned and lewd, severed by the Conquest, were united in the church, and our cathedrals are in the truest sense the creations of the people. Like the Volkslieder, like the great epics and the Icelandic Sagas, these works are anonymous. No one knows, and no one seems to have cared, who made them. They were built for the glory of God, not for that of man.