Guðbrandur Vigfússon (13 March 1827, Breiðafjörður, Iceland-31 January 1889, Oxford, England), sometimes anglicised as Gudbrand Vigfusson, was a notable Icelandic scholar of the 19th century, who visited Shetland on occasion, and wrote on a number of Nordic, Scandinavian and Viking subjects. A copy of Ivar Aasen's Norwegian dialect dictionary of 1850 which had been owned by Haldane Burgess was donated to Shetland Archives in 2010. It is inscribed by its original owner, Guðbrandur Vigfússon.<ref>http://www.shetland-museum.org.uk/downloads/data/unkans/Unkans_no22.pdf</ref>
Family and upbringing
He was born of a good and old Icelandic family in Breiðafjörður, in the west of Iceland in 1828. He was brought up, till he went to a tutor's, by his kinswoman, Kristín Vigfússdóttir, to whom, he records, he "owed not only that he became a man of letters, but almost everything."
He was sent to the old and famous school at Bessastad and (when it removed thither) at Reykjavik; and in 1849, already a fair scholar, he came to Copenhagen University as a bursarius in the Regense College. He was, after his student course, appointed stipendiarius by the Arna-Magnaean trustees, and worked for fourteen years in the Arna-Magnaean Library till, as he said, he knew every scrap of old vellum and of Icelandic written paper in that whole collection. During his Danish life he twice revisited Iceland (last in 1858), and made short tours in Norway and South Germany with friends. In 1866, after some months in London, he settled down in Oxford, which he made his home for the rest of his life, only quitting it for visits to the great Scandinavian libraries or to London (to work during two or three long vacations with his fellow-labourer, F. Y. Powell), or for short trips to places such as the Isle of Man, Orkney and Shetland, the old mootstead of the West Saxons at Downton, the Roman military base at Pevensey, the burial-place of Bishop Brynjulf's ill-fated son at Yarmouth, and the like. He held the office of Reader in Scandinavian at the university of Oxford (a post created for him) from 1884 till his death. He was a Jubilee Doctor of Upsala, 1877, and received the Danish order of the Dannebrog in 1885. Vigfusson died of cancer on the 3ist of January 1889, and was buried in St Sepulchre's Cemetery, Oxford, on the 3rd of February.
He was an excellent judge of literature, reading most European languages well and being acquainted with their classics. His memory was remarkable, and if the whole of the Eddic poems had been lost, he could have written them down from memory. He spoke English well and idiomatically, but with a strong Icelandic accent. He wrote a beautiful, distinctive and clear hand, in spite of the thousands of lines of manuscripts copying he had done in his early life.
His Tímatöl (written between October 1854 and April 1855) laid the foundations for the chronology of Icelandic history. His editions of Icelandic classics (1858–1868), Biskopa Sögur, Bárðar Saga, Fornsögur (with Mobius), Eyrbyggia Saga and Flateyar-bók (with Carl Rikard Unger) opened a new era of Icelandic scholarship. They can be compared to the Rolls Series editions of chronicles by William Stubbs, for the interest and value of their prefaces and texts.
Seven years of constant and severe toil (1866-1873) were given to the Oxford Icelandic-English Dictionary, which was described in 1911 as "incomparably the best guide to classic Icelandic, and a monumental example of single-handed work."<ref>1911 Britannica quote.</ref> His later series of editions (1874–1885) included Orkneyinga Saga and Háconar Saga, the great and complex mass of Icelandic historical sagas known as Sturlunga, and the Corpus Poeticum Boreale, in which he edited the entire body of classic Scandinavian poetry. As an introduction to the Sturlunga, he wrote a complete, concise history of the classic Northern literature and its sources. In the introduction to the Corpus, he laid the foundations of a critical history of the Eddic poetry and Court poetry of the North in a series of well-supported theories.
His little Icelandic Prose Reader (with F. York Powell) (1879) furnishes the English student with a pleasant and trustworthy path to a sound knowledge of Icelandic. The Grimm Centenary Papers (1886) give good examples of the range of his historic work, while his Appendix on Icelandic currency to Sir G. W. Dasent's Burnt Njal is a model of methodical investigation into an intricate and somewhat important subject. As a writer in his own tongue he at once gained a high position by his excellent and delightful Relations of Travel in Norway and South Germany. In English, as his Visit to Grimm and his powerful letters to The Times show, he had attained no mean skill.
His life is mainly a record of well-directed and efficient labour in Denmark and Oxford.
This article contains text from the article Gudbrand Vigfusson in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica <references/>