The setting of Wiliam Morris’s “Svend and his Brethren” is deliberately
ambiguous, in both time (the opening sentence sets the story simply
“in the olden time”) and place. Like most of
Morris’s tales in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, this story has a
distinct medieval flavor.
What most sets this story apart from the other tales in the Magazine is the
last few paragraphs. Though it is certainly moving and original, there is
nothing particularly striking in the story of Suir, Cissela, and Svend, and
had Morris ended the story with the brothers’ ships drawing
westward away from the harbor, this would seem just another medieval story.
But rather than ending here, Morris attributes the previous story to
“William the Englishman”, and goes on to give the
account of “a certain chronicler”, who tells how, 550
years later, descendants of Svend and his knights, traveling eastward,
return to the kingdom to find all as it was the moment the ships left: the
blood on the ground still wet, the wounded still standing where they were
left. The last sentence of the story reads “And I John who wrote
this history saw all this with mine own eyes,” clearly echoing
Revelations 22.8, “And I John saw these things, and heard
them”. This ending adds a new dimension to the story that precedes
it, retroactively instilling the narrative with both historical and biblical
First printed in
The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine
, August, 1856.