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Title: Anglo-Saxon Literature
Author: Earle, John, 1824-1903
Language: English
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The Dawn of European Literature.

       *       *       *       *       *







The bulk of this little book has been a year or more in type; and, in
the mean time, some important publications have appeared which it was
too late for me to profit by. Among such I count the "Corpus Poeticum
Boreale" by Dr. Gudbrand Vigfusson and Mr. York Powell; the "Epinal
Gloss" and Alfred's "Orosius" by Mr. Sweet, for the Early English Text
Society; an American edition of the "Beowulf" by Professors Harrison and
Sharp; Ælfric's translation of "Alcuin upon Genesis," by Mr. MacLean. To
these I must add an article in the "Anglia" on the first and last of the
Riddles in the Exeter Book, by Dr. Moritz Trautmann. Another recent book
is the translation of Mr. Bernhard Ten Brink's work on "Early English
Literature," which comprises a description of the Anglo-Saxon period.
This book is not new to me, except for the English dress that Mr.
Kennedy has given to it. The German original has been often in my hand,
and although I am not aware of any particular debt, such as it would
have been a duty and a pleasure to acknowledge on the spot, yet I have a
sentiment that Mr. Ten Brink's sympathising and judicious treatment of
our earliest literature has been not only agreeable to read, but also
profitable for my work.

_March 15th, 1884._


CHAPTER                                     PAGE

   I.--A PRELIMINARY VIEW                      1

  II.--THE MATERIALS                          28

 III.--THE HEATHEN PERIOD                     59

  IV.--THE SCHOOLS OF KENT                    79

   V.--THE ANGLIAN PERIOD                     98

  VI.--THE PRIMARY POETRY                    119

 VII.--THE WEST SAXON LAWS                   150

VIII.--THE CHRONICLES                        169

  IX.--ALFRED'S TRANSLATIONS                 186

   X.--ÆLFRIC                                207

  XI.--THE SECONDARY POETRY                  225


INDEX                                        259




Anglo-Saxon literature is the oldest of the vernacular literatures of
modern Europe; and it is a consequence of this that its relations with
Latin literature have been the closest. All the vernacular literatures
have been influenced by the Latin, but of Anglo-Saxon literature alone
can it be said that it has been subjected to no other influence. This
literature was nursed by, and gradually rose out of, Latin culture; and
this is true not only of those portions which were translated or
otherwise borrowed from the Latin, but also in some degree even of the
native elements of poetry and laws. These were not, indeed, derived from
Latin sources, but it was through Latin culture that those habits and
facilities were acquired which made their literary production possible.

In the Anglo-Saxon period there was no other influential literature in
the West except the Latin. Greek literature had long ago retired to the
East. The traces of Greek upon Anglo-Saxon literature are rare and
superficial. Practically the one external influence with which we shall
have to reckon is that of Latin literature, and as the points of contact
with this literature are numerous, it will be convenient to say
something of the Latin literature in a preliminary sketch.

The Latin literature with which we are best acquainted was the result of
study and imitation of Greek literature. But the old vernacular Latin
was a homely and simple speech, much more like any modern language in
its ways and movements than would be supposed by those who only know
classical Latin. The old Latin poetry was rhythmical, and fond of
alliteration. Such was the native song of the Italian Camenæ, unlike the
æsthetic poetry of the classical age, with its metres borrowed from the
Greek Muses. The old Latin poetry was like the Saxon, in so far as it
was rhythmical and not metrical; but unlike it in this, that the Latin
alliteration was only a vague pleasure of recurrent sound, and it had
not become a structural agency like the alliteration of Saxon poetry.
The book through which juvenile students usually get some taste of old
Latin is Terence, in whose plays, though they are from Greek originals,
something is heard of that rippling movement which has lived through the
ages and still survives in Italian conversation. Reaching backwards from
Terence we come to Plautus and Ennius, and then to Nævius (B.C.
274-202), who composed an epic on the first Punic war. He lamented even
in his time the Grecising of his mother-tongue. He wrote an epitaph upon
himself, to say that if immortals could weep for mortals, the Camenæ
might well weep for Nævius, the last representative of the Latin

The splendour of classical Latin was short-lived. The time of its
highest elevation is called the Golden Age, of which the early period is
marked by the names of Cicero and Cæsar; the latter (the Augustan
period) by the names of Virgil and Horace. There is a fine forward
movement in Cicero, who studied the best Greek models; but gradually
there came in a taste for curious felicity suggested by the secondary
Greek literature. This adorned the poetry of Virgil; but when it began
to spread to the prose, though the æsthetic effect might be beautiful in
a masterpiece, it was apt to be embarrassing in weaker hands. Æsthetic
prose appears in its most intense and most perfect form in Tacitus, the
great historian of the Silver Age. As new tastes and fashions grew, the
oldest and purest models were neglected, and, however strange it may
sound, Cicero and Cæsar were antiquated long before the end of the first

The extreme limit of the classical period of Latin literature is the
middle of the second century. The life was gone out of it before that
time, but it had still a zealous representative in Fronto, the worthy
and honoured preceptor of Marcus Aurelius. After this last of the Good
Emperors had passed away, the reign of barbarism began to manifest
itself in art and literature. The accession of Commodus was a tremendous

The point here to be observed is that the classical Latin literature
was not a natural growth, but rather the product of an artificial
culture. It presents the most signal example of the great results that
may spring from the enthusiastic cultivation of a foreign and superior
literature. And it is of the greatest value to us as an example, because
it will enable us better to understand the growth and development of
Anglo-Saxon literature. For just as Latin classical literature was
stimulated by the Greek, so also was Anglo-Saxon literature assisted by
the influence of the Latin. And as the classical student seeks to
distinguish that which is native from that which is foreign in Latin
authors, so also is the same distinction of essential importance in the
study of Anglo-Saxon literature.

The influence of Greek upon Latin literature was so far like that of
Latin upon Anglo-Saxon, that it was single and unmixed. But then the
influence of Greek upon Latin was altogether an external and invading
influence, like the influence of Latin on modern English; whereas in the
case of Anglo Saxon the literary faculty was first acquired through
Latin culture; the Saxons were exercised in Latin literature before they
discovered the value of their own; they obtained the habits and
instruments of literature through the education that Latin gave them.

Up to the end of the classical period the Latin had not yet attained, in
literature, the position of a universal language. It was rather the
scholastic language of the Roman aristocracy. There was but one field in
which it occupied the whole area of the Roman world, and that was the
field of law. To this we should add the Latin poetry, which was also
absolute in its own domain. In every other subject Latin was a second
and a subject literary language, the supreme language of literature
being Greek. Greek was the chief literary language even of the Roman
Empire. Of the two languages, Greek was by far the more convenient for
general use. Human thought is naturally serial, and the language that is
to be an acceptable medium of general literature must, above all things,
possess the art of moving forward. In this art the Greek was far in
advance of the Latin, and the curious culture which produced the Latin
classics had, indeed, been productive of much artistic beauty, but had
withal entangled the movement. It is not in Latin but in Greek books
that the knowledge of the ancient world has been preserved. The greatest
works in botany, medicine, geography, astronomy were written not in
Latin but in Greek, even in the most flourishing times of the Roman
power. It is sufficient to mention such names as Dioscorides, Galen,
Strabo, Ptolemy. The greatest works in history, biography, travel,
antiquities, ethics, philosophy were also written in Greek. Such names
as Polybius, Plutarch, Josephus, Pausanias, Dionysius, Epictetus, Lucian
will give the reader means of proof. Fronto could not prevail with a
Roman emperor, his old pupil, to prefer Latin to Greek. Marcus Aurelius
wrote his "Meditations" in Greek. The language of the infant Church,
even in Italy and the West, was not Latin, but Greek. The names of the
first bishops of Rome are Greek names, the Christian Scriptures are in
Greek, and so is the oldest extant Liturgy--the Clementine--which seems
to represent the practice of the West no less than of the East. Not only
the Canonical Scriptures of the New Testament are in Greek, but also
those which were partially or for a time received, as the Epistle of
Clement, the Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas. And a further set of
writings beyond these and inferior to these, but ultimately of great
popularity, were in Greek: I mean the legendary and romantic apocryphal
writings, such as the Acts of Peter and Paul, the Acts of Pilate, and
many others.[1] This latter set was already growing in the second
century, and reached their mature form in the time of Gregory the Great.

It is not clear how early Latin began to be used as the official
language of the Church, but everything points to an important change
soon after the middle of the second century. Before that time, Justin,
living at Rome, and writing (A.D. 138), for the Roman people to
read, a defence of Christianity, which was addressed to the emperor
Antoninus Pius, wrote it in Greek; but before long another apologetic
writer, Minucius Felix, wrote in Latin. This coincides with other
indications to mark a great transition in the latter half of the second
century. Up to this time two languages were in literary currency, a
foreign scholastic language and an æsthetic vernacular. It was chiefly
the wealthy class that sustained these literary languages in Rome. When
in A.D. 166 the Oriental plague was brought to Italy with the
army returning from Parthia, cultivated society was wrecked, and the
literary movement was greatly interrupted in both languages. This was a
blow to the artificial culture of Greek in Italy, just as the plague of
1349 and following years was a blow to the artificial culture of French
in England. After A.D. 166 a check was given to progress, which
lasted, in the secular domain, until the sixteenth century.

Let us spend a moment upon the sequel of the old literature, before we
come to the new, which is our proper subject here.

Under the altered times that now ensued, the continuity of classicism is
seen in two forms of literature--namely, philological criticism and
poetry. The acknowledged model of Latin poetry was Virgil, and his
greatest imitator was Claudian, who had made himself a Latin scholar by
study, much as the moderns do. Claudian is commonly called the last of
the heathen poets. He has also been called the transitional link between
ancient and modern, between heathen and Christian poetry.[2] One
characteristic may be mentioned, namely, his personification of moral or
personal qualities, a sort of allegory destined to flourish for many
centuries, of which the first mature example appears in the "Soul's
Fight" of Prudentius, the Christian poet, who was a contemporary of
Claudian. The school study of the classics produced grammars, and two
authors became chiefly celebrated in this branch, namely, Donatus and
Priscian. Their books were standards through the Dark and Middle

There was one department of prose literature in which Latin was
undisturbed and unsophisticated. This was the department of law and
administration. The legal diction escaped, in a great measure, from the
influence of classicism; it kept on its even way through the whole
period, and as it was an ordinary school subject under the empire, the
language of the law books exercised great influence in the formation of
the prose style that continued through the Middle Ages.

We now come to the new Latin literature with which we are intimately

By the side of this diminished stream of the elder literature there
rose, after the middle of the second century, a new series of writings,
new in subject, and new also in manner, diction, and spirit. The
phraseology is less literary, and more taken from the colloquial speech
and the usage of everyday life. It seems also to be, in some measure,
the return-language of a colony: some of the earliest and most important
contributions come from Africa, where Latin was now the mother-tongue of
a large population, and that country appears to have escaped the ravages
of the plague.

The first of these books is one that still bears considerable traces of
classicism. It is entitled "Octavius," and is an apology for
Christianity by Minucius Felix. But immediately after him we come upon a
chief representative of this new literature, which aimed less at form
than at the conveying of the author's meaning in the readiest and most
familiar words. This is strikingly the case with the direct and
unstudied Latinity of the first of the Latin fathers, the African
Tertullian, in whom the contrast with classicism is most pronounced. In
him the old conventional dignity gives place to the free display of
personal characteristics, and no writer (it has been said) affords a
better illustration of the saying of Buffon--"the style is the man."

Another African writer was Lactantius, to whom has been attributed that
poem of the Phœnix, which most likely served as pattern to the
Anglo-Saxon poet.[4] It consists of 170 lines, hexameters and
pentameters; terse, poetical, classical. This old Oriental fable, as
told by Ovid, was short and simple: "There is a bird that restores and
reproduces itself; the Assyrians call it Phœnix. It feeds on no common
food, but on the choicest of gums and spices; and after a life of
secular length, it builds in a high tree with cassia, spikenard,
cinnamon, and myrrh, and on this nest it expires in sweetest odours. A
young Phœnix rises and grows, and when strong enough it takes up the
nest with its deposit and bears it to the City of the Sun, and lays it
down there in front of the sacred portals." Such is the story in Ovid;
and there we know we have a heathen fable. But in the poem of
Lactantius, it is so curiously, and, as it were, significantly
elaborated, that we hardly know whether we are reading a Christian
allegory or no. Allegory has always been a favourite form with Christian
writers, and more than one cause may be assigned for it. Already there
was, in the taste of the age when the Christian literature arose, a
tendency to symbolism, which is seen outside the pale of Christianity.
Moreover, the long time in which the profession of Christianity was
dangerous, favoured the growth of symbolism as a covert means of mutual
intelligence. Then Christian thought had in its own nature something
which invited allegory, partly by its own hidden sympathies with Nature,
and partly by its very immensity, for which all direct speech was felt
to be inadequate. But what doubtless supplied this taste with continual
nutriment was that all-pervading and unspeakable sweetness of Christ's
teaching by parables. The Phœnix was used upon Roman coins to express
the aspiration for renewed vitality in the empire; it was used by early
Christian writers[5] as an emblem of the Resurrection; and in the
Anglo-Saxon poem the allegory is avowed.

To Lactantius also has been ascribed another book in which we are
interested. This is a collection of a hundred Latin riddles under the
obscure name of Symposius, which name has by some editors been set
aside in favour of Lactantius for no better reason than because of some
supposed Africanisms. Aldhelm speaks of these riddles under the name of

A new literature thus rose up by the side of that which was decaying, or
had already decayed. This new literature was the fruit of Christianity;
it was more a literature of the masses than any that had been hitherto
known; it was marked by a strong tinge of the vernacular, and it was
separated in form as well as in matter from the old classical standards.
The spirit of this new literature was characterised by a larger and more
comprehensive humanity. It was animated by those principles of
fellow-feeling, compassion, and hopefulness, which were to prepare the
way for the structure of human society upon new foundations. This,
rather than the classical, is the Latin literature which we have to
follow; this is the preparation for modern literature, and its course
will be found to land us in the Saxon period.

After the triumph of Christianity, this new literature was much
enlarged, and it appropriated to itself something of the grace and
elegance of the earlier classics; and whether we speak of its contents,
or of its artistic character, we may say it culminated at the end of the
fourth and the beginning of the fifth century in the writings of
Augustine. In his time we find that the contrast between profane and
sacred literature is already long established: the old literature is
called by the pagans liberal, but by the Christians secular.

The removal of the seat of empire to Constantinople had ultimately the
effect of substituting Greek for Latin as the language of
administration in the East. On the other hand, the growth of the papal
power in the West favoured the establishment of Latin as the sole
language of the West, to the neglect of Greek. Thus East and West were
then divided in language, and Latin became universal in the West. In
Anglo-Saxon, the people of the Eastern Empire are characterised simply
as the Greeks (Crecas).

The heart of the new Latin literature was in the Scripture translations.
Many exercised themselves in translating, especially the New Testament.
Augustine says the translations were beyond number. But the central and
best known of these many versions is thought to have been made in
Africa. In A.D. 382, Damasus, the bishop of Rome, induced
Jerome to undertake that work of revision which produced the Latin
Bible, which is the only one now generally known, and which is called
the Vulgata, that is to say, the received version. Older italic
versions, so far as they are extant, are now to us among the most
interesting of Christian antiquities. In the early centuries, and
throughout the whole Middle Age, the Scriptures took rank above all
literature, and their influence is everywhere felt.

The sack of Rome (A.D. 410) drew forth from the pagans a fresh
outcry against Christianity. They sought to trace the misery of the
times to the vengeance of the neglected gods. This accusation evoked
from St. Augustine the greatest of all the apologetic treatises, namely,
his "City of God" (De Civitate Dei). This great work exhibits the
writer's mature and final opinions, and it may be said to represent the
maturity and culmination of that Latin literature which began after
A.D. 166, and continued to progress until it was half quenched
in barbarian darkness. The "City of God" has been called the first
attempt at a philosophy of history; and, again, it has been called the
Cyclopædia of the fifth century. It lays out before us a platform of
instruction on things divine and human, which reigned as a standard for
centuries, even until the theology and philosophy of the school-men had
been summed up by Thomas Aquinas.

To this great work a companion book was written by Orosius, who had been
Augustine's disciple. This was a compendium of Universal History, and it
was designed to exhibit the troubles that had afflicted mankind in the
ages of heathenism. It became the established manual of history, and
continued to be so throughout our period; and Orosius was for ages the
only authority for the general course of history. This explains how it
came to be one of the small list of Latin books translated by Alfred.

We have no sooner reached the culmination of that Christian literature
which began after the depression of A.D. 166, than we find
ourselves in the presence of another great fall. The sack of Rome in 410
shook the minds of men as if it were the end of all things. The fifth
century was a time of ruin, but also it was a time of new beginnings.
Three great events are to be noted in this fifth century: 1. The Western
Empire came to an end; 2. The Franks passed over the Rhine into Gaul,
and became Christian; 3. The Saxons passed over the sea to Britain, and
remained heathen until the close of the sixth century. These three
events group together by a natural connection; it was the expiring
empire that made room for the Frankish and Saxon conquests, and these
two conquests have been, and are, fertile in comparisons and contrasts,
and reciprocal action, not only through our period, but till now and

About A.D. 500, Avitus, bishop of Vienne, wrote a Latin poem on
the mighty acts of Sacred History--(De Spiritalis Historiæ Gestis); and
this book has been regarded as the original source of some passages in
Cædmon and Milton.[6] The poem is in five books, of which the first
three--1. On the Creation; 2. The Disobedience; 3. The Sentence of
God--form a whole in themselves; while the remaining two books, which
are nominally on the Flood and the Red Sea, are really on Baptism and
the Spiritual Restoration of Man. So that the whole work comprises a
Paradise Lost and a Paradise Regained.

We now come to a book which, though not by a Christian author, is so
manifestly influenced by Christianity, and has been so fully recognised
by the Christian public, that it must be included in our list--viz.,
"The Comfort of Philosophy," by Boethius. Gibbon even called it a golden
volume, and one which, if we consider the barbarism of the times and the
situation of the author, must be reckoned of almost incomparable merit.
It was composed in the prison to which Theodoric had consigned the
wisest of the old Roman patriciate; and it is commonly regarded as
closing the canon of Roman literature. It was translated into all the
vernaculars, Alfred's translation into English being the first, and
Notker's into High German being the second.[7] Other works of Boethius
lived through the Dark and Middle Ages, especially his translations of
Aristotle, which were standards for the student in philosophy.

From this time we see a world fallen back into a wild and savage
infancy, and we shall witness the gradual operation of a spiritual power
reclaiming, educating, transforming it. The subject of Anglo-Saxon
literature derives, perhaps, its greatest interest from the fact that it
represents one great stage of this process.

As we approach the Saxon period we must take particular notice of a new
agency that now comes on the scene. The institution of monachism was one
of considerable standing before the date at which we are now arrived,
but it had never yet found any function of systematic usefulness.
Benedict of Nursia is called the father of monks, not because he first
instituted them, but because he organised and regulated the monastic
life and converted it to a powerful agency for religion and
civilisation. Benedict was born in 480, and he died at Monte Cassino in
543. The Benedictine institution is the great historical fact which
demands our attention in the early part of the sixth century.

An eminent Benedictine was the Roman Pontiff Gregory, surnamed the
Great. He was born in 540, and died in 604. He designed the conversion
of the Saxons. He was a great author, though he was ignorant of Greek.
We will here notice three of his works--the "Commentary on Job," the
"Pastoral Care," and the "Dialogues."

The first of these is remarkable as a specimen of that mystical
interpretation of Scripture which characterised the exegesis of the
Middle Ages, and of which manifold examples occur in the Homilies of
Ælfric, who names Gregory as one of his sources.

The "Pastoral Care" is worthy of its name as a book of direction and
advice from the chief pastor to his subordinates. It is full of grave
practical wisdom, animated by the Christian spirit and the love of
souls. For prudence it is worthy of the pontiff who solved Augustine's
questions, as we read in Beda's history. In this book we discover the
true and legitimate source of the power of the clergy, and we verify the
words of Joseph Butler, who said that if conscience had power as it has
authority, it would govern the world. The power of the clergy is
sometimes explained as a stratagem; he who reads this book will see a
deeper root to that power; he will see that if trickery made that power
to fall, it was something else that caused it to rise.

A greater contrast than that between the "Pastoral Care" and the
"Dialogues" it is hardly possible to conceive. We cannot wonder that the
identity of authorship has been questioned, and that the "Dialogues"
have been attributed to another Gregory. The difficulty is, however,
lessened if we consider the widely different conditions of the readers
addressed. At a time when an old civilisation and a crude barbarism
were intermingled and living side by side, the one was written for the
highest, the other for the lowest in the intellectual scale. The
"Pastoral Care" was addressed to the Roman clergy, with whom, if
anywhere, something of the old culture still lingered. The "Dialogues"
were intended for the barbarians. The book is addressed to Theodolinda,
the Lombard queen. It is a book full of wonderful, not to say puerile,
stories, in which a religious lesson or moral is always conveyed, but
not always one that carries conviction to the mind of the modern
Christian. It reflects the policy of converting the barbarians by
condescending to their tastes, and belongs to the same system as that
increase of pomp and ceremony which was due to the same motive. This
book far outran the former in popularity. It was among the earliest of
Latin books to be translated into vernacular languages. Gregory's
writings were very influential on popular religious literature
throughout the Dark Ages, and nowhere more so than in England, where he
was honoured as a national apostle. There exists an Anglo-Saxon
translation of the "Dialogues," but it has not yet been edited.

The time of Gregory the Great was the time in which, to use Dean
Milman's words, "the human mind was finally Christianised." This
triumph, as usually happens, was overdriven. We see a too jealous
exclusion of secular literature, and a too credulous and favourable
disposition towards Christian legends. This was the time when the
secondary apocryphal literature reached its maturity, and was grouped in
collections. An active labourer in this pious work was Gregory of
Tours. He contributed the "Miracles of St. Andrew," and possibly other
pieces. This period, from the middle of the sixth into the early part of
the seventh century, is the period of the greatest literary activity of
the monasteries of Gaul, and the apocryphal collections seem to have
been made in some of these[8] If the Christianised Latin literature
reached its highest excellence in the time of Augustine, it discovered
its extremest tendency in the time of the two Gregories.

There is yet one form of literature that claims our attention. The Greek
romances of love and marvellous adventure were probably discountenanced
in Christian families, and we may regard the secondary Apocrypha as a
kind of pious substitute for such entertaining works of fiction. But
there was one of these old heathen novels that held its ground, that can
be traced in more than one early monastic library, and that was
translated into every vernacular--Anglo-Saxon first. This was the
Romance of Apollonius of Tyre, from which comes the story of that
Shakespearean play, "Pericles, Prince of Tyre."

The books which we have noticed between the second and the seventh
centuries may be allowed to represent that Christianised Latin
literature which is the historical bridge between the ancient classical
and the modern vernacular literatures. The latter had as yet no
existence. In Mœsia, on the shores of the Danube, a Gothic dialect had
been immortalised by Scripture translations from the Greek as early as
the fourth century; but nothing of the kind had as yet appeared under
the Latin influence in the West. The Merovingian Franks left no
vernacular literature; on the contrary, they rapidly lost their native
speech, and adopted that of the conquered nation.

The Franks and the Saxons had been neighbours in their native homes,
speaking almost the same mother-tongue; but their migrations led them
into new regions in which they again proved neighbours under altered
conditions. Each was to take a leading part in the formation of modern
Europe, but they were to be divided in that office, their lots being
severally cast with the two great constituent factors of modern
civilisation. The one was to lead the Romanesque, the other the Gothic
division. The Franks became assimilated to the Romanised Gauls, and
formed, with them, one Latin-speaking Church; they raised the standard
of orthodoxy against the Arianism of the other barbarian powers, and the
Frankish king was decorated with the title of Most Christian; the
history of that Church was written in Latin by Gregory of Tours. This
work, upon which he was engaged from A.D. 576 to 592, bears
strong marks of literary degeneracy. Gregory complained of the low state
of education in the cities of Gaul. He became a historian only from a
sense of necessity, and for fear lest the memory of important events
should perish. He has been called the Herodotus of the Franks, and the
Herodotus of barbarism. The history of the Church in Gaul after the
absorption of the Franks is not one of quickened progress but of crime
and torpidity. Gregory the Great justified his mission to the Saxons on
the express ground that the Church of Gaul, whose natural duty it was,
had neglected it. The history of the Merovingian Franks stands in
disadvantageous contrast with the early vigour of the Saxon Churches.
The first great elevation of European culture was to spring, not from
among the Franks, but in the remoter colonies of the Saxons.

The English conversion began A.D. 597; and two religious
foundations were quickly established:--1. The Minster of St. Saviour,
afterwards called Christ Church, and now Canterbury Cathedral; 2. The
Abbey of SS. Peter and Paul, outside the walls of Canterbury on the
east, which was afterwards called St. Augustine's. Of the foundation of
schools nothing is heard at this time; but a generation later,
A.D. 631, we find the Kentish schools taken as a model for
schools to be founded in East Anglia by Felix.[9] It is an interesting
question whether these were the missionary schools, or whether they were
schools which kept up the traditions of Roman education in a degenerate
form like the schools in Gaul. On the ground that our oldest document is
a Code of the first converted king, it has been too easily inferred,
that before this time the Saxons were wholly destitute of literary
appliances. Were the fact more certain, than it is, the conclusion would
be weak. There are in the Chronicles certain archaic annals which have
been thought to be a possible product of the heathen period.

The second home of culture was in Northumbria. A wonderful combination
of influences met on this favoured soil. In the extreme province of the
empire, there had been a concentration of military force, to keep the
Picts in check; the centre of Roman government on the island had been at
York, and here, if anywhere, something of the civilisation of Rome would
naturally remain.

Another important influence was the Irish, or, as it was then called,
the Scotian. It is true that the first evangelist in order of time was
Paulinus, who came from Kent, and represented the Roman mission. But the
savour of the Gospel was first received through the teaching of the
Irish missionaries, of whom the foremost name is Aidan. Never did any
people embrace Christianity with such entire heart as the Irish; and
much of their lofty devotion was communicated to the Angles whom they

Upon this, when they were prepared to profit by it, supervened the
mission of Theodore and Hadrian, who implanted the seed of learning,
with great ability, at an opportune moment, and with the most abundant
results. Under the warmth of a first love, all these advantages were
moulded together, and resulted in making Northumbria for three or four
generations the centre of European culture. The seat of this culture was
York, the old Roman capital, and its culmination was under Archbishop
Egbert (734-766), and his successor Albert. The great writings of this
period are in Latin, and the chief names are Aldhelm, Eddi, Winfrid
(Bonifacius), Danihel, Beda, Alcuin. Of vernacular prose the chief
remnant is a series of Northern Annals, between A.D. 737 and
806, which have been embodied in some of the Southern Chronicles. But
what specially characterised this period was a rich development of
sacred poetry, some remnants of which are perhaps extant in our
"Cædmon." But our fullest knowledge of this old poetic strain comes back
to us from Old Saxony, where it was propagated by the Anglian
missionaries, and it survives under a thin disguise in the poem called
the "Heliand."

In Aldhelm we see that this new learning was not solely ecclesiastical,
but that there was something in it which aimed at recovery of classical
learning. He was distinguished for his elaborate study of Latin metres,
and his commendation of the pursuit. He wrote poems in Latin hexameters,
and among these a Collection of Enigmas, which bore fruit in the later
Anglo-Saxon literature.

The latter part of the Anglian period produced Alcuin, the distinguished
scholar who was engaged by Charles the Great to organise his new
schools. So we see the lamp of culture pass from Anglia into Frankland,
shortly before the time when Anglia was overrun by the Danes and almost
all the monuments which were destructible perished.

We may dismiss the Anglian period with the remark, that its achievements
are all the more distinguished from the fact that they belong to a time
when the whole Continent was in the thickest darkness, that is to say,
the seventh and eighth centuries.

Under Charlemagne a new start was made for the restitution of
literature. He drew learned men to his court, Alcuin from England,
Paulus Diaconus from Italy. Thus he made a new centre for European
learning, and France continued to sustain that character down to the
latter end of the Middle Ages. His chief agent in this great work of
enlightenment was Alcuin, who was educated at York under Egbert, who had
been a disciple of Beda. And so we see the torch of learning handed on
from Northumbria to the Frankish dominions in time to save the tradition
of culture from perishing in the desolation that was near. Among the
names that adorn the annals of revived learning under Charles himself,
we must mention Smaragdus, because Ælfric acknowledges him as one of his
sources. The book referred to would hardly be the "Diadem of Monks," a
selection of pieces from the Fathers with Scripture texts, worked up as
it were into a Whole Duty of Man, although Ælfric would be likely to
know this book; but for the composition of his Homilies it is more
likely that Ælfric would have drawn from another book by Smaragdus,
namely, his commentary on the Epistles and Gospels for Sundays.

Men who have left their names in history now followed in the work of
sustaining the revival of learning. We must mention Rabanus Maurus,
whose Scripture commentaries were used by the poet of the "Heliand"; and
Walahfrid Strabo, who wrote on plants and had a taste for Greek

The revival of secular learning brought in its train a strong
development of speculative theology. The ninth century is marked by
controversy on the Eucharist, and on Predestination. The former of
these controversies had an effect upon Anglo-Saxon literature, which
requires us to record one or two main facts in this place. Paschasius
Radbert, a monk of Corbey, who was for a short while Abbot of that
famous monastery, wrote a treatise (the first of its kind) on the
Eucharist, maintaining the change in the elements. The opposite side was
taken by Ratramnus (otherwise called Bertram), a monk of the same house.
His views were adopted by Ælfric in the tenth century, and were embodied
in a Homily, which was welcomed by the English reformers of the
sixteenth century as an antidote to the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Haymo, bishop of Halberstadt, who had studied at Fulda, maintained the
doctrine of the material change in its most extreme form. He was also a
commentator upon the Scriptures, and Ælfric used his commentaries, but
only "sometimes."

The Danish scourge beggared the land, as in all other respects, so in
learning and in all the liberal arts. We who had formerly sent
instructors to other nations, were now suitors for help in our
destitution. The same national deliverer who rid us of the destroyer,
was also the restorer of education. If he cannot be said to have
effectually restored learning, at least he laboured with so much
earnestness at the task that he may be said to have bespoken an ultimate
though delayed success. Alfred is not more famous for his great battles
than for his great literary efforts.

The literary restoration of his time is supported by the Carlovingian
schools, and in this we may see a repayment in the ninth century of that
help which Charles had received from England through Alcuin in the

Different in its origin is the remarkable spring of religious and
intellectual life in the tenth century. Ever since the synod of
Aix-la-Chapelle in 813, the religious spirit in Gaul had manifested
itself in the stricter discipline of the Benedictine monasteries, and
this movement reached us in the middle of the tenth century. The
Benedictines had a famous school on the Loire at a place then called
Floriacum, now Fleury or St. Benoît-sur-Loire, and some leading men in
England were in active relations with this house.[10] In the eclipse
which the nominal seat of Christianity was under in the tenth century,
the light of the Church shone in France and England. The reforms of
Æðelwold and Dunstan and Odo are the transmission of this movement to
our island.

This great movement has only time to take shape enough to declare itself
when it is again interrupted by troublous times, invasions, and wars,
and changes of dynasty, and before any length of peace is again allowed,
by the decisive and final blow of the Norman Conquest, which brought
with it more than a change of dynasty. It changed the whole body of the
governing and influential classes, not from one stratum to another
within the Saxon nation, but by the introduction of a ruling class from
another nation, speaking another language, and one of a different

The new language thus brought in was no barbarous dialect, but the most
cultivated of the Continental vernaculars. It was the other great factor
of European literature. It had begun to be cultivated later than the
Saxon, but then it had ages of culture at its back. The strength of this
language was in its poetry--just the element which had stagnated in
England. The French taught not only the English but all Europe in
poetry. All modern European poetry is after the French model.

After the Conquest Saxon literature had a stronghold in the great
religious houses, and here it continued to be cultivated until far into
the twelfth century. This was due not only to the patriotic sentiment,
but also to the interests of their several foundations. The chief
Anglo-Saxon works that we have from the times after the Conquest are
concerned directly or indirectly with the property or privilege of the
religious house from which the books emanate. This is the time that
produced the Worcester chartulary, the Rochester chartulary, the
Peterborough chronicle which embodies the privileges of the house, and
the Winton chartulary. This diplomatic interest was strong and permanent
enough to cause Anglo-Saxon studies to be pursued until late in the
Middle Age, perhaps even down to the time of the Dissolution by Henry

But passing from this, which is an artificial continuation of the old
literature, we may observe that it had a continuation which was
perfectly natural and spontaneous. Examples of this are the late
semi-Saxon Homilies, in which we see the gradual decay of the old
flectional grammar: but the most signal examples are the two great
poetical works of Layamon and Orm. These are full of French influence,
though not in the same manner. Layamon's "Brut" is translated (though
not without original episodes) from the French of Robert Wace: and the
"Ormulum," though drawn as to its matter from Latin comments on the
Gospels, yet is in form deeply imbued with the character of French
poetry. Indeed, the English language became more and more a vehicle for
the reproduction of French literature. This continued to the middle of
the fourteenth century, when the plague, which altered so many things,
altered also this. The supremacy of the French language was broken, the
native language was again heard in legal pleadings, and the poetry of
Chaucer laid the permanent foundation of modern English literature.


[1] A translation of these writings is given in Clark's "Ante-Nicene
Library," vol. xvi. Among the "Acts of Pilate" are contained the so
called "Gospel of Nicodemus," which is the fountain of that favourite
mediæval subject, "The Harrowing of Hell."

[2] North Pinder, "Less Known Latin Poets," p. 486.

[3] Donatus was Jerome's teacher. His name grew into a proverb, insomuch
that an elementary treatise of any sort might in the fourteenth century
be called a "donat." Priscian was a contemporary of Boethius. His
grammar was epitomised by Rabanus Maurus in the ninth century.

[4] Other Latin poets who touched this subject are--Ovid, "Metam.," xv.,
402; Martial, "Epigrams," v., 7; Claudian's First Idyll, a poem of 110
hexameters, is entirely devoted to it.

[5] Clemens Romanus; Tertullian, "De Resurrectione Carnis," c. 13. See
Adolf Ebert, "Christlich-Laternische Literatur," vol. i., p. 95.

[6] Siever's "Der Heliand," p. 18, and references: Guizot, "Histoire de
la Civilisation en France," 18^e Leçon.

[7] For the Latin text, and the bibliography, there is an admirable
little edition by Peiper, Lipsiæ, 1871.

[8] R.A. Lipsius, "Die Apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und
Apostellegenden," Braunschweig, 1883, p. 170.

[9] Bede's "Ecclesiastical History," iii., 18.

[10] It was destroyed by the Calvinists in 1562.



The material of an early Literature is, above all, to be sought in
written Books and documents. But, besides these, there are other
available sources, which may be called in one word the Antiquities of
the nation; and these are of great value as illustrations, that is to
say, though the information they severally give may be uncertain and
inexplicit, yet when they are put side by side with the literature, they
greatly increase its informing power, and often draw, in return, a flow
of light upon themselves. Accordingly the present chapter will fall into
two parts: 1, of writings; 2, of subsidiary sources.


There is a famous book that remains in the place where it was deposited
in the Saxon period. Leofric, who was the tenth bishop of Crediton, and
the first of Exeter, gave to his new cathedral about sixty books, and
the list of these books is extant in contemporary writing. One of them
is thus described:--"I. mycel englisc boc be gehwilcum thingum on leoth
wisan geworht." = One large English book about various things in lay
(song) wise wrought--that is to say, a large volume of miscellaneous
poetry in English. This is the valuable, or rather, invaluable, Exeter
Song Book, often quoted as "Codex Exoniensis." It is still where Leofric
placed it in or about 1050, and it is in the keeping of his cathedral
chapter. The others are dispersed; but many of them are still well
known, as the "Leofric Missal," in the Bodleian; and others are at

The general break-up of monastic institutions between 1530 and 1540
caused the dispersion of many old libraries, whose forgotten treasures
were thus restored to air and light. No doubt many valuable books and
records were irrecoverably lost; as it is reasonable to suppose that
among the parchments then cast upon the world, there existed material
for a continuous and complete history of Anglo-Saxon times. This
reflection may make us the more sensible of our penury, but it will not
diminish the praise of those who saved something from the wreck.

Matthew Parker, the twentieth archbishop of Canterbury, 1559-1576, has
been called a mighty collector of books. He gave commissions for
searching after books in England and Wales, and presented the choicest
of his miscellaneous collections to his own college at Cambridge,
namely, Benet College (now Corpus Christi), where it still rests. In
this library are some unique books, such as the oldest Saxon chronicle,
which has been thought nearly as old as King Alfred's time. There is
also a fine vellum of the laws of King Alfred, with the elder laws of
King Ine attached in manner of appendix.

But the most famous book of this great collection is an illuminated
manuscript of the Gospels in Latin (No. 286), which Wanley thought to
be probably one of the very books that were sent to Augustine by
Gregory. Professor Westwood says that the drawings in this manuscript
are the most ancient monuments of Roman pictorial art existing in this
country, and he further proceeds to say that, excepting a fourth-century
manuscript at Vienna, these are the oldest instances of Roman-Christian
iconography of which he can find any notice.[11]

Parker had singular opportunities, by the time in which he lived, by the
advantages of his high office and personal character, by his power to
command the services of other men, and by their general willingness to
serve him. There were three distinguished searchers after books who were
of the greatest use to him, viz., Bale, Joscelin, Leland.

John Bale, the antiquary, had been a White Friar in Norwich, then,
changing his party, he became bishop of Ossory, but lived at length on a
prebend he had in the church of Canterbury, where he followed his
studies. Bale, in his preface to Leland's "New Year's Gift,"[12] says
that those who purchased the monasteries reserved the books, some to
scour their candlesticks, some to rub their boots, some they sold to the
grocers and soap-sellers, and some they sent over sea to the
book-binders,[13] not in small numbers, but at times whole ships full,
to the wondering of foreign nations.

John Leland had a commission under Henry VIII. to travel and collect
books; his Itinerary is a chief book for English topography. Of Joscelin
we shall have occasion to speak below.

With all his advantages, however, Parker was weighted with the care of
the churches, at a time, too, when that care was unusually heavy; and to
this, as in duty bound, he gave his first thought. Though his example
could not be exceeded, his collections were surpassed, and that by a
gleaner who came after him. Of all book collectors the greatest was
Robert Bruce Cotton, the founder of the Cottonian Library. He was born
at Denton, in Huntingdonshire, and educated at Trinity College,
Cambridge. Cotton's antiquarian tastes declared themselves early; the
formation of a library and museum was his life-long pursuit. Not that
his interests were all confined to this. He wrote on the revenue, warned
King James against the strained exaction of tonnage and poundage,
especially in time of peace; and he counselled the creation of an order
of baronets, each to pay the Crown £1,000 for the honour. In this way he
became a baronet himself in 1611, having been knighted at the king's
accession. Under Charles I. he was molested for his opinions, because he
dared to disapprove of government without parliaments; and he was
touched in his most sensitive part when his own library was sealed
against him. He died 6th May, 1631, and was buried in Conington Church,
where his monument may still be seen.

His library was further enlarged by his son, Sir Thomas Cotton; and it
was sold to the nation by Sir John Cotton, the fourth baronet, in 1700.
It was lodged in Ashburnham House, in 1731, when a disastrous fire
consumed or damaged many valuable books.[14] Annexed by statute to the
British Museum in 1753, it was moved thither in 1757.

Among the books that suffered without being destroyed by the fire of
1731, is the unique copy of the Beowulf.[15] One of the Saxon chronicles
was almost consumed; only two or three leaves of it are now extant. But,
happily, this particular chronicle had been printed by Wheloc, without
curtailment or admixture, and so it was the one that could best be
spared. This library also contains the Abingdon and Worcester
chronicles, and, indeed, all the known Saxon chronicles except two. This
collection is the richest in original Anglo-Saxon deeds and abbey

Among the Cottonian treasures (Vespasian A.I.) is a glossed psalter,
which was edited by Mr. Stevenson for the Surtees Society, in two vols.,
1843-7, as containing a Northumbrian gloss, which is now, however,
supposed to be Kentish.[16] A facsimile of this manuscript by the
Palæographical Society, part ii., 18, has a description, from which the
following is taken:--"Written about A.D. 700, the gloss at the
end of the ninth, or beginning of the tenth, and the later additions in
the eleventh century. It formerly belonged to the Monastery of St.
Augustine of Canterbury, and corresponds with Thomas of Elmham's
description of one of the two psalters stated to have been acquired from
Augustine; though the character of the ornamentation clearly shows that
it is of English origin." It is sometimes called the Surtees Psalter;
Professor Westwood calls it "The Psalter of St. Augustine."

The book which, to the eye of the artist and palæographer, forms the
glory of the Cottonian Library, is that which is marked, Nero D. iv.,
and is commonly called the Lindisfarne Gospels. Other names which it has
borne, are:--The Durham Book, because it was long preserved in Durham
Cathedral, and the Gospels of St. Cuthbert, as having been written in
honour of that saint. It is the most elaborately-ornamented of all
Anglo-Saxon manuscripts; it is quite entire, and tells its own origin
and date. Two entries enable us to fix the date of the original Latin
book about 710; the interlinear Saxon gloss may be of the ninth century.

Locally connected with the Cottonian is the Harleian collection which
was formed by Robert Harley (1661-1724), Earl of Oxford; and it was
purchased for the British Museum in 1753. It contains, without name of
author (Harl. 3,859) the most ancient manuscript (tenth century) of that
"History of the Britons" which now bears the name of Nennius; a few
originals or good early copies of Saxon charters; some abbey registers,
and some Early-English poetry, especially a manuscript of Chaucer's
"Canterbury Tales" (Harley, 7,334), which some have thought to be the
oldest and best.

A name second only to Cotton is that of Archbishop Laud. He was a
collector of old and rare books in many languages, and we are indebted
to his care for some of the most valuable monuments of the
mother-tongue. He was president of St. John's College, Oxford, and he
had been educated there. Some valuable books he gave to his college, but
his larger donations were to the library of his university, of which he
became vice-chancellor in 1630. These books rest in the Bodleian


dates from the year 1598; and here we have an admirable guide in the
"Annals of the Bodleian Library," by Rev. W.D. Macray, whose annalistic
order we will follow.

1601.--The Library bought the copy of the Anglo-Saxon Gospels, from
which John Foxe had printed the edition of 1571.[17] It is marked Bod.

1603.--Some manuscripts were given by Sir Robert Cotton, and one of them
(Auct. D., ii. 14:--Bod. 857) is an ancient volume of Latin Gospels,
written probably in the sixth century, which shares with the illuminated
Benet Gospels described above, the traditional reputation of being one
of the books that were sent by Gregory to Augustine. It has no
miniatures, but it has rubrication, and it is in a similar style of
writing with that splendid volume. Thomas Elmham, who was a monk of St.
Augustine's at Canterbury, and wrote a history of his monastery, about
A.D. 1414, gives a list of the books of his house; and there
are two entries of "Textus Evangeliorum," each being particularly
described. Humphrey Wanley (p. 172) identified our two books as those
known to Elmham; and Westwood pronounces them to be two of the oldest
Latin manuscripts written in pure Roman uncials that exist in this

1635-1640.--In these years Archbishop Laud gave nearly 1,300
manuscripts, among which there is one (E. 2) that enjoys pre-eminently
the title of "Codex Laudianus." This is a famous manuscript of the Acts
of the Apostles, which has been variously dated from the sixth to the
eighth century. It is the only known manuscript that exhibits certain
irregular readings, seventy-four in number, which Bede, in his
"Retractations on the Acts," quoted from his copy. Wetstein surmised
that this was the very book before Bede when he wrote his
"Retractations."[18] At the end is a Latin Creed, written in the same
uncial character, though not by the same hand, and Dr. Heurtley says it
is one of the earliest, if not the very earliest, of what he calls the
"Manuscript Creeds." He has given a facsimile of it.[19]

Another of these was the Peterborough chronicle (No. 636), a celebrated
manuscript, containing the most extensive of all the Saxon chronicles.

1675.--Christopher, Lord Hatton, gave four volumes of Saxon Homilies,
written shortly after the Conquest. These are now among the Junian MSS.
(Nos. 22, 23, 24, 99), simply because Junius had them on loan. Being
among his books at the time of his death, they came back to the
Bodleian, as if part of the Junian bequest. This explains why Hatton
manuscripts, which contain sermons of Ælfric and of Wulfstan, bear the
signatures Jun. 22 and Jun. 99.

Other Hatton manuscripts, and very precious ones, have retained the name
of their donor, as--

Hatton 20.--King Alfred's Translation of Gregory's "Pastoral Care," of
which the king purposed to send a copy to each cathedral church, and
this is the copy sent by the king to Werfrith, bishop of Worcester.

Hatton 76.--Translation by Werfrith, bishop of Worcester, of Gregory's
"Dialogues," with King Alfred's Preface (in Wanley this is Hatton 100).

Hatton 65.--The Gospels in Saxon, written about the time of Henry II.

1678.--Franciscus Junius died at Windsor. He was born at Heidelberg, in
1589, and his vernacular name was Francis Dujon. He lived much in
England, as librarian to Howard, Earl of Arundel. He bequeathed to the
Bodleian his Anglo-Saxon and Northern collections. Among these is a
beautiful Latin Psalter (Jun. 27) of the tenth century, with grotesque
initials and interlinear Saxon. This book has been called "Codex
Vossianus," because Junius obtained it from his relative, Isaac Voss.
Among these also is the unique Cædmon, a MS. of about A.D.
1000, which had been given to Junius by Archbishop Usher, and of which
the earlier history is unknown. Usher, a scholar of European celebrity,
founded the library of Trinity College, Dublin; and in his enquiries
after books for his college he picked up this famous manuscript. It
became a favourite with Junius, who edited the Editio Princeps,
Amsterdam, 1655. Another book (Jun. 121) is a collection of Canons of
the Anglo-Saxon Church, which belonged to Worcester Cathedral. In this
book, fol. 101, the writer describes himself: _Me scripsit Wulfgeatus
scriptor Wigorniensis_ = Me wrote Wulfgeat of Worcester, a writer. This
Wulfgeat is said by Wanley (p. 141) to have lived about A.D.
1064. Junius 22 seems to be written by the same hand; so does Junius 99.
The former contains writings by Ælfric; the latter, some by Ælfric and
some by Wulfstan. Another book of the Junian bequest, hardly less
singular and unique, is the "Ormulum," a poetical exposition of the
Gospels, a work of the thirteenth century, of singular beauty, as
poetry and as English.

1681.--This is probably the year in which John Rushworth, of Lincoln's
Inn, the historian of the Long Parliament, presented to the library the
book (Auct. D., ii. 19) which is still known as Codex Rushworthianus. It
contains the Gospels in Latin, written about A.D. 800, by an
Irish scribe, who has recorded his name as Macregol, and it is glossed
with an interlinear Anglo-Saxon version by Owun and by Færmen, a priest,
at Harewood. It is described by Westwood.

1755.--Richard Rawlinson was born in 1690, son of Sir Thomas Rawlinson,
who was lord mayor of London in 1706; was educated at St. John's
College, Oxford, of which he always remained an attached member, and to
which he left by will the bulk of his estate. Though he passed for a
layman, he was a bishop among the Nonjurors, having been ordained deacon
and priest by Bishop Jeremy Collier in 1716, and consecrated bishop 25th
March, 1728. He was through life an indefatigable collector; he
purchased historical materials of all kinds, heraldry, genealogy,
biography, topography, and log-books. He was a repeated benefactor to
the library during his life, but after his death his books and
manuscripts came in overwhelming quantity, so that the staff of the
library could not possibly catalogue them; and it was not until Henry
Octavius Coxe became Bodley's librarian that the extent of the Rawlinson
collection was ascertained. This benefactor founded the Anglo-Saxon
professorship which bears his name.

1809.--Richard Gough, the eminent topographer and antiquary, died 20th
February; he had bequeathed to the Bodleian all his topographical
collections, together with all his books relating to Saxon and Northern
literature. The following is from his will:--"Also I give and bequeath
to the Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars, of the University of Oxford,
my printed Books and Manuscripts on Saxon and Northern Literature,
mentioned in a Catalogue of the same, for the Use of the Saxon professor
in the said University when he shall have occasion to consult them, with
liberty to take them to his Apartments on condition of faithfully
returning them."

I close these Bodleian notes with the remark that three of the books
above noticed may be easily seen even by the casual visitor. The late
librarian, Henry Octavius Coxe, devised the happy plan of exhibiting
under a glass case a chronological series of manuscripts written by
English scribes, so as to exhibit the progress of the arts of
calligraphy and illuminating in England. This case is in the north wing,
at the further end from the entrance door. Among the selections for this
series occur Alfred's gift-book to Worcester, the "Codex Vossianus," the
"Cædmon," and a fourth book, one that has not yet been described. It is
a volume of Latin Gospels in Anglo-Saxon writing, of about the end of
the tenth century. This book appears, from an entry at the end of it, to
have belonged to the abbey of Barking.[20]


though not endowed with treasures equal to those of its namesake in
Cambridge, has a few books of very high quality and value. Among these a
Saxon Bede of the tenth century, wanting at the beginning and end, but
otherwise in excellent condition.

A remarkably interesting manuscript of the Rule of St. Benedict, Latin
and Saxon, which has never yet been published.[21] Mr. H.O. Coxe, in his
catalogue of the manuscripts of the colleges, assigned this book to the
close of the tenth century. The interest of the volume is greatly
increased by some pages of entries, which also tend to fix the date of
the book with greater precision. It was written for the monastery of
Bury St. Edmunds, and it appears to have been still there in the
fourteenth century. It was given by William Fulman, who was a fellow of
this college, to the college library. The same donor gave them their
"Piers Plowman" and their famous manuscript of the "Canterbury Tales."


has an important manuscript containing (1) Ælfric's Grammar, (2)
Glossary, and (3) the Colloquy of Ælfric Bata, in usum puerorum (for the
boys). On fol. 202, the writer calls himself, "I Ælfric Bata," and says
that his master "Ælfric abbot" was the original author. The writing of
(1) and (2) is in the round, strong, professional hand of the tenth
century; the sequel is in later writing. On the first page is written
in a hand of the fourteenth century "Liber Sci Cuthberhti de Dunelmo" (a
book of St. Cuthbert, of Durham); and next thereto, but in a hand nearly
as old as the MS. itself, "de armario precentoris, qui alienaverit de eo
anathema sit" (is kept in the precentor's chest; whoever alienates it
therefrom, let him be anathema). It was given to the college by
Christopher Coles, who took his degree in 1611. The grammar has been
recently edited by Dr. Zupitza.


possesses the oldest manuscript of the ecclesiastical history of Bede
(K.K. 5. 16). It is supposed to have been written shortly after the
death of the venerable author, which happened in 735. This book came
into that library in 1715, with the fine collection of 30,000 volumes
collected by Dr. More, bishop of Ely. This collection was purchased by
George I. for 6,000 guineas, and presented to the University by the
king. This invaluable book is distinctively called Bishop More's

In the Cathedral Library at Canterbury there are some valuable Saxon
charters;[22]--many more whose natural home was there are in the British
Museum among the Cottonian collections.

In the library of Lambeth Palace there is an interesting book, which
belonged to Archbishop Parker, and has been well scored by him: but it
is not entered either in the Lambeth catalogue of 1812, or in that of
Benet College. This is the "Gospels of MacDurnan," in Irish calligraphy
of the ninth century, and it contains some valuable Anglo-Saxon


Hitherto we have been describing the collection of material; this it was
that rescued our early history and literature from hopeless oblivion.
The old parchments contained much knowledge that ought to be recovered
and diffused; but this would require preparation and labour. Among the
labourers, Matthew Parker comes first as he does among the collectors.
This prelate was an earnest student in the ancient history of the
country and especially in whatever had relation to the Church. He was
the first editor of a Saxon Homily. It was printed by John Day, and was
entitled, "A Testimony of Antiquity showing the Ancient Faith of the
Church of England touching the Sacrament, &c." The interest of this
publication as understood at the time, lay in its witness against
transubstantiation. It was reprinted at Oxford by Leon Lichfield, 1675.

In 1571 the Saxon Gospels were published by John Fox, who acknowledges
obligations to Parker in his preface. This book was reprinted at Dort,
in 1665, by Marshall, who was afterwards rector of Lincoln College, in

In 1574 appeared Parker's edition of Asser's Life of Alfred, and we read
in Strype that "of this edition of Asserius there had been great
expectation among the learned." We can add, that of this edition the
interest is not yet extinct.

How far Parker's books were done by himself and how far he was dependent
on his literary assistants, is a question of little importance. No
doubt, a great deal of it was the work of his secretary, Joscelin. We
look at Parker as a master builder, not as a journeyman. The name of
Joscelin meets us often when we are following the footsteps of those
times. His writing is seen on many a manuscript, and we have to thank
him for much valuable information. It is chiefly through his annotations
that we know the external and local relations of our several Saxon
chronicles.[24] In August, 1565, he was at St. Augustine's, Canterbury;
and there he found the old transcript of the first life of St. Dunstan,
which is now in the Cotton Library.[25]

But the chief labourers and reconstructors of the first movement were
William Camden (b. 1551--d. 1623), and Sir Henry Spelman (b. 1562--d.
1641). The name of Camden's "Britannia" is still alive, and is familiar
as a household word with all who explore even a little beyond the beaten
track. But it is otherwise with Sir Henry Spelman, whose studies were
more recondite, and to whom Abraham Wheloc looked back as to "the hero
of Anglo-Saxon literature." His "Glossary" was a work of vast compass,
and for it he corresponded much with learned men abroad; among others
with the famous Northern antiquary, Olaus Wormius, the author of
"Literatura Runica," of which he sent Spelman a copy in October,
1636.[26] His son, Sir John Spelman, wrote the "Life of King Alfred."
Before he died, Sir Henry Spelman founded an Anglo-Saxon chair at
Cambridge; and the first occupant of it was Abraham Wheloc, who edited
Bede in 1643 and with it that Saxon Chronicle which was burnt in 1731.
In 1644 he edited the Anglo-Saxon Laws. His successor was William Somner
(b. 1606--d. 1669), who produced the first Anglo-Saxon dictionary. So
this foundation was not unfruitful. But the chair fell into abeyance,
until it was restored by Dr. Bosworth, and filled by Professor Skeat.

This, the first movement of reconstruction, had its seat in Cambridge,
under the shadow of Archbishop Parker's library. The next advance,
dating from the middle of the seventeenth century, grew in Oxford, and
was connected with the sojourn of Junius in this place. He was much at
the Bodleian, and he is said to have lodged opposite Lincoln College. He
was a fellow-labourer with Dr. Marshall, the rector of that college, in
the Mæso-Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels which they printed at Dordrecht,
1665. This Oxford period may be said to have culminated in the work of
George Hickes, Nonjuror and Saxonist (b. 1642--d. 1715), the author of
the massive "Thesaurus Linguarum Septentrionalium," Oxford, 1705, a
monument of diligence and insight, to which was appended a work of the
greatest utility and necessity,--the idea was Hickes's, as was also much
of the sustaining energy,--Humphrey Wanley's catalogue of Anglo-Saxon
manuscripts. We must not omit Edmund Gibson (b. 1669--d. 1748), who in
early life produced his admirable "Chronicon Saxonicum," amplifying the
work of Wheloc, and embodying for the first time the Peterborough
manuscript. He was afterwards bishop of London. In 1750 Richard
Rawlinson gave rents of the yearly value of £87. 16s. 8d. to the
University of Oxford, for the maintenance and support of an Anglo-Saxon
lecture or professorship for ever.

Up to this time it might still be said of the collections that they were
just stored in bulk as goods are stored in great magazines; there was
much to explore and to learn. Important discoveries still remained to be
made by explorers in these and other collections. Wanley's catalogue had
somewhat the effect of running a line of road through a fertile but
unfrequented land; and Conybeare's "Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon
Poetry," published in 1826, fruit of the Oxford chair, had a great
effect in calling the attention of the educated, and more than any other
book in the present century has served as the introduction to Saxon

It was not until the close of the eighteenth century that the "Beowulf"
was discovered. Wanley had catalogued it, but without any idea of the
real nature of the book. Thorkelin was, however, attracted from Denmark;
he came and transcribed it, and prepared an edition which was nearly
ready in 1808, when his house was burnt in the bombardment of
Copenhagen. But he began again, and lived to see his name to the Editio
Princeps of "Beowulf," at a time when there were few who knew or cared
for his work. He left two transcripts, which are now our highest source
in many passages of the poem. The original having been scorched in the
fire of 1731, the edges of the leaves went on cracking away, so that
many words which were near the margins and which are now gone, passed
under the eye of Thorkelin.

In 1832, a learned German, Dr. Blume, discovered at Vercelli, in North
Italy, a thick volume containing Anglo-Saxon homilies, and some sacred
poems of great beauty. The poems were copied and printed under the care
of Mr. Thorpe, by the Record Commission, in a book known as the
"Appendix to Mr. Cooper's Report on the Fœdera," a book that became
famous through the complaints that were made because of the long years
during which it was kept back. A few privileged persons got copies, and
when Grimm, in 1840, published the two chief poems of the new find, the
Andreas and the Elene, which he had extracted from Lappenberg's copy, he
had a little fling at "die Recorders," as if they kept the book to
themselves for a rarity to deck their own shelves withal. The poems are
six in number: 1. A Legend of St. Andrew; 2. The Fortunes of the Twelve
Apostles; 3. The Departed Soul's Address to the Body; 4. A Fragment; 5.
A Dream of the Holy Rood; 6. Elene, or The Invention of the Cross.

In 1851 the first notice of a book of homilies older than Ælfric,--the
property of the Marquis of Lothian, and preserved in the library of
Blickling Hall, Norfolk,--was made public by Mr. Godwin in the
transactions of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society.[27]

In 1860 was discovered the valuable fragment of an epic poem on King
Waldhere, and the manner of the find shall be told in the words of
Professor George Stephens, which I quote from the Editio Princeps of
"Waldhere," published by him in the same year. "On the 12th of January,
1860, Professor E.C. Werlauff, Chief Librarian of the Great National
Library, Cheapinghaven [Copenhagen], was engaged in sorting some bundles
of papers, parchment leaves, and fragments, mostly taken from books, or
book-backs, which had not hitherto been arranged. While thus occupied,
he lighted upon two vellum leaves of great antiquity, and bearing an Old
English text. He kindly communicated the discovery to me, and the
present work is the result."



of the Anglo-Saxon period exist both in the learned and the vernacular
language. It is peculiarly interesting, when an inscription is exhumed
that gives us back a contemporary monument, however slight, of that
Anglian Church which was the first-fruit of Christianity in our nation.
About twenty years ago, a stone was found at Wearmouth which had been
buried in the ruins of the monastery ever since the ninth century, and
which came up fresh and clear in almost every letter, bearing, "Hic in
sepulcro requiescit corpore Hereberecht prb.[28] (Here in this tomb
Hereberecht presbiter rests in the body)." A fine inscription from
Deerhurst, in Gloucestershire, is now among the Arundel Marbles at
Oxford. It is printed in Parker's "Glossary of Architecture," and in my
Saxon Chronicles. Often the interest of these Latin inscriptions is
enhanced by a strong touch of the vernacular showing through. This is
the case on a fine monumental stone in Mortimer Church.


there is one at Lincoln, in the tower of St. Mary-le-Wigford Church.
Into this tower, which is of early date, a Roman pagan monument (Diis
Manibus, &c.) is walled, and, on the triangular gable of the stone, a
Saxon inscription has been carved. It is imperfect, but the general
sense is clear. It must be read from the lowest and longest line upwards
to the apex. It says: "Eirtig caused me to be made and endowed in honour
of Christ and St. Mary." Perhaps the tower, or even the church, is the
speaker. The founder's name is much defaced: I have adopted the reading
of Rev. J. Wordsworth, who has bestowed attention on this stone.

A fragment of a similar inscription, but much more copious, was found at
St. Mary's, York, and is described in Hübner, No. 175.

But the most characteristic of the vernacular inscriptions are those on
sun-dials. There are no less than three of these in the North Riding of
Yorkshire; viz., at Old Byland, and at Edstow near Pickering, and at
Kirkdale.[29] The last is fullest and most perfect, and is, moreover,
dated. It bears: "+ Orm Gamalson bought the minster of S. Gregory when
it was all to broken and to fallen, and he it let make anew from ground
for Christ and S. Gregory in the days of Edward the King and Tosti the
Earl. + and Hawarth wrought me and Brand presbiter. + This is day's
sun-marker, hour by hour."

The poetical inscription in Runes, on the Ruthwell Cross, is too large a
subject for this place.[30]


The Anglo-Saxons retained an old tradition of decorative art, and they
had among them skilful jewellers. Several specimens have been found, and
are to be seen in museums; but the noblest of all these is that which is
known as the Alfred Jewel.

The Alfred Jewel was discovered in Newton Park, near Athelney, in the
year 1693, and it found its way to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford by the
year 1718, where it still rests. It consists of an enamelled figure
enshrined in a golden frame, with a golden back to it, and with a thick
piece of rock crystal in front to serve as a glass to the picture.
Imagine a longitudinal section of a pigeon's egg, and let the golden
plate at the back of our jewel represent the plane of the egg's
diameter. From this plane, if we measure three-quarters of an inch in
the girth of the egg, and then take another section parallel to the gold
plate at the back, we obtain the front surface of the crystal through
which the enamelled figure is visible. The smaller end of our oval
section is prolonged and is fashioned like the head of a boar. The snout
forms a socket, as if to fit on to a peg or dole; a cross-pin, to fix
the socket to the dole, is still in place. Around the sloping rim, which
remains, the following legend is wrought in the fabric: ÆLFRED MEC HEHT
GEWYRCEAN (Alfred me commanded to make). The language of the legend
agrees perfectly with the age of King Alfred, and it seems to be the
unhesitating opinion of all those who have investigated the subject that
it was a personal ornament of the great West Saxon king. As to the
manner of wearing it, and as to the signification of the enamelled
figure, there has been the greatest diversity of opinion. Sir Francis
Palgrave suggested that the figure was older than the setting. Perhaps
it was a sacred object, and perhaps one of the presents of Pope Marinus,
or some other potentate; and that the mounting was intended to adapt it
for fixture in the rim of a helmet or crown over the centre of the royal
brow. By its side, in the same glass case, there lies a gold ornament
of far simpler design, but of like adaptation.


This is the branch of Saxon art which is best represented by extant
remains. That the specimens are numerous may be gathered from what has
been said above in the description of manuscripts. There are two
periods, and the change takes place with the revival of learning in the
reign of Edgar. In the earlier period, the drawings and the decorations
are of the same general type as the Irish illuminated books, and it has
been thought that our artists had learnt their art from the Irish; but
now there is a disposition to see in this art a type common to both
islands, and to call it British. The Lindisfarne Gospels (A.D.
710) offer the best example of this kind. In the tenth century, Frankish
art was much imitated, and the Saxon style was altered. But the Saxons,
in their imitations, displayed originality; and they developed a
gorgeous form of decoration, which was recognised as a distinct style,
and was known on the Continent as English work (_opus Anglicum_). The
typical specimen of this kind is the Benedictional of Æthelwold (between
963 and 970). From the same cause, the character of the penmanship also
passes through a corresponding change, but more gradually and


Of Saxon architecture there are many traces; we will take but a few.

The cathedral at Canterbury was an old church, which had been built by
Christians under the Romans, and which Augustine, by the king's help,
recovered, and consecrated as the Church of St. Saviour;[32] in later
times it came to be called Christ Church. This building lasted all
through the Saxon period; it was enlarged by Abbot Odo, about 950, and
was finally pulled down by Lanfranc, in 1070. But there exists a written
description of this old church by a man who had seen it,--namely, Eadmer
the Precentor, who was a diligent collector of traditions concerning his
cathedral. What makes his description especially valuable to the
architectural historian is the fact that he compares it to St. Peter's
at Rome, and he had been to Rome in company with Anselm. Now, although
the old Basilica at Rome was destroyed in the sixteenth century, yet
plans and drawings which were made before its demolition are preserved
in the Vatican: and, with all these data before him, Professor Willis
reconstructed the plan of the metropolitan church of the Saxon
period.[33] In certain features he used, moreover, the evidence of the
ancient Saxon church at Brixworth.[34]

Not only from models left in Britain by the Romans, but also through
the frequent visits of our ecclesiastics to Rome, it naturally happened
that the Saxon architecture was imitated from the Roman. Nevertheless,
the Anglo-Saxons appear to have developed a style of their own. Sir
Gilbert Scott in his posthumous Essays characterises this early church
architecture by two features--the square termination of the east end,
and the west end position of the tower. This was quite insular, and not
to be found in Roman patterns. In Professor Willis's plan of the first
cathedral at Canterbury the east and west ends are both apsidal, and the
two towers are placed on the north and south sides of the nave.

The great discovery, a few years ago, of the Saxon chapel at
Bradford-on-Avon, and the successful way in which it was cleared and
detached from other buildings by Canon Jones, has not only given us so
complete an example of Saxon church architecture as we had nothing like
it before, but it has also improved our faculty of recognising Saxon
work in fragmentary relics, and, if I may so speak, of pulling them all
together. A remarkable passage in William of Malmesbury records that
Aldhelm built a little church (_ecclesiola_) in this place; and the
possibility that this may be that very church is not rejected by the
best judges. Aldhelm died in 709.

Of Saxon construction a chief peculiarity is that which is called "longs
and shorts." It occurs in coins of towers, in panelling work, and
sometimes in door jambs.[35] Of the latter, a fine example occurs at
Laughton, near Maltby, not many miles distant from Sheffield. What makes
this latter instance more peculiarly interesting, is the fact that over
the churchyard wall on the west, in a small grass field, traditionally
called the Castle Field, there is the well-preserved plan of a Saxon
lordly mansion. The circuit of the earthwork is almost complete, and at
a point in the enceinte there rises the mound on which was pitched the
garrison of the little castle. I use the term castle, as the habits of
the language now require, and as it is expressed in the name of the
spot. But, indeed, castles were little known in England before the
Conquest; had it been otherwise, the Conquest would not have been so
easy.[36] The name and the thing came in with the Normans. Yet there
were ancient places of security, and their great feature was an earthen
mound, upon which a wooden building was pitched. The Saxon mounds often
became, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Freeman, the kernel of the Norman
castle. And there was a traditional method of fortification for the
houses of great men of which Laughton is an example.


There are several pieces of Anglo-Saxon sculpture extant; and they are
not hard to recognise, because of the peculiar lines of drawing with
which we are already familiar in the illuminated manuscripts. In the
Saxon chapel at Bradford-on-Avon there are two angels, of life size, or
larger, carved in relief on stone. They appear in the wall high above
the chancel arch, towards the nave; and it is supposed from the distance
between them, and from their facing one another, that there was once a
holy rood placed between them, towards which they were in attendance.

In Bristol Cathedral there is a remarkable piece of Saxon sculpture,
representing a human figure, life size, apparently the Saviour,
delivering a small figure, as it were a soul, out of the mouth of the
dragon. This is carved on the upper side of the massive lid of a stone
coffin. It was discovered about forty years ago, and it may be seen in
the vestry within the Norman chapter-house, where it is masoned into the
wall over the chimney-piece.


The Saxon graves have yielded many illustrative objects, especially
weapons and personal ornaments, pottery, and glass.[37]

The Saxon graves were first systematically explored by Bryan Faussett,
of Heppington, in Kent (b. 1720--d. 1776); who was called by his
contemporaries "the British Montfaucon." He is unequalled for the extent
of his excavations, and the distinctness of his well-kept chronicle.
After him, in the next generation, came an interpreter, who was also a
great excavator; James Douglas, author of "Nenia Britannica," 1793. The
Faussett collection is in Liverpool, the Douglas collection (most of it)
in Oxford.

In more recent times the general accuracy of the results has been
established by means of comparative researches. The tumuli in the old
mother country of the Saxons have been examined, and their affinity with
our Saxon graves has been determined beyond question; while a parallel
comparison has also been instituted between the Frankish graves in
France, and the ancestral Frankish graves in old Franconia over the
Rhine. Thus it is well known what interments are really Saxon.

The chronology of the varieties of interment is not, however, so
completely ascertained. In the boundaries of property from the tenth
century and onwards we find repeated mention of "heathen burial-places,"
and it has perhaps been too readily inferred that all the Saxon graves
in the open country unconnected with churches are older than the
Conversion. Mr. Kemble investigated this subject, and he came to the
conclusion that the cinerary urns were heathen, but that the whole
interments were Christian. His observations were made chiefly in the old
mother country, which lies between the Rhine, the Elbe, and the Main. He
identified the change from cremation to inhumation with that from
heathenism to Christianity.

The tumular relics of different parts of England suggest old tribal
distinctions of costume and apparel. In Kent the fibulæ are circular and
highly ornamented, but these are sparingly found beyond the area of the
earliest settlers. From Suffolk to Leicestershire the fibulæ are mostly
bridge-shaped. A third variety, the concave or saucer-shaped, is found
in Berkshire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, and Gloucestershire. It is,
however, possible that these distinctions may be partly chronological.

The most splendid fibula known is of the first kind. It was exhumed by
Bryan Faussett, 5th August, 1771, on Kingston Down in Kent, from a deep
grave containing numerous relics, and such as indicated a lady of
distinction. The Kingston fibula is circular, entirely of gold, richly
set with garnets and turquoise; it is 3½ inches in diameter, ¼ inch
in thickness, and weighs 6 oz. 5 dwt. 18 gr. This is the gem of all
Saxon tumular antiquities, and it rests with the other Faussett finds in
the Mayer collection at Liverpool. Near it was found a golden
neck-ornament, weighing 2 dwt. 7 gr. These and other like examples,
though less splendid, from the graves of Saxon ladies, are good
illustrations of the poetic epithet "gold-adorned," which is repeatedly
applied to women of high degree.

The Saxon pottery is known to us by the burial urns. These are marked by
a local character for the various districts, but still with a generic
resemblance, which is based upon the comprehensive fact that although
they appear like inferior copies from Roman work, yet they are at the
same time like the urns found in Old Saxony and Franconia.

The glass drinking-vessels are very peculiar, and they are noticed as
such in the poetry.[38] The hooped buckets that have been found in men's
graves only, seem also to answer to expressions in convivial

Of the tumular remains this general remark may be made, that they richly
illustrate the elder poetry. The abundance and variety of the objects
which remain after so long a time unperished, give a strong impression
of the lavish generosity with which the dead were sent on their way.
Answering to these finds there are two descriptions in the "Beowulf,"
one in the beginning where the mythic hero Scyld Scefing is (not buried
but) shipped off to sea; and the other the funeral of Beowulf with which
the poem closes.

The graves also afford illustration negative as well as positive. The
comparative rarity of swords is a fact that has been particularly
remarked. This too agrees with the poetry in which there are swords of
fame, which are known by their own proper names, and which have an
established pedigree of illustrious owners at the head of which often
stands the name of the divine fabricator, Weland. Perhaps it would not
be too much to say that affinity with the tumular deposits is one of the
notes of the primary poetry.


[11] "Palæographia Sacra Pictoria."

[12] "Leland's laboryouse journey and serche for Englandes antiquities,
given as a newe years gifte to King Henry VIII., enlarged by John Bale."
London. 1549.

[13] This is curiously confirmed by the discovery of Waldhere, described

[14] As this fire is one that the student is only too often reminded of,
a few details may be acceptable. A committee was appointed by the House
of Commons to view the Cotton Library after this disaster, and we learn
from their Report (1732, folio) that "114 volumes are either lost,
burnt, or entirely spoiled, and 98 others damaged so as to be defective;
so that the said library at present consists of 746 entire volumes and
98 defective ones." The collection when purchased had contained 958
volumes. Of late years great pains have been taken for the preservation
of the fragments by careful mounting.

[15] Photographed by the Early English Text Society, 1883.

[16] "Die Sprache des Kentischen Psalters," von Rudolf Zeuner. Halle,
1882. Referring to Mr. Sweet, in Transactions of Philological Society,

[17] "The Gospels of the fower Evangelistes, translated in the olde
Saxons tyme out of Latin into the vulgare toung of the Saxons, newly
collected out of Auncient Monumentes of the sayd Saxons, and now
published for testimonie of the same." At London. Printed by Iohn Daye,
dwelling ouer Aldersgate, 1571.

[18] See Scrivener, "Introduction to Criticism of New Testament," ed. 2,
p. 147.

[19] "Harmonia Symbolica," Oxford, 1858, p. 61.

[20] Westwood, "Facsimiles," p. 123.

[21] It was to have been edited by Professor Buckley for the Ælfric
Society, but that society closed its career too soon.

[22] They were arranged by Kemble; and have recently been facsimiled by
the Ordnance Survey, under the editorship of Mr. W. Basevi Sanders.

[23] Fully described by Mr. W.B. Sanders in the "Annual Report for 1873
of the Deputy Keeper of Public Records," p. 271 ff.

[24] See the particulars in "Two Saxon Chronicles Parallel." Clarendon
Press, 1865. Introduction, pp. vii., xxv., xxviii.

[25] Stubbs, "Memorials of Saint Dunstan," p. xxx.

[26] "The Englishman and the Scandinavian," by Frederick Metcalfe, M.A.,
1880, p. 11.

[27] In 1880 these Homilies were edited by Dr. Morris, for the Early
English Text Society, under the name of "The Blickling Homilies."

[28] Hübner, 197.

[29] Hübner, 179, 180, 181.

[30] Kemble, "Archæologia," Anno 1843; Stephens, "Runic Monuments," p.

[31] Westwood, "Palæographia Sacra Pictoria," and "Facsimiles of
Miniatures from Irish and Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts."

[32] Beda, "Church History," i., 33.

[33] "The Architectural History of Canterbury Cathedral," 1845, p. 27.

[34] "The church at Brixworth has plainly had its walls raised, and a
clerestory with windows added, even in the Saxon period; assuming that
midwall baluster-shafts are to be received as characteristics of this
period, for a triple window with such shafts was inserted in the western
wall when the walls were so raised." _Ibid._, p. 30. See also Haddan and
Stubbs, i., 38.

[35] Some of the churches in which these features may be observed are
Deerhurst in Gloucestershire; Earl's Barton, Northants; Benet church in
Cambridge; Sompting in Sussex. Figured illustrations may be seen in
Parker's "Introduction to Gothic Architecture."

[36] Freeman, N.C., ii., 605; "Reign of Rufus" i., 49.

[37] These are described and figured in Bryan Faussett's "Inventorium
Sepulchrale," ed. Roach Smith; Wylie, "Fairford Graves"; Neville, "Saxon
Obsequies"; Akerman, "Pagan Saxondom"; Kemble, "Horæ Ferales."

[38] "The Celt, the Roman, and the Saxon," by T. Wright, p. 424.



    For many a petty king ere Arthur came
    ruled in this isle, and ever waging war
    each upon other, wasted all the land;
    and still from time to time the heathen host
    swarm'd over seas, and harried what was left.
    And so there grew great tracts of wilderness,
    wherein the beast was ever more and more,
    but man was less and less, till Arthur came.
    For first Aurelius lived and fought and died,
    and after him king Uther fought and died,
    but either fail'd to make the kingdom one.
    And after these king Arthur for a space,
    and thro' the puissance of his Table round,
    drew all their petty princedoms under him,
    their king and head, and made a realm, and reign'd.

                               ALFRED TENNYSON, _The Coming of Arthur_.

For the first hundred and fifty years of their life in this island our
ancestors were heathens. This time has no place in the English memory
through any legendary or literary tradition that is associated with the
Saxons. The legends of this time which retain a place in literature are
not Saxon but British. This is the era of Arthur and the Knights of the
Round Table. There is no book or piece of Saxon literature that can in
any substantial sense be ascribed to the heathen period; for I cannot go
with those who assign this high antiquity to the "Beowulf."

There is a book that claims to be a product of this time, but it is
neither Saxon nor heathen. It bears the name of Gildas, a Briton, and it
is a fervently Christian book, written in Latin. It has two parts, one
being a Lament of the Ruin of Britain, the other a Denunciation of the
conduct of her princes. Its genuineness has been questioned, and it has
also been ably defended.[39] The strong point in favour of the book is,
that it existed and was reputed genuine before the time of Bede, who
used it as an authority, and cited it by the author's name, saying that
"Gildas, their [the Britons'] historian," describes such and such evils
in his "lamentable discourse."[40] Through Bede the information of
Gildas has fallen into the stream of English history, and we cease to be
aware of the original source. For example, the familiar tradition of the
Saxons coming over in "three keels," ordinarily ascribed to Bede, is
taken from Gildas. The date of this author and his work, as now
generally accepted, is this:--That he was born in 520, the year of the
battle of Mons Badonicus, and that he wrote about 564. But this rests on
an ill-jointed and uncertain passage, which was misunderstood by Bede,
if the modern interpretation is right.

And when we come to look into that Saxon literature which was
subsequently developed, the traces of the heathen period are
unexpectedly scanty, and the very remembrance of heathenism though not
abolished seems already wonderfully remote. But notwithstanding all
this, we cannot treat the subject of Anglo-Saxon literature in any
satisfactory manner without some consideration of the heathen period.
For, on the one hand, history requires it as a background, and the only
appropriate background to our story of the subsequent culture; and, on
the other hand, we shall find, by putting the scattered fragments
together, that such an impression may be gained as is at least
sufficient for a subsidiary purpose.

Among the extant Saxon writings there is one and only one book, in which
we detect some possible work of this period. This is in the Chronicles.
Between A.D. 450 and 600 we have a sprinkling of curious annals
that are naturally calculated to rivet the attention. They are certainly
of a very distinct and peculiar cast, and it has been thought that they
may possibly represent (through much disguise of transcription) some
kind of contemporary records of the heathen period, whether the original
shape was that of ballads, or of annals kept in Runes.

These annals are characterised by an occasional touch of poetic fervour,
and by several local details which are stimulating to modern curiosity.
A few examples may be useful:--

455. Here[41] Hengest and Horsa fought against Wyrtgeorn, the king, in
the place that is called Agælesthrep; and his brother Horsa was slain;
and after that Hengest took to the kingdom, and Æsc, his son.

457. Here Hengest and Æsc fought against the Brettas in the place that
is called Crecganford; and there they slew 4,000 men; and the Brets then
abandoned Kentland, and in great terror fled to Londonbury.

473. Here Hengest and Æsc fought against the Walas: and they took
countless spoil: and the Walas fled the Engles like fire.

491. Here Ælle and Cissa beset Andredescester, and slew all those that
therein dwelt: there was not so much as one Bret remaining.

571. Here Cuthwulf fought with the Bretwalas at Bedcanford, and took
four towns: Lygeanburg and Ægelesburg (Aylesbury), Bænesingtun
(Bensington) and Egonesham (Ensham).

584. Here Ceawlin and Cutha fought against the Brettas, in the place
that is named Fethanleag; and Cutha was slain. And Ceawlin took many
towns and countless spoils; and in wrath he returned thence to his own.

There is about these entries something remote and primitive, and
something, too, of a contemporaneous form, that penetrates even through
the folds of a modern dress.

If we would gather an idea of the religious sentiments of that heathen
time, two sources are open to us:--1. Classical authors, especially
Cæsar and Tacitus; 2. Incidental notices in domestic writings after the
establishment of Christianity. In regard to both these sources we must
regulate our expectations in accordance with the circumstances.

1. Cæsar and Tacitus wrote of Germany at large, and not of our
particular tribes in the north-west; yet they naturally touch some
leading points which are of interest for us here. As to their religion,
Cæsar formed a totally different opinion from Tacitus. According to the
former, the Germans knew only those visible and palpably useful gods,
the Sun and the Moon, and Fire; they had never even heard of any others
by report. Tacitus, on the contrary, says, that they worship Hercules
and Mars, and, above all, Mercury; that, at the same time, their
religious sense is eminently spiritual, for they repudiate the thought
of enshrining the celestials within walls, or representing them by the
human form; that they venerate groves and forest-glades, and that by the
names of their gods they understand mysterious beings visible only to
the inward and reverential sight. These estimates are diametrically
opposed, and they have been used by an eminent writer to illustrate the
difficulty of getting at the truth about the religion of barbarians. But
it should be remembered that a long interval had elapsed between Cæsar
and Tacitus; an interval, moreover, that was likely to work some, if not
all, of the changes required to make these estimates compatible with one

Tacitus informs us about the god Tuisco, whose name we still keep in
Tuesday;[42] about the supremacy of Mercurius,[43] that is, of Woden;
and about the form of the boar as a sacred symbol, which was worn on the
person for a charm against danger.[44] He also relates the hideous
ceremony of a goddess Nerthus, or Mother Earth, who makes her occasional
progresses in a wagon drawn by cows, the attendants being slaves who,
when the rite is done, are all drowned in a mysterious lake.[45]

2. From the second source we might have expected more than we find.
Knowing that the new religion was not established without struggles and
delays and relapses, we might have expected that the traces of the dying
superstition would have been numerous in Anglo-Saxon literature. And if
we had the domestic writings that were produced in the first Christian
ardour, such an expectation might have been partially fulfilled. But in
any case we should not expect too much from early and unformed
literature. It is the mature fruit of long cultivation to produce a
literature that reflects the present. Almost all early literature is
conventional, because the spontaneous is not esteemed and is not
preserved. But whatever might have happened under other conditions, the
fact now is that the literature of our first Christian era is almost
entirely lost. It perished in the Danish invasions. The works of Beda
are, indeed, preserved, and in one sense they make a large exception to
the general statement, yet the exception is not one that is of great
import for our immediate purpose. His works, even when he is upon a
local subject, breathe little of local curiosity or interest. His was a
cloistered life, his view was ever directed through the vista of books
and learned correspondence towards the central heart of Christianity,
and he deigned but rarely to cast a look behind him at the old
superstitions of his people. His writings, which are all in Latin,
contribute something, but it is little, towards our knowledge of Saxon
heathendom. We are indebted to him for an explicit statement about the
meaning of the word "Easter." It is as follows:--"_Rhedmonath_ is so
called from their goddess _Rheda_, to whom in that month they
sacrificed.... With the people of my nation, the old folk of the Angles,
the month of April, which is now styled Paschal Month, had formerly the
name of _Esturmonath_, after a goddess of theirs who was called
_Eostra_, and whose festival is kept in that month; and they still
designate the Paschal Season from her name, by force of old religious
habit keeping the same name for the new solemnity."[46] This is a sample
of what Beda might have told us about the old heathendom, if he had made
it a subject of inquiry. The information is the more valuable because it
was not forthcoming from any other source. The Germans have an obscure
trace of _Retmonat_; and their _ôstarmânoth_, which remains as a German
name for April (Ostermonat) to the present day, is found as early as
Eginhard, the biographer of Charlemagne. But of the deities there is no
information anywhere but in Beda. The name of Easter appears related to
"East" and the growing strength of the sun. In the Edda a male being, a
spirit of light, bears the name of _Austri_: the German and Saxon tribes
seem to have known only a female divinity in this sense. A being with
attributes taken from the Dawn and from the Spring of the year, so full
of promise and of blessing, might well be tenaciously remembered and
retained for Christian use.

We will now proceed to notice the sources which preserve some relics of
the old heathenism.


bear the greatest testimony to the former dignity of Woden's name. The
royal houses of Kent, Essex, Deira, Bernicia, Wessex, East Anglia,
Mercia,--all trace up to Woden. Some go up far above Woden, who has a
series of mythological progenitors, the oldest of whom appears to be
Scyld, the name which forms the starting-point of the "Beowulf."


In the Kentish code of Wihtræd (d. 725) there are penalties set down for
those who sacrifice to devils, meaning heathen gods.

But, on the whole, it is remarkable how little is found on this subject
in the codes before Alfred. In the Introduction to Alfred's Laws
idolatry is forbidden in two places, not in words of the time, but with
the sanction of Scripture texts.

In the Laws of Edward and Guthrum heathenism is denounced with
penalties; in the Codes of Æthelred it is forbidden in a hortatory way;
but the most explicit prohibition is that of Canute:--

"5. Of Heathenism. And we strictly forbid all heathenism. It is
heathenism for a man to worship idols,--that is, to worship heathen
gods, and the sun or moon, fire or flood, water-wells or stones, or any
kind of wood-trees, or practise witchcraft, or contrive murder by

The latter words seem to point to that form of sorcery known as
_defixio_, wherein an effigy was maltreated, and incantations were used
to direct the injury against the life or health of some private enemy,
whom the image was taken to represent.


In the Canons of Ælfric, c. 35, priests are not to attend funereal
festivities unless they are invited; and if they are invited, they are
to forbid the heathen songs of the lewd men, and their loud
cachinnations; and they are not to eat or drink where the corpse is
deposited (thær thæt lic inne lith), lest they be partakers of the
heathen rite which is there celebrated. This seems to be illustrated by
a prohibition found in the Capitularies of Charlemagne against eating
and drinking over the mounds of the dead; and also by a passage of
Boniface (Epist. 71), who says that the Franks immolated bulls and goats
to the gods, and ate the sacrifices of the dead. It has been supposed
that a number of teeth, of oxen and sheep or goats, which were found
among heathen Saxon graves at Harnham, near Salisbury, might be evidence
of this practice.[47]

In the "Laws of the Northumbrian Priests," c. 48, it is enacted:--"If
there be a sanctuary (frith-geard) in any one's land, about a stone, or
a tree, or a wall, or any such vanity, let him that made it pay a fine
(lah-slit), half to Christ, half to the landlord (land-rica); and if the
landlord will not aid in executing the law, then let Christ and the king
receive the mulct."


preserves many traces of heathendom. The unconscious relics of old
mythology that are imbedded in the recurrent formulæ of the heroic
diction is one of our strongest proofs that this diction was already
matured in heathen times. A very prominent term is Wyrd = Destiny, Fate;
which is the same as the Urðr of the Scandian mythology, one of the
three fates, Urðr, Werðandi, Skuld = Past, Present, Future. In Wyrd, the
whole of the attributes are included under one name; and it counts among
the marks of affinity between the Heliand and our Anglo-Saxon
literature, that the same thing is observed there also, though in a less
distinct manner. In the "Beowulf" it is said:--"Wyrd often keeps alive
the man who is not destined to die, if his courage is equal to the
occasion." Wyrd is said to weave, to prescribe, to ordain, to delude, to
hurt. In Cædmon she is wælgrim = bloodthirsty. And the heathen
association may still be felt, even when the name of Wyrd is displaced
by a name of the Christian's God, as in "Beowulf" where we read:--"The
Lord gave him webs to speed in war."[48] In the Heliand the attributes
are less varied, the vaticination is wanting, and _Wurð_ seems almost
the same as Death.

But the old tradition of the three mysterious women lived on in this
island. It is now best known to us through the German Fairy Tales, where
we have the three spinning women. In the Middle Ages there was a
remembrance of these mysterious visitants in a certain ceremony of
spreading a table for three, whether for protection to the house at
night, or to bring good luck to the children born in that house. In the
Penitential of Baldwin, Bishop of Exeter (twelfth century), this
superstition is noted, and the latter motive assigned.

The monks of Evesham kept up a tradition which traced the origin of
their house to a vision of three beautiful maidens, in heavenly
garments, sweetly singing. They were seen by a swineherd in the forest,
when he was in search of a lost swine, and he went to Bishop Ecgwine and
told him. The bishop arrived at the place, was favoured with the same
vision, and founded the monastery there. The device on the abbey seal
represented this vision.

A less pleasing vision of the Three Sisters is narrated by Wulfstan of
Winchester, a poet of the tenth century, who has left us a Latin poem of
the Miracles of St. Swithun. In it he tells how, coming back one evening
towards Winchester, he was met by two hideous females, who commanded him
to stop, but he ran away in terror; he was then met and stopped by a
third, who struck him a blow from which he suffered for the remainder of
his life; but the three women plunged into the river and disappeared.

The same three appear in _Macbeth_ as the Weird Sisters; and it is
probably from this connexion that _weird_ has become an adjective for
all that savours of heathenism.

A frequent word for battle and carnage is _wæl_, and the root idea of
this word is choice, which may be illustrated from the German
_wählen_--to choose. The heathen idea was that Woden chose those who
should fall in battle to dwell with him in Walhalla, the Hall of the
chosen. In the exercise of this choice, Woden acted by female
messengers, called in the Norse mythology _valkyrja_, pl.

All superior works in metal, as swords, coats of mail, jewels, are the
productions of Weland, the smith. His father is called Wudga, and his
son is called Wada; and with this child on his shoulder Weland strides
through water nine yards deep. This was matter of popular song down to
Chaucer's time:--

    He songe, she playede, he told a tale of Wade.

                                     "Troylus and Crescyde," iii., 615.

He had by Beadohild another son, in German named Witeche, who inherited
his father's skill and renown. For his violence to Beadohild, Weland was
lamed; but he made for himself a winged garment, wherewith he took his
flight through the air. He is at once the Daidalos and the Hephaistos
of the Greeks. The translator of the Boethian Metres has taken occasion
to bring in this heathen god, whose cult (it seems) was still too
active. In Metre ii., 7, where Boethius has the line--

    Ubi nunc fidelis ossa Fabricii manent?

under colour of _faber_ = smith, which the name Fabricius suggests,
Weland is made a fruitful text:--

    Hwær sind nu thæs wisan
      Welandes ban,
    thæs goldsmithes
      the wæs gio mærost?
    Forthy ic cwæth thæs wisan
      Welandes ban,
    forthy ængum ne mæg
    se craft losian
      the him Crist onlænth.
    Ne mæg mon æfre
      thy eth ænne wræccan
    his craftes beniman
      the mon oncerran mæg
    sunnan on swifan
      and thisne swiftan rodor
    of his riht ryne
      rinca ænig.
    Hwa wat nu thæs wisan
      Welandes ban,
    on hwelcum hi hlæwa
      hrusan theccen?

         Where now are the bones
           of Weland the wise,
         that goldsmith
           so glorious of yore?
         Why name I the bones
           of Weland the wise,
         but to tell you the truth
           that none upon earth
         can e'er lose the craft
           that is lent him by Christ?
         Vain were it to try,
           e'en a vagabond man
         of his craft to bereave;
           as vain as to turn
         the sun in his course
           and the swift wheeling sky
         from his stated career--
           it cannot be done.
         Who now wots of the bones
           of Weland the wise,
         or which is the barrow
           that banks them?

One of the most striking points of contact between our relics of
mythology and those of the Edda occurs in the "Beowulf," where mention
is made of the famous necklace of the Brosings (or, as Grimm would
correct, Brisings).

In the Edda the goddess Freyja is the owner of a precious necklace,
called _Brîsinga men_. She had acquired this jewel from the dwarfs, and
she kept it in an inaccessible chamber, but, nevertheless, it was stolen
from her by Loki. Therefore Loki is _Brîsings thiofr_, the thief of the
Brising necklace; and Heimdallr fought with Loki for it. When Freyja is
angry the heaving of this ornament betrays her emotion. When Thôrr, to
get his hammer back, disguises himself as Freyja, he fails not to put on
her famous necklace. From its mention in Anglo-Saxon poetry, Grimm would
infer the familiarity of the Saxon race with the whole story.[50]

But what adds vastly to the interest of this legend is that we find it
in Homer. It is essentially the same with the belt of Aphrodite (Hymn,
l. 88). In Iliad xiv., 214, Aphrodite takes it off and lends it to Hêrê
to charm Zeus withal. When we add that just above in the same context
(Iliad xiv., 165) Hêrê also has a curiously contrived chamber, made for
her by Hephaistos (Vulcan), the parallel is too close to be mistaken.


Of the old heathen theogony we have a remarkable document in the names
of the days of the week; and these names are best preserved to us in
the rubrics of the Anglo-Saxon Gospels. These names are supposed to have
come from the western shores of Asia, and to have pervaded the nations
of Europe, both Roman and barbarian, in the first and second centuries.
By a comparison of the sets of names in the two families of nations, we
gain certain leading facts about the chief deities of our heathen
ancestry, which all the rest of the scattered evidence tends to confirm.
Thus our Tuesday, A.-S. Tywes-dæg, compared with the French Mardi and
its Latin original Martis dies, teaches us that the old god Tiw (who was
also called Tir) was recognised as the analogue of the Roman Mars, the
god of war. So Wednesday, A.-S. Wodnes-dæg, compared with the French
Mercredi and its Latin form Mercurii dies, gives us proof that the god
Woden answered to the Roman Mercurius. So, too, Thursday, A.-S.
Thunres-dæg, compared with French Jeudi and Latin Jovis dies, shows that
Thunor (whom the Scandinavians call Thor) is the god of thunder, like
the Latin Jupiter. So again, Friday, A.-S. Frige-dæg, compared with
Vendredi and Veneris dies, gives us the analogy of Frige with Venus.[51]
Saturday, A.-S. Satærnes-dæg, seems like a borrowed name from the Latin

Kemble maintained the probability that Sætere was a native divinity, and
considered that the local names of Satterthwaite (Lanc.), and
Satterleigh (Devon), offered some probable evidence in that direction.
More distinct are the local namesakes of Woden. Kemble adduces repeated
instances of Wanborough, formerly Wodnesbrook (Surrey, Wilts, Hants),
Woodnesborough (Kent), Wanstrow, formerly Wodnestreow = Woden's tree
(Somerset), Wansdike, and others.


occasionally denounce and describe the prevalent forms of heathenism
still surviving. Thus Ælfric (i., 474):--"It is not allowed to any
Christian man, that he should recover his health at any stone, or at any
tree." Wulfstan preaches thus:--"From the devil comes every evil, every
misery, and no remedy: where he finds incautious men he sends on
themselves, or sometimes on their cattle, some terrible ailment, and
they proceed to vow alms by the devil's suggestion, either to a well or
to a stone, or else to some unlawful things...."[52]

In an alliterative homily of the tenth century, the heathen gods that
are combated are Danish:--[53]

    Thes Jovis is arwurthost
      ealra thæra goda,
    The tha hæthenan hæfdon
      on heora gedwilde,
    and he hatte Thor
      betwux sumum theodum;
    thone tha Deniscan leode
      lufiath swithost.
    Sum man was gehaten
      Mercurius on life,
    he was swithe facenful
      and swicol on dedum,
    and lufode eac stala
      and leasbrednysse;
    thone macodon tha hæthenan
      him to mæran gode,
    and æt wega gelætum
      him lac offrodon,
    and to heagum beorgum
      him on brohton onsegdnysse.
    Thes god was arwurthra
      betwux eallum hæthenum,
    and he is Othon gehaten
      othrum naman on Denisc.

         This Jove is most worshipped
           of all the gods
         that the heathens had
           in their delusion;
         and he hight Thor
           some nations among;
         him the tribes of the Danes
           especially love.
         There once lived a man
           Mercurius hight;
         he was vastly deceitful
           and sly in his deeds,
         eke stealing he loved
           and lying device;
         him the heathens they made
           their majestical god,
         and at the cross roads
           they offered him gifts,
         and to the high hills
           brought him victims to slay.
         This god was main worthy
           all heathens among,
         and his name when translated
           in Danish is Odin.

An interesting example of the methods used to wean our simple
forefathers from their old heathen practices may be seen in a "Spell to
restore fertility to land."[54] The preamble sets forth:--"Here is the
remedy whereby thou mayest restore thy fields, if they will not produce
well, or where any uncanny thing has befallen them, like magic or
witchcraft." Four turfs are to be cut before dawn from four corners of
the land, and these are to be stacked in a heap, and upon them are to be
dropped drops of an elaborate preparation whereof one ingredient is holy
water; and over them are to be said words of Scripture and Our Father.
And then the turfs are taken to church, and prayers are said by the
priest while the green of the turfs is turned altarwards; and then,
before sun-down, the turfs are returned to their own original places:
but first, four crosses, made of quickbeam, with the names Matthew,
Mark, Luke, John, written on their four ends, are to be put, one in the
bottom of each pit, and as each turf is restored to its native spot, and
laid on its particular cross, say thus:--"Crux, Mattheus; Crux, Marcus;
Crux, Lucas; Crux, Joannes."[55] Then the supplicant turns eastward,
bows nine times, and says a rhythmic form of prayer, in which some
heathen elements are just discernible. Then he turns three times towards
the sun in its course, and sings Benedicite, Magnificat, and Pater
Noster, and makes a gracious vow, in the friendly comprehension of which
all the neighbourhood is included, gentle and simple.

This being done, strange seed must be procured, and this must be got
from poor "almsmen"; and the supplicant must give them a double quantity
in return; and then he must collect together all his plough-gear and
tackle, and say over them a poetic formula which has fragments that look
very like the real old heathen charm. It begins with untranslatable

    Erce, erce, erce,
    eordan modor.

         Erce, erce, erce,
         mother of earth.

Then go to work with the plough, and open the first furrow, and say:--

    Hál wes thu, folde,
      fira modor;
    beo thu growende,
      on Codes fæthme;
    fodre gefylled,
      firum to nytte.

         Soil I salute thee,
           mother of souls;
         be thou growing
           by God's grace;
         filled with fodder
           folks to comfort.

Then a loaf is to be kneaded and baked, and put into the first furrow,
with yet another anthem:--

    Ful æcer fodres
      fira cinne,
      thu gebletsod weorth.

         A full crop of fodder
           may the folks see;
         brightly blossoming,
           blessed mote thou be.

Then follows a chaplet of three repetitions, twice repeated, and this
long day's orison is done.

Here we have a fair example of the artifice used by the clergy in
transforming old heathen charms into edifying ceremonies. Men are here
led to pray; to exercise themselves in some of the chief liturgical
formularies of the Catholic Church; to accept Christian versions of
their old incantations; to profess good will to their neighbours, high
and low; and to exercise some bounty towards the poor. Natural means are
not neglected; a change of seed is made a part of the ceremonial.

Such are some of the traces we can gather from the expiring relics of
heathenism. They all come from the Christian period, as was natural,
seeing that the national profession of heathenism ended before our
literature began, unless the annals mentioned at the beginning of this
chapter are exceptions. The facilities of writing must have been very
limited if the only alphabet in use was the Runic. It is, perhaps, a
little too rigid to assume that the use of the Roman alphabet is to be
dated strictly from the Conversion. As the use of Runes did not then
suddenly terminate, but gradually receded before the superior
instrument, so perhaps it is most reasonable to suppose that the
adoption of the Roman alphabet was very gradual, and that the Saxons may
have begun to use it, at least in Kent, before the reign of


[39] T. Wright, "Celt, Roman, and Saxon," p. 389; J.R. Green, "Short
History," i., 2.

[40] "Ecclesiastical History," i., 22.

[41] It is the manner of the Saxon chronicles to attach each annal to
its year-date by an adverb of locality--"Here."

[42] "Germania," c. 2.

[43] _Id._, c. 9.

[44] _Id._, c. 45.

[45] "Germania," c. 40.

[46] "De Temporum Ratione," c. 13.

[47] "Archæologia," vol. xxxv., p. 259.

[48] Compare with this the "Spaedom of the Norns," in Dasent's "Burnt
Njal"; also Gray's "Fatal Sisters," which is another version of the same
original, one remove further off, as Gray knew the poem only through the
Latin of Torfæus.

[49] The second part of this compound repeats the idea of the first,
namely, choice: it is from the verb to choose, for in certain tenses
this verb changed _s_ to _r_, just as from the verb to _freeze_ we have
_frore_ (Milton), and from _lose_ we have a participle _lorn_. The
Anglo-Saxon form is _wælcyrige_. Grimm's "Teutonic Mythol." tr.
Stallybrass, p. 418. Kemble, "Saxons," i., 402.

[50] The same keen discoverer scents an old heathen reminiscence also
when the poet of the Heliand makes that holy thing which is not to be
cast before dogs (Matthew vii. 6) a _hêlag halsmeni_ = holy necklace.

[51] For the distinct attributes of this goddess, who was the wife of
Woden, the reader may consult Grimm's "Teutonic Mythology," who quotes
Paulus Diaconus (eighth century), saying that the Langobards called
Woden's wife _Frea_, and Saxo, p. 13, saying, "Frigga Othini conjux."

[52] "Über die Werke des altenglischen Erzbischofs Wulfstan," von Arthur
Napier. Weimar, 1882, p. 33.

[53] Printed in Kemble's "Solomon and Saturn," p. 120.

[54] Printed in Thorpe's "Analecta" (1846), p. 116.

[55] This recalls the charm that within living memory was used on
Dartmoor as an evening prayer:--

    Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
    Bless the bed that I lie on;
    Two to head and two to feet,
    And four to keep me while I sleep.

[56] Some Runic alphabets may be seen in my "Philology of the English
Tongue," § 96 (ed. 3, 1879). The best collection of Runic monuments is
in the two folio volumes of Professor George Stephens.



§ 1.

It is a debatable question whether any Roman culture lived through the
Saxon conquest.

The Saxon conquest of Britain was certainly, on the whole, a destructive
one, and it has been justly contrasted with the Frankish conquest of
Gaul; where the conquerors quickly assimilated with the conquered. The
relics of Roman civilisation which the Saxons adopted, were indeed few.
This is true, as a general statement. But there is some ground for
regarding Kent as a case apart. Here all accounts seem to indicate a
gradual and less violent intrusion of the new race, and to suggest the
possibility that there was not for that area a complete break in the
traditions and customs of life. The capital city itself, Dorobernia
(Canterbury), whatever revolution it may have suffered, was at least not
destroyed. There is nothing that requires us to assume the extinction of
the schools of grammar which existed presumably in Kent as in Gaul.

The foundation of schools by the Roman mission is not recorded, nor does
Bede say anything to imply it when thirty years later he describes the
foundation of schools in East Anglia. These were founded by king
Sigberct because he desired to have good institutions such as he had
seen in Gaul, and his wishes were carried into effect by bishop Felix,
after the pattern of the schools of Kent.[57] Whether it would be
possible to trace the study of Roman law as a scholastic exercise
through these obscure times, is very doubtful.[58] But certainly there
is something about the Latinity of our earliest legal documents, that
has a local and even a vernacular aspect. Slight as these traces may be,
they are interesting enough to merit consideration.

In the Kentish laws are preserved our oldest extant relics of ancestral
custom. The first code is that of Æthelberht, with this title:--"This be
the Dooms that Æthelbriht, king, ordained in Augustine's days." It is
much concerned with penalties for personal injuries. These are some of
the "Dooms":--

     Cap. 40. If an ear be smitten off, 6 shillings amends (bôt).

      "   41. If the ear be pierced through, 3 shillings.

      "   43. If an eye is lost, 50 shillings.

      "   44. If mouth or eye be damaged, 12 shillings.

      "   45. If the nose be pierced, 9 shillings.

      "   51. For the four front teeth, 6 shillings each; the tooth
              that stands next, 4 shillings; the next to that, 3
              shillings; and thenceforth, each, 1 shilling.

Penalties for theft are graduated according to the quality of the person
injured, _i.e._, according to the different orders of men in the body
politic, each of whom has a separate value: king, noble, freeman, serf,
slave. Such we may suppose to have been the primitive institutes of the
tribes in the old mother country on the Continent. But the code is
headed by a captel, in which the property of the Church is valued beyond
that of the king, and the same applies to the higher clergy. "Cap. 1.
The property of God and the Church, 12 fold; Bishop's property, 11 fold;
Priest's, 9 fold [the same as the King's]; Deacon's, 6 fold; Clerk's, 3
fold." Next follows one that we may well suppose might have been the
first of the pre-Christian code: "Cap. 2. If the king summon his people
to him, and one there do them evil--double bôt, and 50 shillings to the
king." Bede mentions (ii., 5) these laws of Æthelberht, and especially
this feature of them, that they began with the protection of Church
property. He also says, that the king constituted these laws according
to Roman precedent (_juxta exempla Romanorum_), by which some have been
led to expect that there would be an element of Roman law in them. The
imitation consisted only in committing the laws to writing.

Æthelberht died in 616, and then came a heathen reaction under his son
Eadbald; but he was converted to Christianity in 618 by Bishop
Laurentius. His son Erconbriht, who succeeded in 640, was the first
king who dared to demolish the heathen fanes. Bede informs us that this
king made a law for the observance of the Lenten fast; but no law of the
kind appears until we come to the laws of Wihtred. Ecgbriht succeeded
his father in 664, under whom the waning power of Kent reasserted its
former sway. To him succeeded first Hlothære in 673, and then Eadric.
These two reigns were short, and the names of both the kings stand at
the head of the next Kentish code.

The introductory sentence of this code was this:--"Hlothhære and Eadric,
kings of the men of Kent, enlarged the laws which their predecessors had
made aforetime, with these dooms following":--

    Cap. 8. If one man implead another in a matter, and he cite the man
    to a 'Methel' or a 'Thing', let the man always give security to the
    other, and do him such right, as the Kentish judges prescribe to

This code has a little series of laws concerning offences to the sense
of honour, and consequent danger to the king's peace:--

    Cap. 11. If in another's house one man calleth another man a
    perjurer, or assail him offensively with injurious words; let him
    pay a shilling to the owner of the house, and 6 shillings to the
    insulted man, and forfeit 12 shillings to the king.

    Cap. 12. If a man remove another's stoup where men drink without
    offence, by old right he pays a shilling to him who owns the house,
    and 6 shillings to him whose stoop was taken away, and 12 shillings
    to the king.

    Cap. 13. If weapon be drawn where men drink, and no harm be done; a
    shilling to the owner of the house, and 12 shillings to the king.

After a troublous time of encroachment from the side of Wessex, the
kingdom of Kent had again a time of honour, if not of absolute
independence, under king Wihtred (691-725), who, in the preamble to his
laws, is called the most gracious king of the Kentish folk (_se mildesta
cyning Cantwara_). His laws are mostly ecclesiastical. The rights of the
Church and of her ministers, the keeping of the Sunday, manumission of
slaves at the altar, penalties for heathen rites, these subjects make
the bulk of a code of 28 captels, of which the last four are about
theft. The closing provision is characteristic of the state of society:

    Cap. 28. If a man from a distance, or a stranger, go off the road,
    and he neither shout nor blow a horn, as a thief he is liable to be
    examined, or slain, or redeemed.

In the preamble this code is precisely dated on the 6th day of August in
Wihtred's fifth year, which is 696. Also it mentions Berghamstyde, which
seems to mean Berkhamstead (Herts), as the place of enactment, and
Gybmund, bishop of Rochester, as having been present. Doubts have been
cast upon the genuineness of this code, but it is defended in Schmid's
introduction. This is the last of the laws of Kent.

The Kentish laws are found in a register of the twelfth century, which
has a high character for fidelity. No doubt the substance of them is
faithfully preserved. But they are not in the original Kentish dialect;
they have been translated into West Saxon. The translation has not,
however, obliterated all traces of the original; there are some
peculiarities which survive, and which enable us to see through the
present form those traces of a higher antiquity, which strengthen that
confidence which the contents are calculated to inspire.

The Kentish dialect was the first literary form of the language of our
Saxon ancestors. It has been thought that in the Epinal Gloss, of which
a specimen will be given below, we have the best extant representation
of this ancient dialect. Early in the ninth century we have some
original documents in the Kentish dialect, and these are our surest
guides in judging of other specimens.[59]

The following extract is from a legal document of the year 832. Luba had
made a deed of gift from her estate to the fraternity of Christ Church
at Canterbury, and the following sanction was appended:

     ✠ Ic luba eaðmod godes ðiwen ðas forecwedenan god ⁊ ðas
     elmessan gesette ⁊ gefestnie ob minem erfelande et
     mundlingham ðem hiium to cristes cirican ⁊ ic bidde ⁊ an
     godes libgendes naman bebiade ðæm men ðe ðis land ⁊ ðis
     erbe hebbe et mundlingham ðet he ðas god forðleste oð
     wiaralde ende se man se ðis healdan wille ⁊ lestan ðet ic
     beboden hebbe an ðisem gewrite se him seald ⁊ gehealden sia
     hiabenlice bledsung se his ferwerne oððe hit agele se him
     seald ⁊ gehealden helle wite bute he to fulre bote gecerran
     wille gode ⁊ mannum uene ualete.

          I, Luba, the humble handmaid of God, appoint and establish
          these foresaid benefactions and alms from my heritable land
          at Mundlingham to the brethren at Christ Church; and I
          entreat, and in the name of the living God I command, the
          man who may have this land and this inheritance at
          Mundlingham, that he continue these benefactions to the
          world's end. The man who will keep and discharge this that
          I have commanded in this writing, to him be given and kept
          the heavenly blessing; he who hinders or neglects it, to
          him be given and kept the punishment of hell, unless he
          will repent with full amends to God and to men. Fare ye

§ 2.

The middle of the seventh century was a very dark period throughout the
West. The lingering rays of ancient culture had grown very faint in
France, Italy, and Spain. Literary production had ceased in France since
Gregory of Tours and his friend Venantius Fortunatus, the poet; in
Spain, soon after Isidore of Seville, the Christian area had been
narrowed by the Moslem invasion; in Italy, though the tradition of
learning was never extinguished, yet no writer of eminence appeared for
a long time after Gregory the Great. At such a time it was that the seed
of learning found a new and fruitful soil among the Anglo-Saxon people;
and they who had been the latest receivers of the civilising element,
quickly took the lead in religion and learning.

In the year 668 three remarkable men came into Britain, These were
Theodore, a Greek of Tarsus, who came as Archbishop of Canterbury;
Hadrian, an African monk who had deprecated his own appointment to that
office; and Biscop Baducing (called Benedict Biscop), an Angle of
Northumbria, who had left his retreat in the monastery of Lerins, to
guide and accompany the travellers into his native country.

This had risen out of an unforeseen event, and had almost the appearance
of accident. But the consequences were great and far-reaching. Theodore
organised the English Church upon lines that proved permanent. A new era
was also inaugurated for literature and art. Literature was represented
by Hadrian, who set up education at St. Augustine's upon an improved
plan; and art, especially in relation to religious and educational
institutions--books, buildings, ritual--was the province of Benedict

Up to this time education and literature had two rival sources, the old
schools of Kent, and the schools of the Irish teachers. But from
Hadrian's coming a new literary era commences. For more than a hundred
years our island was the seat of learning beyond any other country in
the world of the West. Even Greek learning, extinct elsewhere, was
revived for a time; and Bede, whose childhood had corresponded to the
opening of this new activity, looked back on it when he was old as a
glorious time, and he put it on record that he had known many scholars
to whom both the Latin and Greek languages were as their mother tongue.

Of those who were formed in the school of Hadrian, the first and most
conspicuous is Aldhelm. His rudimentary education must have been over
before he knew Hadrian. The school of Maidulf gave him his boyish
training at the monastery which was called after the Irish founder, and
which has given name to the town of Malmesbury (Maidulfes burh). So
Aldhelm stands between the two systems, the old Irish and the new
Kentish. His preference was for the latter, but his works retain the
characteristics of both. He has a love of grandiloquence which is both
Keltic and Saxon, and a delight in alliteration which is more especially
Saxon. His familiarity with the national poetry looms often through his
Latin. But his proper characteristics, those whereby he fills a position
altogether his own, are apart from these peculiarities. He is the
scholar of the age, the type of that set whom Bede delighted to recall,
who knew Latin and Greek like their mother tongue. He is the father of
Anglo-Latin poetry. He made a zealous study of the Latin metres, and he
commended the pursuit to other scholars. His Greek knowledge manifests
itself everywhere: not always with a good effect, according to present
taste; but in a manner which is of historical value as demonstrating his
real familiarity with the Greek language.

Aldhelm's great work, and the work which most conveys his interpretation
of the spiritual conditions of his time, is his book, "De Laude
Virginitatis," in praise of Celibacy. But for the purposes of literary
history, his artistic studies are of more importance than those which
are strictly religious and ecclesiastical. Of the greatest interest for
us are his Riddles. These are short Latin poems somewhat after the model
of Symphosius, whose work he describes,[60] and whom he seems ambitious
to outstrip. The riddles of Symphosius are uniformly of three hexameter
lines, those of Aldhelm vary in length from four lines to sixteen;
rarely more. The external structure is that of the Epigram, with the
object speaking in the first person. The riddles both of Symphosius and
Aldhelm are so closely identified with the vernacular riddles of the
famous Exeter Song Book, that the reader may be glad of a specimen from
each author. It should be premised that in each collection the subject
stands as a title at the head of each piece. The subject of the
sixteenth in Symphosius is the book-moth:--


    Litera me pavit, nec quid sit litera novi,
    In libris vixi nec sum studiosior inde,
    Exedi musas nec adhuc tamen ipse profeci.

          I have fed upon literature, yet know not what it is; I have
          lived among books, yet am not the more studious for it; I have
          devoured the Muses, yet up to the present time I have made no

One of Aldhelm's riddles is on the Alphabet; and this will be a fit
specimen here, as containing something that is germane to the history of

    Nos denæ et septem genitæ sine voce sorores,
    Sex alias nothas non dicimus adnumerandas,
    Nascimur ex ferro rursus ferro moribundæ,
    Necnon et volucris pennâ volitantis ad æthram;
    Terni nos fratres incertâ matre crearunt;
    Qui cupit instanter sitiens audire, docemus,
    Turn cito prompta damus rogitanti verba silenter.

          We are seventeen sisters voiceless born; six others,
          half-sisters, we exclude from our set; children of iron by
          iron we die, but children too of the bird's wing that flies so
          high; three brethren our sires, be our mother as may; if any
          one is very eager to hear, we tell him, and quickly give
          answer without any sound.[61]

Aldhelm is the first of the Anglo-Latin poets, and he was a classical
scholar at a time when to be so was a great distinction. Both in prose
and verse, his style has the faults which belong to an age of revived
study. His love of learning, his keen appreciation of its beauty and its
value, have tended to inflate his sentences with an appearance of
display. His poetic diction is simpler than that of his prose; but here,
too, he is habitually over-elevated, whence he becomes sometimes
stilted, and oftentimes he drops below pitch with an inadequate and
disappointing close. But we must honour him in the position which he
holds. He is the leader of that noble series of English scholars who
represent the first endeavouring stage of recovery after the great
eclipse of European culture.

There is nothing of his remaining in the vernacular; but that he was an
English poet we have testimony which, though late, is not to be
disregarded. William of Malmesbury quotes a book of King Alfred's, which
said that Aldhelm had been a peerless writer of English poetry: and he
adds, moreover, that a popular song, which had been mentioned by Alfred
as Aldhelm's, was still commonly sung in his own time--that is, in the
twelfth century.

Attempts have been made to identify some of our extant Anglo-Saxon
literature with a name so eminent. In 1835 the Anglo-Saxon Psalter of
the Paris manuscript was first printed at Oxford, and as this book gives
a hundred of the Psalms in vernacular poetry, the suggestion that they
might be Aldhelm's, though modernised, had rhetorical attractions for
the editor (Thorpe), and supplied him with material for a few rather
idle sentences of his Latin preface. In 1840 Jacob Grimm edited (from
Thorpe's editio princeps) two poems of the Vercelli book, the "Andreas"
and the "Elene;" and in his preface he sought to fix this poetry upon
Aldhelm by a line of argument altogether fallacious, as was afterwards
shown by Mr. Kemble in his edition of the "Andreas" for the Ælfric

That which we have to show for this period in the native Kentish dialect
is less ambitious, but it will not be despised by the considerate
reader. In the beginnings of learning, when students had not the
apparatus of grammars and dictionaries, which now, being common, are
almost as much a matter of course as any gift of nature, it was
necessary for students to make lists of words and phrases for
themselves, and after a while a few of these would be thrown together,
and would be reduced to alphabetical order for facility of reference. It
is to such a process as this that we owe the Glossaries which form an
interesting branch of Anglo-Saxon literature. The Epinal Gloss is the
oldest of these, and it is very valuable because of the archaic forms of
many of the words. A selection is here given by way of specimen:--[62]


(_Cooper, Appendix B, p. 153._)

     _Alba spina_, haegu thorn (hawthorn).
     _Aesculus_, boecae (beech).
     _Achalantis, luscina_ netigalæ (nightingale).
     _Acrifolus_, holegn (holly).
     _Alnus_, alaer (alder).
     _Abies_, saeppae (fir).
     _Argella_, laam (loam).
     _Accitulium_, geacaes surae (sorrel).
     _Absintium_, uuermod (wormwood).
     _Alacris_, snel (swift, German _schnell_).
     _Alveus_, stream rad (stream-road = channel).
     _Aquilæ_, segnas (military standards).
     _Anser_, goos (goose).
     _Beta_, berc, _arbor_ (birch).
     _Ballena_, hran (whale).
     _Buculus_, rand beag (buckler).
     _Berruca_, uueartæ (wart).
     _Cados_, ambras (casks).
     _Chaos_, duolma (confusion, error).
     _Cicuta_, hymblicae (hemlock).
     _Cofinus_, mand (hamper).
     _Fulix_, ganot, dop aenid (gannet, dip-chick).
     _Filix_, fearn (fern).
     _Fasianus_, uuor hana (pheasant).
     _Fungus_, suamm (German _schwamm_).
     _Fragor_, suoeg (swough, sough).
     _Finiculus_, finugl (fennel).
     _Follis_, blest baeelg (blast-bellows).
     _Glarea_, cisil (pebble, cf. Chesil Bank).
     _Hibiscum_, biscop uuyrt (marsh mallow).
     _Horodius_, uualh hebuc (foreign hawk).
     _Hirundo_, sualuuae (swallow).
     _Intestinum_, thearm (German _Darm_).
     _Jungetum_, risc thyfil (jungle).
     _Inprobus_, gimach (troublesome).
     _Iners_, asolcaen (lazy).
     _Inter primores_, bituien aeldrum (among the chief men).
     _Juris periti_, red boran (counsellors).
     _Invisus_, laath (loath).
     _Iuuar_ (= _jubar_), leoma, earendil (gleam, beacon, crest).
     _Ignarium_, al giuueorc (fire-work).
     _Ibices_, firgen gaett (mountain goats, chamois).
     _Lunules_, mene scillingas (coins or bracteates on a necklace).
     _Lucius_, haecid (hake, German _Hecht_).
     _Lolium_, atae (oats).
     _Limax_, snel (snail).
     _Ligustrum_, hunaeg sugae (honeysuckle).
     _Manipulatim_, threatmelum (in bands).
     _Manica_, gloob (glove).
     _Mascus_, grima (mask).
     _Malva_, cotuc, geormant lab (mallow).
     _Mars_, Tiig (cf. Tuesday).
     _Ninguit_, hsniuuith (snoweth).
     _Nigra spina_, slach thorn (sloe-thorn).
     _Nanus_, duerg (dwarf).
     _Olor_, aelbitu (the elk, wild swan).
     _Piraticum_, uuicing sceadan (pirates).
     _Pares_, uuyrdae (Fates).
     _Perna_, flicci (flitch).
     _Pictus acu_, mið naeðlae sasiuuid (embroidered).
     _Pronus_, nihol (perpendicular).
     _Pollux_, thuma (thumb).
     _Quoquomodo_, aengiþinga (anyhow).
     _Rumex_, edroc.
     _Ramnus_, theban (thorn).
     _Salix_, salch (sallow).
     _Sturnus_, staer (starling).
     _Titio_, brand (firebrand).
     _Tignarius_, hrofuuyrcta (roofwright).
     _Vadimonium_, borg (pledge, security).

In this glossary we see the preparation for our modern Latin-English
dictionaries. Already, as early as the reign of Augustus, the foundation
of the Latin dictionary was laid by Verrius Flaccus, but his dictionary
would naturally consist of Latin words with Latin explanations. But in
the seventh century there was a demand for Latin vocabularies, with
equivalents in the vernacular languages; and here, in the Epinal
Glossary, we have the earliest known example of such a work. At first
such glossaries would be merely lists of words formed in the course of
studying some one or two Latin texts, and in process of time would
follow the compilation of several such glossaries into one, until, in
the tenth and eleventh centuries, we find vocabularies of some compass
(as Ælfric's), and by the fifteenth century we have such bulky
dictionaries as the "Catholicon" and the "Promptorium Parvulorum."

We will close this chapter with specimens of the "Psalter of St.
Augustine," which received an Anglo-Saxon gloss (dialect Kentish[63])
at the end of the ninth, or early in the tenth century. The book has
been already described above, p. 33.

PSALM XLIX. (L.), 7:--"Hear, O my people," &c.

        geher folc    min  ond sprecu to israhela folce ond
     7. Audi  populus meus et  loquar    Israhel        et

       ic cythu   the  thætte  god  god  thin  ic eam
     testificabor tibi quoniam Deus Deus tuus ego sum

        na les ofer onsegdnisse thine ic dregu the onsegdnisse
     8. Non   super sacrificia  tua   arguam   te  holocausta

     soth  thine in gesihthe  minre sind aa
     autem tua   in conspectu meo   sunt semper

        ic ne on foo  of huse thinum calferu ne    of eowdum
     9. Non  accipiam de domo tua    vitulos neque de gregibus

     thinum buccan
     tuis   hircos

         for thon min sind all  wildeor wuda    neat    in
     10. Quoniam  meæ sunt omnes feræ  silvarum jumenta in

     muntum  ond oexen
     montibus et boves

         ic on cneow all tha flegendan heofenes ond hiow
     11. Cognovi    omnia volatilia    cæli     et  species

     londes mid mec is
     agri   mecum   est

         gif ic hyngriu ne cweothu ic to the min  is sothlice
     12. Si   esuriero non dicam       tibi, meus est enim

     ymb hwerft eorthan ond fylnis    his
     orbis      terræ   et  plenitudo ejus

         ah      ic eotu   flæsc  ferra   oththe blod
     13. Numquid manducabo carnes taurorum aut sanguinem

     buccena  ic drinco
     hircorum potabo

         ageld gode onsegdnisse lofes ond geld tham hestan
     14. Immola Deo sacrificium laudis et redde Altissimo

     gehat thin
     vota  tua

         gece  mec in dege geswinces  thines thæt ic genere
     15. Invoca me in die tribulationis tuæ  ut   eripiam

     thec ond thu miclas mec
     te   et magnificabis me

      D I A P S A L M A.

         to thæm synfullan sothlice cweth god for hwon thu
     16. Peccatori         autem    dixit Deus Quare   tu

     asagas rehtwisnisse mine ond genimes cythnisse   mine
     enarras justitias   meas et  adsumes testamentum meum

     thorh muth thinne
     per   os   tuum

         thu sothlice thu fiodes theodscipe ond thu awurpe
     17. Tu  vero     odisti     disciplinam et projecisti

     word     min efter the
     sermones meos post te

         gif thu gesege theof somud thu urne mid hine ond
     18. Si  videbas    furem simul currebas cum eo   et

     mid unreht hæmderum dæl   thinne thu settes
     cum adulteris     portionem tuam ponebas

         muth thin genihtsumath mid nithe ond tunge thin
     19. Os   tuum abundavit    nequitia  et  lingua tua

     hleothrade  facen
     concinnavit dolum

         sittende with    broether thinum thu teldes ond
     20. Sedens   adversus fratrem tuum   detrahebas et

     with     suna   moeder thinre thu settes eswic
     adversus filium matris tuæ    ponebas    scandalum

         thas thu dydes ond ic swigade thu gewoendes on unrehtwisnisse
     21. Hæc  fecisti   et  tacui      existimasti   iniquitatem

     thæt ic wære the  gelic
     quod ero    tibi similis

     ic threu thec ond ic setto tha  ongegn onsiene
     Arguam   te   et  statuam  illa contra faciem

     thinre      Ongeotath  thas alle  tha ofer geoteliath
     tuam  (22.) intelligite hæc omnes qui obliviscimini

     dryhten ne hwonne gereafie ond ne  sie se  generge
     Dominum ne quando rapiat   et  non sit qui eripiat

         onsegdnis   lofes  gearath      mec ond ther
     23. Sacrificium laudis honorificabit me  et illic

     sithfet is thider ic oteawu him  haelu    godes
     iter   est in quo ostendam  illi salutare Dei


         Ond smegende ic eam in allum   wercum  thinum ond
     13. Et meditatus sum    in omnibus operibus tuis  et

     in gehaeldum      thinum ic bieode
     in observationibus tuis  exercebor

         god  in halgum weg thin hwelc god  micel
     14. Deus in sancto via tua  quis  Deus magnus

     swe swe god ur           thu earth god thu the doest
     sicut  Deus noster (15.) tu  es   Deus qui     facis

     wundur    ana   cuthe thu dydes in folcum  megen
     mirabilia solus notam fecisti   in populis virtutem

     thin       gefreodes in earme thinum folc   thin
     tuam (16.) liberasti in brachio tuo populum tuum

     filios Israhel et Joseph

         gesegun thec weter god  gesegun thec weter ond
     17. Viderunt te  aquæ  Deus viderunt te  aquæ  et

     on dreordun gedroefde werun niolnisse       mengu
     timuerunt   turbati   sunt  abyssi    (18.) multitudo

     swoeges wetre  stefne saldun  wolcen ond sothlice
     sonitus aquarum Vocem dederunt nubes et  enim

     strelas thine thorh leordun         stefn thunurrade thinre
     sagittæ tuæ   pertransierunt  (19.)  vox  tonitrui   tui

     in hweole
     in rota

     in lihton  bliccetunge  thine eorthan ymbhwyrfte gesaeh
     Inluxerunt coruscationes tuæ  orbi    terræ      vidit

     ond onstyred wes eorthe
     et  commota  est terra

         in sae wegas thine ond stige thine in wetrum miclum
     20. In mari viæ  tuæ   et  semitæ tuæ  in aquis  multis

     ond swethe thine ne bioth oncnawen
     et vestigia tua non cognoscentur

          thu gelaeddes swe swe scep folc    thin in honda
     21.  Deduxisti     sicut   oves populum tuum in manu

     mosi ond aaron
     Moysi et Aaron

These specimens of the Kentish dialect (with the exception of the Epinal
Gloss) are of much later date than the times which our narrative has yet
reached; and they are only offered as a proximate representation of that
which was the first of English dialects to receive literary culture.
This dialect is peculiarly interesting as being that from which the West
Saxon was developed; in other words, it is the earliest form of that
imperial dialect in which the great body of extant Saxon literature is
preserved. But the Kentish did not ripen into the maturer outlines of
the West Saxon without the intervention of a third dialect; and in order
to appreciate this it is necessary for us to review that more spacious
culture of which the scene was laid in the country of the Northern


[57] "Ecclesiastical History," iii., 18.

[58] Aldhelm speaks of the study of Roman law in connexion with other
scholastic studies, as Latin verses and music. But then that was after
the new start given to education by Theodore and Hadrian. A century
later, Alcuin described the studies at V York in this order,--grammar,
rhetoric, law.--Wharton, "Anglia Sacra," ii. 6; Alcuin's poem, "De
Pontificibus &c."

[59] They are in Kemble, "Codex Diplomaticus," Nos. 226, 228, 229, 231,
235, 238.

[60] Aldhelm's "Works," ed. Giles, p. 228.

[61] Seventeen consonants and six vowels; made with iron style and
erased with the same, or else made with a bird's quill; whatever the
instrument, three fingers are the agents; and we can convey answer
without delay even in situations where it would be inconvenient to

[62] I have given the _th_, or þ, or ð, as in the manuscript. This is
done in the present instance because a peculiar interest attaches to it
in the earliest specimens of writing. The frequency of _th_, and the
rarity of the monograms, is itself a distinguishing feature. Speaking in
general terms of Anglo-Saxon literature, as it appears in manuscripts,
it might be fairly said that there is no _th_; this sound is represented
by ð or þ. And of these two, the modified Roman character, Ð ð, is found
to prevail over the native Rune (þ) in the oldest extant writings.
Throughout this little book the _th_ is commonly used, as being most
convenient for the general reader.

[63] Transactions of the Philological Society for 1875-6.



While Canterbury was so important a seminary of learning, there was, in
the Anglian region of Northumbria, a development of religious and
intellectual life which makes it natural to regard the whole brilliant
era from the later seventh to the early ninth century as "The Anglian
Period." Not only did the greatest school of the whole island grow up at
York, but also one that, with its important library, was for the time
the most active and useful in the whole of Western Europe.

The importance of the Anglian period consists in the fact that it
belongs not merely to one nation, but that Anglia became for a century
the light-spot of European history; and that here we recognise the first
great stage in the revival of learning, and the first movement towards
the establishment of public order in things temporal and spiritual.
Happily, the period stands out in a good historical light, and the chief
elements of its influence are finely exhibited in the persons of
representative men or representative groups.

There is Paulinus, the fugitive missionary from Kent, who made the first
rapid evangelisation of the northern country; King Edwin and his court
form a well-displayed group between the old darkness and the coming
light, as they consult and compare the two; Oswald, returning from exile
to be king, and bringing with him the Scotian type of Christianity;
Aidan, the first Scotian bishop of Lindisfarne, and the model of
pastors; Wilfrid, the champion of Roman unity, confronting Colman at the
synod of Whitby before Oswy, the presiding king, on the absorbing
question of the time; Wilfrid appealing to Rome against Theodore; and
yet again, Wilfrid, the first Anglo-Saxon missionary; Biscop Baducing
(Benedict Biscop), the founder of abbeys, the traveller, the introducer
of arts from abroad; Cædmon, the cowherd, the divinely-inspired singer
and the father of a school of English poetry; Cuthberht, the
shepherd-boy, abbot, bishop, hermit, and finally the national saint of
Northumbria; Willebrord and the two Hewalds, and all the glorious band
of missionaries and martyrs; Winfrid (Boniface), the crown of them all,
apostle of Germany, and martyr; Beda, the teacher and historian;
Ecgberct and Alberct, successively archbishops of York, acknowledged
presidents of Western learning; Alcuin, the bearer of Anglian learning
to the Franks, and the organiser of schools for the future ages.

After Aldhelm, the first Englishman who appeared as an author was Æddi,
better known as Eddius Stephanus. He was the friend and companion of
Wilfrid in his contentions and troubles, and, after his death, he wrote
a biography of him in Latin. This book is of great value as an
authority, and as illustrating the history of the later seventh and
early eighth century. Wilfrid died in 709, the same year as Aldhelm.

Wilfrid was the master-spirit of this age. He represented the best aims
of his nation; he understood the needs of the time; he worked for them,
and he suffered for them. With an overbearing spirit, fantastic too
often in his conduct, he saw what was needed--he saw the necessity for
unity with Rome. This was a necessity, not for one country alone, but
for the whole West at that time. Protestant writers have looked at
Wilfrid through a distorting medium. Nowhere, perhaps, is there more
need to allow for difference of times than in estimating Wilfrid. He had
great faults; he quarrelled with the best men; but, on the other hand,
Theodore, the most important of all his adversaries, sought
reconciliation at last, and accused himself of injustice. Wilfrid
initiated the German missions; he impressed on that great field of Saxon
activity the policy of his agitated life, and that policy was ever
militant in Boniface, the chief apostle of Germany, and may be said to
have triumphed when the Roman Empire was renewed in harmony with the
Holy See, and Charles was crowned in 800. Wilfrid, more than any other
man, appears as the ideal representative of that varied influence,
religious, literary, political, which the Anglo-Saxon Church exercised
upon the Western world.

The beginning of our vernacular literature, so far as it can be treated
chronologically, lies between the years 658 and 680. For these are the
years of the abbacy of Hild at Whitby, and it was in her time that
Cædmon appeared, who had received the gift of divine song in a vision
of the night. When this heavenly call was recognised, the herdsman
became a brother of the religious fraternity, and devoted his life to
the pursuit of sacred poetry. To the lover of the mother tongue it must
appear a singular felicity that Cædmon's first hymn is preserved in a
book that was written not much more than half-a-century after his

    Nu scylun hergan
        hefaenricaes uard,
    metudæs maecti
        end his modgidanc;
    uerc uuldurfadur;
        sue he uundra gihuaes,
    eci dryctin,
        or astelidæ.
    He aerist scop
        aelda barnum
    heben til hrofe,
        halig scepen;
    tha middungeard
        moncynnæs uard,
    eci dryctin,
        æfter tiadæ
    firum foldan
        frea allmectig.

         Now shall we glorify
             the guardian of heaven's realm,
         the Maker's might
             and the thought of his mind;
         the work of the glory-father,
             how He of every wonder,
         He the Lord eternal
             laid the foundation.
         He shapèd erst
             for the sons of men,
         heaven their roof,
             holy Creator;
         the middle world he,
             mankind's sovereign,
         eternal captain,
             afterwards created,
         the land for men
             Lord Almighty.[65]

BEDA was born in 672, in the neighbourhood of Wearmouth, two
years before Biscop founded an abbey there. Of this abbey Beda became an
inmate in his seventh year, under Abbot Biscop. He was afterwards moved
to the sister foundation at Jarrow, under Abbot Ceolfrid, and there he
lived, with rare absences, the remainder of his life. He was ordained
deacon at the early age of nineteen; in his thirtieth year he was
ordained priest; he died in his sixty-third year, A.D. 735. He
was a very prolific author, and he has left us, at the end of his most
considerable work, a sketch of his life, and a list of his writings,
down to the fifty-ninth year of his age, A.D. 731. The bulk of
his works are theological, chiefly in the form of commentaries, and they
are little more than extracts from the best known of the Fathers. This
was adapted to the needs of the time, and Bede's commentaries were held
in great esteem during the whole period. Ælfric, in the tenth century,
used them largely for his "Homilies."

Of all Bede's works, the chronological made the greatest immediate
impression, and was of most general use at the time and for some
centuries afterwards. The computation of Easter was the groundwork of
the ecclesiastical year, and every church felt the benefit of his
services. Chronology was then in its early maturity, and the Christian
era was not yet a familiar method of reckoning. Bede was the first
historian who arranged his materials according to the years from the
Incarnation. He had made himself completely master of this subject, and
he left it in such order that nothing more had to be done to it, or
could be improved upon it, for many centuries.

His fullest and most detailed work on chronology is entitled "De
Temporum Ratione," and to this is added a chronicle of the world. On
this elaborate work he was working down to A.D. 726. We have the
authority of Ideler for saying that this is a complete guide to the
calculation of times and festivals. He treats of the several divisions
of time; and under the months, he speaks of the moon's orbit (c. xvii.),
and its importance for the calendar, and the relation of the moon to the
tides (c. xxix.); then of the equinoxes and solstices, the varying
length of the days, the seasons of the year, the intercalary day, the
cycle of nineteen years, the reckoning Anno Domini (c. xlvii.),
indictions, epacts, the determination of Easter. All these things are
taught with theoretical thoroughness, as well as also in their practical
application. He also (c. lxv.) made a table for Easter from A.D. 532,
"when Dionysius began the first cycle," to A.D. 1063.[66] This is
followed by the "Chronicle or Six Ages of this World," altogether a work
that was a growing nucleus, and went on expanding down to the invention
of printing and the revival of classical literature.

But the works on which his eminence permanently rests, and by which he
made all posterity indebted to him, are his historical and biographical
writings. He wrote a poem on the miracles of St. Cuthbert, and
afterwards he wrote a prose narrative "Of the Life and Miracles of St.
Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne;" and in this, though a new and
independent work, something of the poem is reproduced. It is in this
prose work that we find the call of Cuthbert on the night of Aidan's
death, the details of his hermit life on the rocky islet of Farne, to
which he had retired for greater rigour of devotion, from which he was
called back to be bishop at Lindisfarne, and to which after two years'
episcopate he again retired for the remnant of his life.

He wrote also a prose life of St. Felix, drawing his materials from the
metrical life of that saint in hexameters by Paulinus.

His greatest biographical work is "Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and
Jarrow, namely, Benedict, Ceolfrid, Easterwini, Sigfrid, and Hwetbert."
These were the heads of the two sister foundations with which his career
was identified; and some of them had been his own teachers. The Life of
Benedict is the most interesting, as might be expected, and it fills the
largest part of the book.

Finally, his greatest work, the work which is a gift for all time, is
his "Church History of the Anglian People." This was the work of the
author's mature powers, and some of his earlier writings are made use of
in it. In this history, which is divided into five books, there is,
first, a summary of the history of Britain, from the time of Julius
Cæsar down to the time of Gregory the Great. This part occupies
twenty-two chapters, and is drawn from Orosius and Gildas and
Constantius. The proper narrative of Bede begins at chap. xxiii., and
there the conversion and early history of Saxon Christianity is given
down to the time of the restoration of the old church of St. Saviour
(Canterbury Cathedral), and the institution of the monastery of SS.
Peter and Paul (St. Augustine's). The last chapter is of the decisive
battle of Degsastan, which determined the superiority of the Angles over
the Scotti. The second book begins with the death of Gregory and goes
down to the death of Æduini, King of Northumbria, A.D. 633. In
this book occurs a remarkable speech made by one of Æduini's nobles, in
the debate about a change of religion:--

"The present life of man in the world, O king, is, by comparison with
that time which is unknown, like as when you are sitting at table with
your aldermen and thanes in the winter season, the fire blazing in the
midst, and the hall cheerfully warm, while the whirlwinds rage
everywhere outside and drive the rain or the snow; one of the sparrows
comes in and flies swiftly through the house, entering at one door and
out at the other. So long as it is inside, it is sheltered from the
storm, but when the brief momentary calm is past, the bird is in the
cold as before, and is no more seen. So this human life is visible for a
time: but of what follows or what went before we are utterly ignorant.
Wherefore, if this new doctrine should offer anything surer, it seems
worthy to be followed." (ii., 13.)

The third book goes down to the appointment of Theodore to be Archbishop
of Canterbury, A.D. 665.

This book contains the decision for Roman unity, and the defeat and
departure of Colman and his Scotian clergy. Bede was a hearty adherent
of the Roman obedience, and his affectionate tribute to the work of the
Irish is all the more remarkable. He pauses upon the record of their
departure as upon the close of a good time that had been, and to which
he looks wistfully back.

"The great frugality and content of him and his predecessors was
witnessed by the very place they ruled; for at their departure there
were very few buildings besides the church; just what civilised life
absolutely requires, and no more. Their only capital was their cattle;
for if rich men gave them money, they presently gave it to the poor. Of
funds and halls for entertaining the worldly great they had no need, as
such personages never came but to pray and hear the word of God. The
King himself, when occasion required, would come with just five or six
thanes, and after prayer in church would depart; and if it chanced they
took refreshment there, they were content with just the simple every-day
fare of the brothers, and wanted nothing better. For at that time those
teachers made it their entire business to serve not the world but God,
and their whole care to cherish not the belly but the heart. And
consequently the religious garb was at that time in great veneration; so
much so that, wherever a cleric or a monk arrived, he was joyfully
received by all as the servant of God. Even upon the road, if one were
found travelling, they would run to him, and bend the head, and rejoice
if he signed them with the cross, or uttered a blessing; at the same
time they gave careful attention to their words of exhortation.
Moreover, on Sundays they would race to the church or the monasteries,
not to refresh the body, but to hear God's word; and if one of the
priests happened to come to a village, the villagers were quickly
assembled, and were wanting to hear from him the word of life. And,
indeed, the priests on their part or the clerics had no other object in
going to the villages but for preaching, baptising, visiting the sick,
and in a word for the care of souls; being so entirely purged from all
infection of avarice, that none accepted lands and possessions for
building monasteries unless compelled to do so by secular lords. Such
conduct was maintained in the Northumbrian churches for some time after
this date. But I have said enough." (iii., 26.)

The fourth book goes down to the death, A.D. 687, of the saint
of whom Bede had previously written, both in verse and in prose, the
Saint of Northumbria, St. Cuthbert.

This book contains another passage to show that Bede looked wistfully
back to a blessed time that had been, and for which he was born too
late. He has been speaking of Theodore and Hadrian, and he is about to
speak of Wilfrid and Æddi, when he thus breaks out:--"Never, never,
since the Angles came to Britain, were there happier times; brave and
Christian kings held all barbarians in awe; the universal ambition was
for those heavenly joys of which men had recently heard; and all who
desired to be instructed in sacred learning had masters ready to teach
them." (iv., 2.)

This book also contains the history of Cædmon, which is perhaps the most
frequently quoted piece of all Bede's writings:--

"In the monastery of this abbess [Hild], there was a certain brother,
eminently distinguished by divine grace, for he was wont to make songs
fit for religion and piety, so that, whatever he learnt out of Scripture
by means of interpreters, this he would after a time produce in his own,
that is to say, the Angles' tongue, with poetical words, composed with
perfect sweetness and feeling. By this man's songs often the minds of
many were kindled to contempt of the world and desire for the celestial
life. Moreover, others after him in the nation of the Angles tried to
make religious poems, but no one was able to equal him. For he learnt
the art of singing not from men, nor through any man's instructions, but
he received the gift of singing unacquired and by divine help. Wherefore
he could never make any frivolous or unprofitable poem, but those things
only which pertain to religion were fit themes for his religious tongue.
During his secular life, which continued up to the time of advanced age,
he had never learnt any songs. And, therefore, sometimes at a feast,
when for merriment sake it was agreed that all should sing in turn, he,
when he saw that the harp was nearing him, would rise from his
unfinished supper and go quietly away to his own home." (iv., 24.)

On one occasion, when this had happened, he went, not to his home, but
to the cattle sheds, to rest, because it was his turn to do so that
night. In his sleep one appeared to him and bade him sing. He pleaded
inability, but the command was repeated. "What then," he asked, "must I
sing?" He was told he must sing of the beginning of created things. Then
he sang a Hymn of Creation, and this hymn he remembered when he was
risen from sleep, and it was the proof of his divine vocation. The hymn
was preserved in Latin as well as in the original; and both have been
quoted above. The poems which he subsequently wrote are thus

"He sang of the creation of the world and the origin of the human race,
and the whole story of Genesis, of Israel's departure out of Egypt and
entrance into the land of promise, of many other parts of the sacred
history, of the Lord's Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension
into Heaven, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of the
Apostles. Likewise of the terror of judgment to come, and the awful
punishment of hell, and the bliss of the heavenly kingdom, he made many
poems; many others also concerning divine benefits and judgments, in all
which he sought to wean men from the love of sin, and stimulate them to
the enjoyment and pursuit of good action."

The fifth and last book contains a survey of the condition of the
national Church down to 731, within about four years of the author's

Books of his on the technicalities of literature are a tract on
"Orthography," another "On the Metric Art," also a book "On Figures and
Tropes of Holy Scripture." Least esteemed have been his poetical
compositions, some of which have been suffered to perish. The poem on
the "Miracles of St. Cuthberht" is extant, but the "Book of Hymns in
Various Metre or Rhythm" is lost, and so also is his "Book of Epigrams
in Heroic or Elegiac Metre." But we are not left without an authentic
specimen of his hymnody, as he has incorporated in his history the Hymn
of Virginity in praise of Queen Ethelthryð, the foundress of Ely. His
extant poetry proves him to have been an accomplished scholar and a man
of cultivated taste rather than of poetic genius. But we could afford to
lose many Latin poems in consideration of the slightest vernacular
effort of such a man.

Many manuscripts of the "Ecclesiastical History" contain a letter by one
Cuthbert to his fellow-student Cuthwine, describing the manner of Bede's
death. In this letter is contained a pious ditty in the vernacular,
which Bede, who was "learned in our native songs," composed at the time
when he was contemplating the approach of his own dissolution.

    Fore there neidfarae
        nænig ni uurthit
    thonc snoturra
        than him tharf sie
    to ymbhycggannae,
        aer his him iongae,
    huaet his gastae
        godaes aeththa yflaes
    aefter deothdaege
        doemid uueorthae.

         Before the need-journey
             no one is ever
         more wise in thought
             than he ought,
         to contemplate
             ere his going hence
         what to his soul
             of good or of evil
         after death-day
             deemed will be.[67]

Other remains in the Northumbrian dialect are the Runic inscription on
the Ruthwell Cross, for which the reader is referred to Professor
Stephens's "Old Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England,"
vol. i., p. 405; also the interlinear glosses in the Lindisfarne
Gospels, and in the Durham Ritual. For fuller information on these
glosses I must refer the reader to Professor Skeat's Gospels "in
Anglo-Saxon and Northumbrian Versions Synoptically Arranged;" and more
especially to his preface in the concluding volume, which contains the
fourth Gospel. The Psalter, which was published by the Surtees Society
as Northumbrian, is now judged to be Kentish; but that volume contains,
besides, an "Early English Psalter," which presents a later phase of the
Northumbrian dialect.

The poetical works which now bear Cædmon's name received that name from
Junius, the first editor, in 1655, on the ground of the general
agreement of the subjects with Bede's description of Cædmon's works. In
this book we find a first part containing the most prominent narratives
from the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel; and a second part
containing the Descent of Christ into Hades and the delivery of the
patriarchs from their captivity, according to the apocryphal Gospel of
Nicodemus and the constant legend of the Middle Ages. This comprises a
kind of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Of all this, the part which
has attracted most notice is a part of which the materials are found
neither in Scripture nor in any known Apocrypha. The nearest
approximation yet indicated is in the hexameters of Avitus, described
above.[68] This problematical part describes the Fall of Man as the
sequel of the Fall of the Angels, substantially running on the same
lines as Milton's famous treatment of the same subject. It has often
been surmised that Milton may have known of Cædmon through Junius, and
that this knowledge may have affected the cast of his great poem as well
as suggested some of his most famous touches.[69]

The precipitation is thus described:--

    329 wæron tha befeallene
              fyre to botme
        on tha hatan hell
              thurh hygeleaste
        and thurh ofermetto.
              Sohten other land
        thæt wæs leohtes leas
              and wæs liges full
        fyres fær micel.

             So were they felled
                   to the fiery abyss
             into the hot hell
                   through heedlessness
             and through arrogance.
                   They arrived at another land
             that was void of light
                   and was full of flame
             fire's horror huge.[70]

When the fallen angel speaks, he begins thus:--

    355 Is thes ænga stede
              ungelic swithe
        tham othrum
              the we ær cuthon
        heah on heofenrice
              the me min hearra onlag.

             This confined place
                   is terribly unlike
             that other one
                   that we knew before
             high in heaven's realm
                   which my lord conferred on me.

Having thus begun with a lamentable cry, he gradually recovers composure
and propounds a policy. He observes that God has created a new and happy
being, who is destined to inherit the glory which he and his have

    394 He hæfth nu gemearcod anne middangeard
              thær he hæfth mon geworhtne
        æfter his onlicnesse;
              mid tham he wile eft gesettan
        heofena rice, mid hluttrum saulum.
              We thæs sculon hycgan georne,
        thæt we on Adame
              gif we æfre mægen,
        and on his eafram swa some
              andan gebetan.

             He hath now designed a middle world
                   where He man hath made,
             after His likeness:--
                   with which He will repeople
             heaven's realm, with stainless souls.
                   We must thereto give careful heed
             that we on Adam
                   if we ever may
             and on his offspring likewise
                   our harm redress.

The way proposed is by inducing them to displease their Maker, and then
they will be banished to the same place and become the slaves of Satan
and his angels. A messenger is required:--

    409 Gif ic ænigum thegne
              theoden madmas
        geara forgeafe
              thenden we on than godan rice
        gesælige sæton
              and hæfdon ure setla geweald,
        thonne heme na on leofrantid
              leanum ne meahte
        mine gife gyldan.
              Gif his gien wolde
        minra thegna hwilc
              gethafa wurthan
        thæt he up heonon
              ute mihte
        cuman thurh thas clustro
              and hæfde cræft mid him
        thæt he mid fetherhoman
              fleogan meahte
        windan on wolcne
              thær geworht stondath
        Adam and Eve
              on eorth rice
        mid welan bewunden.
              and we synd aworpene hider
        on thas deopan dalo.

             If I to any thane
                   lordly treasures
             in former times have given,
                   while we in the good realm
             all blissful sate,
                   and had sway of our mansions:--
             at no more acceptable time
                   could he ever with value
             my bounty requite.
                   If now for this purpose
             any one of my thanes
                   would himself volunteer
             that he from here upward
                   and outward might go,
             might come through these barriers
                   and strength in him had
             that with raiment of feather
                   his flight could take
             to whirl on the welkin
                   where the new work is standing
             Adam and Eve
                   in the earthly realm
             with wealth surrounded--
                   and we are cast away hither
             into these deep dales!

Satan rages not so much on account of his own loss as for their gain. If
they could only be ruined by the wrath of God, he declares he could be
at ease even in the midst of woes; and whoever would achieve this he
will reward to his utmost, and give him a seat by his side. Presently we
come to the accoutring of the emissary:--

    442 Angan hine tha gyrwan
              Godes andsaca
        fus on frætwum:
              hæfde fræcne hyge.
        Hæleth helm on heafod asette
              and thone full hearde geband,
        spenn mid spangum.
              Wiste him spræca fela
        wora worda.

             Began him then t' equip
                   th' antagonist of God,
             prompt in harness:--
                   he had a guileful mind.
             A magic helm on head he set,
                   he bound it hard and tight,
             braced it with buckles.
                   Speeches many wist he well,
             crooked words.

He takes wing and rises in air; and then comes a passage like Milton:--

        Swang thæt fyr on twa
              feondes cræfte.

             he dashed the fire in two
                   with fiendish craft.[71]

Arrived at the garden he takes the shape of a serpent, and winds himself
round the forbidden tree. The description recalls the familiar picture
so vividly that we cannot doubt the same picture was before the eyes of
children in the Saxon period as now. He takes some of the fruit and
finds Adam, and addresses him in a speech. He gives a naïve reason why
he is sent:--

    507       Brade synd on worulde
        grene geardas,
              and God siteth
        on tham hehstan
              heofna rice
        ufan. Alwalda
              nele tha earfethu
        sylfa habban
              that he on thisne sith fare,
        gumena drihten:--
              ac he his gingran sent
        to thinre spræce.

                   Broad are in the world
             the green plains,
                   and God sitteth
             in the highest
                   heavenly realm
             above. The Almighty
                   will not the trouble
             himself have,
                   that He should on this journey fare,
             the Lord of men:--
                   but He sends his deputy
             to speak with thee.

These poems are surrounded by interesting questions which it is barely
possible here to indicate. Upon the top of the discussion about Milton,
which is not by any means exhausted, there comes a much larger and wider
field of inquiry as to the relation existing between this Miltonic part
(if I may so speak) and the Old Saxon poem of the "Heliand." The
investigation has been admirably started by Mr. Edouard Sievers in a
little book containing this portion of the text, and exhibiting in
detail the peculiar intimacy of relation between it and the "Heliand,"
in regard to vocabulary, phraseology, and versification. This part of
Mr. Sievers' work is complete. Probably no one who has gone through his
proofs will be found to question his conclusion, that there is between
the "Heliand" and the Saxon "Paradise Lost" such an identity as
isolates those two works from all other literature, and makes it
necessary to trace them to one source. What remains is only to determine
the order of their affiliation. His theory is that our "Cædmon" contains
a large insertion which has been borrowed, not, of course, from the
"Heliand," because the "Heliand" is a poem solely on the Gospel history,
but from a sister poem to the "Heliand," a corresponding poem on the Old
Testament. Professor George Stephens, of Copenhagen, offered a simpler
explanation. He supposed that our piece is a purely domestic remnant of
that school of English poetry which Bede described, and that the
"Heliand" is a continental offspring of the same school, being a
monument of the poetic culture which was planted along the borders of
the Rhine by the Anglo-Saxon missionaries.

ALCUIN'S name connects the Anglian period with the great
Frankish revival of literature under Charlemagne. And as he bears a
prominent part in the establishment of literature in its next European
seat, so also he had the grief of witnessing the earlier stages of that
devastation which extinguished the light in his own country. This is how
he writes on hearing of the invasion of Lindisfarne by the northern
rovers in 793, to Bishop Hugibald and the monks of Lindisfarne:--

"As your beloved society was wont to delight me when I was with you, so
does the report of your tribulation sadden me continually now that I am
absent from you. How have the heathen defiled the sanctuaries of God,
and shed the blood of the saints round about the altar. They have laid
waste the dwelling-place of our hope; they have trodden down the bodies
of the saints in the temple of God like mire in the street. What can I
say? I can only lament in my heart with you before the altar of Christ,
and say: Spare, Lord, spare Thy people, and give not Thy heritage to the
heathen, lest the pagans say, Where is the God of the Christians? What
confidence is there for the churches of Britain if Saint Cuthbert, with
so great a company of saints, defends not his own? Either this is the
beginning of a greater sorrow, or the sins of the people have brought
this upon them."[72]

Thus we have arrived at the verge of that catastrophe which closes for
ever the singular greatness of Anglia. Charles brought learning to
France by drawing from Anglia and from Italy the best plants for his new
field; he inherited the civilising labours of the Saxon missionaries in
his dominions beyond the Rhine; he founded a centre of power and a
centre of education together; and France remained the chief seat of
learning throughout the Middle Ages.[73] The glory of a European
position in literature can no longer be claimed for England. Through the
remainder of our narrative we must be content with a provincial sphere;
and our compensation must be found in the fact that the vernacular
element is all the more freely developed.


[64] In the famous manuscript of the "Ecclesiastical History" of Bede,
which is commonly known as the Moore manuscript, because it passed with
the library of Bishop Moore (Ely) to the University of Cambridge, is in
a hand which is thought to be as old as the time of Bede, who died in

[65] Bede gives the "sense" of this first hymn as follows:--"Nunc
laudare debemus auctorem regni caelestis, potentiam creatoris et
consilium illius, facta patris gloriae; quomodo ille, cum sit aeternus
deus, omnium miraculorum auctor extitit, qui primo filiis hominum caelum
pro culmine tecti, dehinc terram custos humani generis omnipotens
creavit."--"Ecclesiastical History," iv. 24.

[66] Adolf Ebert's account of Bede in "History of Christian-Latin
Literature," translated by Mayor and Lumby in their admirable edition of
the third and fourth books of Bede's "Church History" (Pitt Press
Series), 1878, p. 11.

[67] The general correctness of our translation is assured by the fact
that the Latin text in which it is embodied supplies a Latin
translation, thus:--"quod ita latine sonat: 'ante necessarium exitum
prudentior quam opus fuerit nemo existit, ad cogitandum videlicet
antequam hinc proficiscatur anima, quid boni vel mali egerit, qualiter
post exitum judicanda fuerit.'"--"Bedæ Hist. Eccl.," iii., iv. (Mayor
and Lumby), p. 177.

[68] Page 14.

[69] There has been a recent discussion of this question by Professor
Wülcker in "Anglia," with a negative result. But the conclusion rests on
too slight a basis.

[70] "Milton has the same idea in a kindred passage, but it is not so
terse, so condensed, as Cædmon's:--

          'Yet from those flames
    No light, but rather darkness visible
    Served only to discover sights of woe.'

"In Job x. 22 we also find a similar idea:--'A land of darkness, as
darkness itself; and of the shadow of death without any order, and where
the light is as darkness.' They are all powerful, all dreadful, but
Cædmon's 'without light, and full of flame,' is much the strongest. It
is an Inferno in a line."--ROBERT SPENCE WATSON, "Cædmon," p. 44.

[71] "Paradise Lost," i., 221:--

    "Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool
    His mighty stature; on each hand the flames,
    Driv'n backward, slope their pointing spires, and roll'd
    In billows, leave i' th' midst a horrid vale."

[72] Wright, "Biographia Literaria," Anglo-Saxon Period, p. 353.

[73] The new start of literature under Charles is briefly and
brilliantly stated in the first paragraph of Adolf Ebert's second



We have now seen something of a culture that was introduced from abroad,
and guided by foreign models. But our people had a native gift of song,
and a tradition of poetic lore, which lived in memory, and was sustained
by the profession of minstrelsy. The Christian and literary culture
obtained through the Latin tended strongly to the suppression and
extinction of this ancient and national vein of poetry. But happily it
has not all been lost, and it will be the aim of this chapter to present
some specimens of that poetry which is rooted in the native genius of
the race, and which we may call the primary poetry. The poetry which is
manifestly of Latin material we will call the secondary poetry. It is
not asserted that we have two sorts of poetry so entirely separate and
distinct the one from the other, that the one is purely native and
untinged with foreign influence, while the other springs from mere
imitation. The two sorts are not so utterly contrasted as that. Even the
secondary poetry is not without originality. On the other hand the
primary poetry betrays here and there the Latin culture and the
Christian sentiment; and yet if is quite sufficiently distinct and
characterised to justify the plan of grouping it apart from the general
body of the poetical remains.

The chief features of the Saxon poetry may conveniently be arranged
under three heads: 1. The mechanical formation. 2. The rhetorical
characteristics. 3. The imaginative elements.

1. Of these the first turns on Alliteration, Accent, and Rhythm; and
this part, which is generally held to belong rather to grammar than to
literature, I have described elsewhere.[74]

2. The Rhetorical characteristic of Anglo-Saxon poetry which is most
prominent, is a certain repetition of the thought with a variation of
epithet or phrase, in a manner which distinctly resembles the
parallelism of Hebrew poetry.

3. The Imaginative element resides chiefly in the metaphor, which is
very pervading and seems to be almost unconscious. It seldom rises to
that conscious form of metaphor which we call the Simile, and when it
does it is laconically brief, as in the comparison of a ship with a bird
(fugle gelicost). The later poetry begins to expand the similes somewhat
after the manner of the Latin poets. In Beowulf we have four brief
similes and only one that is expanded; namely, that of the sword-hilt
melting like ice in the warm season of spring (line 1,608).

We will begin with the "Beowulf," the largest and in every sense the
most important of the remaining Anglo-Saxon poems. It has much in it
that seems like anticipation of the age of chivalry. The story of the
"Beowulf" is as follows:[75]--

Hroðgar, king of the Danes, ruled over many nations with imperial sway.
It came into his mind to add to his Burg a spacious hall for the greater
splendour of his hospitality and the dispensing of his bounty. This hall
was named Heorot. But all his glory was undone by the nightly visits of
a devouring fiend; Hroðgar's people were either killed, or gone to safer
quarters. Heorot, though habitable by day, was abandoned at night; no
faithful band kept watch around the seat of Danish royalty; Hroðgar, the
aged king, was in dejection and despair.

Higelac was king in the neighbouring land of the Geatas, and he had
about him a young nephew, a sister's son, Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow.
Beowulf had great bodily strength, but was otherwise little accounted
of. The young man loved adventure, and hearing of Hroðgar's misery, he
determined to help him. He embarked with fourteen companions, and
reached the coast of the Danes, where he was challenged by the
coast-warden in a tone of mistrust. After a parley, that officer sped
him on his way, and Beowulf's company stood before Hroðgar's gate. Asked
the meaning of this armed visit, the leader answers: "We sit at
Higelac's table: my name is Beowulf. I will tell mine errand to thy
master, if he will deign that we may greet him." Hroðgar knew Beowulf's
name, remembered his father Ecgtheow,[76] had the visitor to his
presence, heard his high resolve, was ready to hope for deliverance, and
prompt to see in Beowulf a deliverer. Festivity is renewed in the
deserted hall, and tales of old achievements revive forgotten
mirth--mirth broken only by the gibes of the eloquent Hunferth, which
give Beowulf occasion to tell the tale of an old swimming-match when he
slew sea-monsters; and all is harmony again. But night descends, and
with it the fears that were now habitual. Beowulf shrinks not from his
adventure; the guests depart, and the king, retiring to his castle,
commits to his visitor the night-watch of Heorot.

    Næfre ic ænegum men
        ær alyfde,
    siððan ic hond and rond
        hebban mihte,
    thryth ærn Dena:--
        buton the nu tha!
    Hafa nu and geheald
        husa selest;
    gemyne mærtho,
        mægen ellen cyth;
    waca with wrathum!
        ne bith the wilna gad,
    gif thu thæt ellen weorc
        aldre gedigest.

         Never I to any man
             ere now entrusted,
         (since hand and shield
             I first could heave)
         the Guardhouse of the Danes:--
             never but now to thee!
         Have now and hold
             the sacred house;
         of glory mindful
             main and valour prove;
         watch for the foe!
             no wish of thine shall fail,
         if thou the daring work
             with life canst do.

Beowulf and his companions have their beds in the hall.

They sleep; but he watches. It was not long before the depredator of the
night was there, and a lurid gleam stood out of his eyes. While Beowulf
cautiously held himself on the alert, the fiend had quickly clutched and
devoured one of the sleepers. But now Grendel--such was the demon's
name--found himself in a grasp unknown before. Long and dire was the
strife. The timbers cracked, the iron-bound benches plied, and work
deemed proof against all but fire was now a wreck. Grendel finding the
foe too strong, thought only of escape. He did escape, and got away to
the moor, but he left an arm in Beowulf's grip.

Early in the morning men came from far and near to see the hideous
trophy on the gable of the hall: men came to rejoice in the great
deliverance; for Heorot, they said, was now purged. Great was their joy.
Mounted men rode over the moor, tracking Grendel's retreat by his blood;
they followed his path to the dismal pool where he had his habitation;
then they turn homewards, riding together and conversing as they go.
They talk of Beowulf, they liken him with Sigemund, that hero of
greatest name. When they come to galloping ground, they break away from
the tales, and race over the turf. In another tale they talk of Heremod;
but he was proud and cold, not like Beowulf, who is as genial as he is
valiant. The early riders are back to Heorot in time to see the king and
the queen moving from bower to hall, the king with his guard, the queen
with her maidens. Then follows a noble scene. Hroðgar sees the hideous
trophy on the gable; he stands on the terrace, and utters a thanksgiving
to God as stately as it is simple. He reviews the woe and the grief, the
disgrace, the helplessness, and the utter despondency of himself and of
his people; "and now a boy hath done the deed which we all with our
united powers could not compass! Verily that woman is blessed that bare
him; and if she yet lives, she may well say that God was very gracious
to her in her childbearing. Beowulf, I will love thee as a son, and thou
shalt lack nothing that it is in my power to give."

Beowulf spake: "We did our best in a risky tussle; would I could have
brought you the fiend a captive. I could not hold him; he gave me the
slip: but he left a limb behind; _that_ will be his death." Next Heorot
is restored and beautified anew. Marvellous gold-embroidered hangings
drape the walls, the admiration of those who have an eye for such
things. The whole interior had been a wreck, the roof alone remained
entire. Now, it was straight and fair once more; and now it was to be
the scene of such a profusion of gifts as poet had never sung.

In honour of his victory Beowulf received a golden banner of quaint
device, a helmet, and a coat of mail; but what drew all eyes was the
ancient famous sword now brought forth from the treasure house, and
borne up to the hero. Furthermore, at the king's word, eight splendid
horses, cheek-adorned, were led into the hall; and on one of them was
seen the saddle, the well-known saddle of Hroðgar, wherein he, never
aloof in battle-hour, sate when he mingled in the fray of war. "Take
them," said the king, "take them, Beowulf, both horses and armour; and
my blessing with them."

The companions of Beowulf were not forgotten: they all received
appropriate gifts. The festivities proceed, and we have a picture of the
course of the banquet. The minstrel's tale on that occasion was the
Fearful Fray in the Castle of Finn, when Danes were there on a visit.
The song being ended, Waltheow the queen bears the cup to the king, and
bids him be merry and bountiful. Her queenly counsel stops not here. The
king had sons of his own; he should give no hint of any other succession
to his seat; while he occupied the throne, he should be large in bounty
and encircle himself with grateful champions. Next, with like ceremony
she honours Beowulf, and hands the cup to him. She also presents her
own special gifts to the deliverer:--bracelets, and a rich garment, and
a collar surpassing all most famed in story since Hama captured the
collar of the Brosings. The queen addresses Beowulf, wishes him joy of
her gifts, exalts his merits, bids him befriend her son and be loyal to
the king. She took her seat, and the revelry grew. Little deemed they,
what next would happen, when the night should be dark, and Hroðgar
asleep in his bower!

The hall is made ready as a dormitory for the men-at-arms; the benches
are slewed round, and the floor is spread from end to end with beds and
bolsters. Every warrior's shield is set upright at his head, and by the
bench-posts stands his spear, supporting helmet and mail. Such was their
custom; they slept as ever ready to rise and do service to their king.
Horror is renewed in the night; Grendel's fiendish dam visits the hall
and kills one of the sleepers, Æschere by name.

In the morning the king is in great distress. He sends for Beowulf, who,
after the purging of Heorot, had occupied a separate bower, like the
king. Beowulf arrives, and hopes all is well. Hroðgar spake:--"Ask not
of welfare; sorrow is renewed for the Danish folk! My trusty friend
Æschere is dead; my comrade tried in battle when the tug was for life,
when the fight was foot to foot and helmets kissed:--oh! Æschere was
what a thane should be! The cruel hag has wreaked on him her vengeance.
The country folk said there were two of them, one the semblance of a
woman, the other the spectre of a man. Their haunt is in the remote
land, in the crags of the wolf, the wind-beaten cliffs, and untrodden
bogs, where the dismal stream plunges into the drear abyss of an awful
lake, overhung with a dark and grisly wood rooted down to the water's
edge, where a lurid flame plays nightly on the surface of the flood--and
there lives not the man who knows its depth! So dreadful is the place
that the hunted stag, hard driven by the hounds, will rather die on the
bank than find a shelter there. A place of terror! When the wind rises,
the waves mingle hurly-burly with the clouds, the air is stifling and
rumbles with thunder. To thee alone we look for relief; darest thou
explore the monster's lair, I will reward the adventure with ancient
treasures, with coils of gold if thou return alive!"

Said Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow:--"Sorrow not, experienced sire!
Better avenge a friend than idly deplore him:--each must wait the end of
life, and should work while he may to make him a name--the best thing
after life! Bestir thee, guardian of the folk! let us be quick upon the
track of Grendel's housemate. I make thee a promise:--not highest cliff,
not widest field, not darkest wood, nor deepest flood--go where he
will--shall be his refuge! Bear up for one day, and may thy troubles end
according to my wish!" The king mounts, and with his retinue conducts
Beowulf to the charmed lake: the wildness of the way, and the strange
nature of the scenes, are all in keeping. The armed followers sit them
down in a place where they command a view of the dismal water. Monstrous
creatures writhe about the crags; the men shoot some of them.

Beowulf equips for his adventure. His sword was the famous Hrunting,
lent to him by Hunferth, the boastful orator, he who had gibed at
Beowulf on the day of his arrival. It was a sword of high repute; a
hoarded treasure; its edge was iron; it was damascened with device of
coiled twigs; it had never failed in fight the hand that dared to wield
it. Now Beowulf spoke, ready for action: "Remember, noble Hroðgar, how
thou and I talked together, that if I lost life in thy service thou
wouldest be as a father to me departed:--protect my comrades if I am
taken; and the gifts thou gavest me, beloved Hroðgar, send home to
Higelac. When he looks on the treasures he will know that I found a
bounteous master, and enjoyed life while it lasted. And let Hunferð have
his old sword again: I will conquer fame with Hrunting, or die
fighting." Act followed word: he was gone, and the wave had covered him.
He was most of the day before he reached the depths of the abyss. While
yet on the downward way, he was met by the old water-wolf that had dwelt
there a hundred years, who had perceived the approach of a human
visitor. She clutched him and bore him off, till he found himself with
his enemy in a vast chamber which excluded the water and was lighted by
some strange fire-glow. At once the fight began, and Hrunting rang about
the demon's head; but against such a being the sword was useless, the
edge turned that never had failed before: he flung it from him and
trusted to strength of arm. In his rage he charged so deadly that he
felled the monster to the ground; but she recovered and Beowulf fell.
And now the furious wight thought to revenge Grendel; she plunged her
knife at Beowulf's breast, and his life had ended there but for the good
service of his ringed mail-serk. Protected by this armour, and helped by
Him who giveth victory, he passed the perilous moment, and was on his
feet again. And now he espied among the armour in that place an old
elfin sword, such as no other man might carry; this he seized, and with
the force of despair he so smote that the fell hag lay dead:--the sword
was gory, and the boy was fain of his work. With rage unsated, he ranged
through the place till he came to where Grendel lay lifeless: he smote
the head from the hateful carcase.

To Hroðgar's men watching on the height the lake appeared as if mingled
with blood, and this seemed to confirm their fears. The day was waning:
the old men about Hroðgar took counsel, and, concluding they should see
Beowulf no more, they moved homeward. But Beowulf's followers, though
sick at heart and with little hope, yet sate on in spite of dejection.

Meanwhile the huge, gigantic blade had melted marvellously away "likest
unto ice, when the Father (he who hath power over times and seasons,
that is, the true ruler) looseneth the chain of frost and unwindeth the
wave-ropes":--so venomous was the gore of the fiend that had been slain
therewith. Beowulf took the gigantic hilt and the monster's head, and,
soaring up through the waters, he stood on the shore to the surprise and
joy of his faithful comrades, who came eagerly about him to ease him of
his dripping harness. Exulting they return to Heorot, Grendel's head
carried by four men on a pole; they march straight up the hall to greet
the king, and the guests are startled with the ghastly evidence of
Beowulf's complete success. Beowulf tells his story and presents the
hilt to Hroðgar. The aged king extols the unparalleled achievements of
Beowulf, and warns him against excessive exaltation of mind by the
example of Heremod.

Soon after this we have the parting between the old king and the young
hero, who declares his readiness to come with a thousand thanes at any
time of Hroðgar's need; while Hroðgar's words are of love and admiration
and confidence in his discretion: and so he lets him go not without
large addition of gifts, and embraces, and kisses, and tears. "Thence
Beowulf the warrior, elate with gold, trod the grassy plain, exulting in
treasure; the sea-goer that rode at anchor awaited its lord; then as
they went was Hroðgar's liberality often praised." At the coast they are
met by the coast-warden with an altered and respectful mien: they are
soon afloat, and we hear the whistle of the wind through the rigging as
the gallant craft bears away before the breeze to carry them all merrily
homewards after well-sped adventure. The welcome is worthy of the
work:--Higelac's reception of Beowulf, the joy of getting him back;
Beowulf presenting to his liege lord the wealth he had won; old
reminiscences called up and couched in song; an ancient sword brought
out and presented to Beowulf, and with the sword a spacious lordship, a
noble mansion, and all seigneurial rights.

And so he dwelt until such time as he went forth with Higelac on his
fatal expedition against the Frisians, who were backed by a strong
alliance of Chauci, and Chattuarii, and Franks; and there Higelac fell,
and his army perished. Beowulf, by prodigious swimming, reached his home
again, where now was a young widowed queen and her infant son. She
offered herself and her kingdom to Beowulf; he preferred the office of
the faithful guardian. At a later time the young king fell in battle,
and then Beowulf succeeded. He reigned fifty years a good king, and
ended life with a supreme act of heroism. He fought and slew a fiery
dragon which desolated his country, and was himself mortally wounded in
the conflict. One single follower, Wiglaf by name, bolder or more
faithful than the rest, was at his side in danger, though not to help;
and he received the hero's dying words:--"I should have given my armour
to my son if I had heir of my body. I have held this people fifty years;
no neighbour has dared to challenge or molest me. I have lived with men
on fair and equal terms; I have done no violence, caused no friends to
perish, and that is a comfort to one deadly wounded who is soon to
appear before the Ruler of men. Now, beloved Wiglaf, go thou quickly in
under the hoary stone of the dragon's vault, and bring the treasures out
into the daylight, that I may behold the splendour of ancient wealth,
and death may be the softer for the sight." When it was done, and the
wondrous heap was before his eyes, the victorious warrior spake:--"For
the riches on which I look I thank the Lord of all, the king of glory,
the everlasting ruler, that I have been able before my death-day to
acquire such for my people. Well spent is the remnant of my life to earn
such a treasure; I charge thee with the care of the people; I can be no
longer here. Order my warriors after the bale-fire to rear a mighty
mound on the headland over the sea: it shall tower aloft on Hronesness
for a memorial to my people: that sea-going men in time to come may call
it Beowulf's Barrow, when foam-prowed ships drive over the scowling
flood on their distant courses." Then he removed a golden coil from his
neck and gave it to the young thane; the same he did with his helmet
inlaid with gold, the collar, and the mail-coat: he bade him use them as
his own.

"Thou art the last of our race of the Wægmundings; fate has swept all my
kindred off into Eternity; I must follow them." That was his latest
word; his soul went out of his breast into the lot of the just.
Reflections and discourses proper to the occasion are spoken by Wiglaf,
such as chiding of the timorous who stood aloof, and gloomy
anticipations of the future.

    3,000 Thæt is sio fæhtho
              and se feondscipe,
          wæl nith wera,
              thæs the ic wen hafo,
          the us seceath to
              Sweona leode
          syððan hie gefricgeath
              frean userne,
              thone the ær geheold
          with hettendum
              hord and rice;
          folc ræd fremede,
              oððe furthur gen
          eorlscipe efnde.
              Nu is ofost betost
          thæt we theod cyning
              thær sceawian
          and thone gebringan,
              the us beagas geaf,
          on âd fære.
              Ne scal anes hwæt
          meltan mid tham modigan,
              ac thær is mathma hord,
          gold unrime
              grimme geceapod
          and nu æt sithestan
              sylfes feore
          beagas gebohte.
              Tha sceal brond gretan
          æled theccean,
              nalles eorl wegan
          maððum to gemyndum,
              ne mægth scyne
          habban on healse
              hring weorthunge,
          ac sceal geomor mod
              golde bereafod
          oft nalles æne
              el land tredan;
          nu se here wisa
              hleahtor alegde,
          gamen and gleo dream.

               This is the feud
                   and this the foeman's hate
               the vengeful spite
                   that I expect
               against us now will bring
                   the Swedish bands;
               soon as they hear
                   our chieftain high
               of life bereft--
                   who held till now
               'gainst haters all
                   the hoard and realm;
               peace framed at home;
                   and further off
               respect inspired.
                   Now speed is best
               that we our liege and king
                   go look upon,
               And him escort,
                   who us adorned,
               the pile towards.
                   Not things of petty worth
               shall with the mighty melt,
                   but there a treasure main,
               uncounted gold
                   costly procured
               and now at length
                   with his great life
               jewels dear-bought;
                   them shall flame devour,
               burning shall bury:--
                   never a warrior bear
               jewel of dear memory,
                   nor maiden sheen
               have on her neck
               nay, shall disconsolate
               not once but oft
                   tread strangers' land;
               now the leader in war
                   laughter hath quenched
               game and all sound of glee.

And so this noble poem moves on to its close, ending, like the "Iliad,"
with a great bale-fire. Two closing lines record like an epitaph the
praise of the dead in superlatives; not as a warrior, but as a man and a
ruler: how that he was towards men the mildest and most affable,
towards his people he was most gracious and most yearning for their

About the structure of this poem the same sort of questions are debated
as those which Wolff raised about Homer--whether it is the work of a
single poet, or a patchwork of older poems. Ludwig Ettmüller, of Zürich,
who first gave the study of the "Beowulf" a German basis, regarded the
poem as originally a purely heathen work, or a compilation of smaller
heathen poems, upon which the editorial hands of later and Christian
poets had left their manifest traces. In his translation, one of the
most vigorous efforts in the whole of Beowulf literature, he has
distinguished, by a typographical arrangement, the later additions from
what he regards as the original poetry. He is guided, however, by
considerations different from those that affect the Homeric debate. He
is chiefly guided by the relative shades of the heathen and Christian
elements. Wherever the touch of the Christian hand is manifest, he
arranges such parts as additions and interpolations.[77]

Grein saw in the poem the unity of a single work, and he thought the
motive allegorical. He interpreted the assaults of the water-fiend as
the night attacks of sea-robbers. I cannot see any such allegory as
this, but I agree with him as to the unity of the poem, so far as unity
is compatible with the traces of older materials. And I see allegory
too, but in a different sense.

The material is mythical and heathen; but it is clarified by natural
filtration through the Christian mind of the poet. Not only are the
heathen myths inoffensive, but they are positively favourable to a train
of Christian thought. Beowulf's descent into the abyss to extirpate the
scourge is suggestive of that Article in the Apostles' Creed which had a
peculiar fascination for the mind of the Dark and Middle Ages; the fight
with the dragon; the victory that cost the victor his life; the one
faithful friend while the rest are fearful--these incidents seem almost
like reflections of evangelical history. Without seeing in the poem an
allegorical design, we may imagine that, with the progress of
Christianity, those parts of the old mythology which were most in
harmony with Christian doctrines had the best chance of survival; and
that, as a poet puts a new physiognomy on an old story without
distorting the tradition, as we have seen in our own day the story of
Arthur told again, not with the elaborate allegory of Spenser, but with
a spiritual transfiguration which makes the "Idylls of the King" truly
an epic of the nineteenth century, so I conceive that Beowulf was a
genuine growth of that junction in time (define it where we may) when
the heathen tales still kept their traditional interest, and yet the
spirit of Christianity had taken full possession of the Saxon mind--at
least, so much of it as was represented by this poetical literature.

We may not dismiss the "Beowulf" without hazarding an opinion as to the
date of its production. It has been said to be older than the Saxon
Conquest, and some of the materials are doubtless of this antiquity. But
for the poem, as we have it, Kemble assigned it to the seventh century;
then Ettmüller thought it belonged to the ninth; then Grein went back
halfway to the eighth, and this has been adopted by Mr. Arnold, and most
generally followed. I think Ettmüller is the nearest to the mark; and I
would rather go forward to the tenth than back to the eighth. A
pardonable fancy might see the date conveyed in the poem itself. The
dragon watches over an old hoard of gold, and it is distinctly a heathen
hoard (hæðnum horde, 2,217) of heathen gold (hæðen gold, 2,277). In the
same context we find that the monster had watched over this earth-hidden
treasure for 300 years; and if this may be something more than a
poetical number, it may possibly indicate the time elapsed since the
heathen age. Three hundred years would bring us to the close of the
ninth or the beginning of the tenth century, a date which, on every
consideration, I incline to think the most probable.[78]

All the traces of affinity with, or consciousness of, the "Beowulf" that
we can discover--and they are very few--are such as to favour this date.
The only complete parallel to the fable is found in the Icelandic Saga
of Grettir, who is a kind of northern Hercules. This hero performs many
great feats, but there are three which belong to the supernatural. In
one of these he wrestles with a fiend called Glam, and kills him; and
though Glam is not the same as Grendel, yet the circumstances of the
encounter are so full of parallels as to establish, at least, the
literary affinity of the two stories. The other two supernatural feats
are coupled, just in the same way as two of the feats of Beowulf are. It
is two fights, one in a hall and one under a waterfall, with two
monsters of one family. The fight with the troll-wife in the hall is a
true parallel to Beowulf's fight with Grendel; but the fight with the
troll in the cavern under the force is in great essentials and in minute
details so identical with Beowulf's underwater adventure, that one may
call it a prose version of the same thing under different names. A
certain house was haunted. Men that were there alone by night were
missing, and nothing more was heard of them. Grettir came and lay in
that hall. The troll-wife came and he vanquished her. This he had done
under an assumed name, but the priest of the district knows he can be no
other than Grettir, and he asks Grettir what had become of the men who
were lost. Grettir bids the priest come with him to the river. There was
a waterfall, and a sheer cliff of fifty fathom down to the water, and
under the force was seen the mouth of a cavern. They had a rope with
them. The priest drives down a stake into a cleft of the rock and
secured it with stones, and he sate by it. Grettir said, "I will search
what there is in the force, but thou shalt watch the rope." He put a
stone in the bight of the rope, and let it sink down in the water. He
made ready, girt him with a short sword, and had no other weapon. He
leaped off the cliff, and the priest saw the soles of his feet. Grettir
dived under the force, and the eddy was so strong that he had to get to
the very bottom before he could get inside the force, where the river
stood off from the cliff. By a jutting rock he reached the cavern's
mouth. In the cave there was a fire burning on the hearth. A giant sate
there, who at once leaped up and struck at the intruder with a pike made
equally to cut and to thrust. This weapon had a wooden shaft, and men
called it a hepti-sax.[79] Grettir's sword demolishes this weapon, and
the giant stretched after a sword that hung there in the cave. Then
Grettir smote him and killed him, and his blood ran down with the stream
past the rope where the priest sate to watch. The priest concluded that
Grettir was dead, and it being now evening he went home. But Grettir
explored the cave. He found the bones of two men, and put them into a
skin. He swam to the rope and climbed up by it to the top of the cliff.
When the priest came to church next morning he found the bones in the
bag, and a rune-stick whereon the event was carved; but Grettir was

The identity is so manifest that we have only to ask which people (if
either) was the borrower, the English or the Danes. And here comes in
the consideration that the geography of the "Beowulf" is Scandinavian.
There is no consciousness of Britain or England throughout the poem. If
this raises a presumption that the Saxon poet got his story from a Dane,
we naturally ask, When is this likely to have happened? and the answer
must be that the earliest probable time begins after the Peace of
Wedmore in 878.

In the "Blickling Homilies" there is a passage which recalls the
description of the mere in "Beowulf."[80] So far as this coincidence
affects the question, it makes for the date here assigned.

Beyond the "Beowulf" we have but small and fragmentary remains of the
old heroic poetry. The most important pieces are "The Battle of Finn's
Burgh," and "The Lay of King Waldhere." These are now often printed in
the editions of the "Beowulf."

Ettmüller conjectured that the "Invitation from a True Lover Settled
Abroad," was not a single lyric, but a beautiful incident taken from
some epic poem.[81] A messenger comes with a token to a lady at home, by
which she may credit his message; he bids her take ship as soon as she
hears the voice of the cuckoo, and go out to him who has all things
ready about him to give her a suitable reception.

Next we will consider


The subject of this piece is a city in ruins. There is massive masonry:
the place was once handsomely built and decorated and held by warriors,
but now all tumbled about; works of art exposed to view and forming a
strange contrast with the desolation around; there is a wide pool of
water, hot without fire; and there are the once-frequented baths. This
is no vague poetic composition, but the portrait of a definite spot. It
suits the old Brito-Roman ruin of Akeman after 577; and it suits no
other place that I can think of in the habitable world. The old view
that it was a fortress or castle seems misplaced in time, as well as
incompatible with the expressions in the text.[83]

The poem begins:--

    Wrætlic is thes weal stan
        wyrde gebræcon,

         Stupendous is this wall of stone,
             strange the ruin!

The strongholds are bursten, the work of giants decaying, the roofs are
fallen, the towers tottering, dwellings unroofed and mouldering, masonry
weather-marked, shattered the places of shelter, time-scarred,
tempest-marred, undermined of eld.

        Eorth grap hafath
    waldend wyrhtan
        forweorene geleorene
    heard gripe hrusan
        oth hund cnea
    wer theoda gewitan.
        Oft thes wag gebad
    ræg har and read fah
        rice æfter othrum
    ofstonden under stormum....

             Earth's grasp holdeth
         the mighty workmen
             worn away lorn away
         in the hard grip of the grave
             till a hundred ages
         of men-folk do pass.
             Oft this wall witnessed
         (weed-grown and lichen-spotted)
             one great man after another
         take shelter out of storms....

       *       *       *       *       *

How did the swift sledge-hammer flash and furiously come down upon the
rings when the sturdy artizan was rivetting the wall with clamps so
wondrously together. Bright were the buildings, the bath-houses many,
high-towered the pinnacles, frequent the war-clang, many the mead-halls,
of merriment full, till all was overturned by Fate the violent. The
walls crumbled widely; dismal days came on; death swept off the valiant
men; the arsenals became ruinous foundations; decay sapped the burgh.
Pitifully crouched armies to earth. Therefore these halls are a dreary
ruin, and these pictured gables;[84] the rafter-framed roof sheddeth its
tiles; the pavement is crushed with the ruin, it is broken up in heaps;
where erewhile many a baron--

    glædmod and goldbeorht
        gleoma gefrætwed
    wlonc and wingal
        wig hyrstum scan;
    seah on sinc on sylfor
        on searo gimmas;
    on ead, on æht,
        on eorcan stan:
    on thas beorhtan burg
        bradan rices.
    Stan hofu stodan;
        stream hate wearp
    widan wylme,
        weal eal befeng
    beorhtan bosme;
        thær tha bathu wæron,
    hat on hrethre;
        thæt wes hythelic!

         joyous and gold-bright
             gaudily jewelled
         haughty and wine-hot
             shone in his harness;
         looked on treasure, on silver,
             on gems of device;
         on wealth, on stores,
             on precious stones;
         on this bright borough
             of broad dominion.
         There stood courts of stone!
             The stream hotly rushed
         with eddy wide,
             (wall all enclosed)
         with bosom bright,
             (There the baths were!)
         not in its nature!
             That was a boon indeed!


In patriarchal or sub-patriarchal times social life was still confined
within the family pale; and the man who belonged to no household was a
wanderer and a vagabond on the face of the earth. Through invasion or
war or other accidents a man who had been the honoured member of a
well-found home might live to see that home broken up or pass into
strange hands, and he might be thus like a plant uprooted when he was
too old to get planted in a fresh connexion. His only chance of any
share in social life was to wander from house to house, getting perhaps
a brief lodging in each; and such a homeless condition might be well
expressed by the compound eardstapa, one who tramps (_stapa_) from one
habitation (_eard_) to another. In such an outcast plight the speaker in
this piece went to sea, and there he often thought of the old happy days
that were gone. He would dream of the pleasure of his old access to the
giefstol of his lord, whom he saluted with kiss and head on knee, and
then he would wake a friendless man in the wintry ocean, and his grief
would be the sorer at his heart for the recollections of lost kindred
that the dream had revived. Such a lot is in ready sympathy with
old-world ruins, of which there were many in England at that time, and
they raise the anticipation of a time when a like ruin will be the end
of all! "It becomes a wise man to know how awful it will be when all
this world's wealth stands waste, as now up and down in the world there
are wind-buffeted walls standing in mouldering decay"--and the
description which follows is either a reminiscence of "The Ruined City,"
or else it shows that the subject of ruins was familiar with the


Ettmüller reckoned this the oldest of the Saxon lyrics; influenced,
perhaps, by the mythical nature of the contents. But, if we regard the
form rather than the material, there is a refinement about the
versification which does not look archaic. The poem is cast in irregular
stanzas, and it has a refrain. The poet, whose name is Deor, has
experienced the fallaciousness of early success. His prospects are
clouded; once the favourite minstrel of his patron, he is now superseded
by a newer Scōp. His consolation is a well-known one; perhaps the oldest
and commonest of all the formulæ of consolation. Others have been in
trouble before him, and have somehow got over it. This is not conveyed
as a mere generalisation; it is done poetically through striking
examples, of which Weland is the first, and Beadohild the second. After
each example comes the refrain:--

    thæs ofereode
        thisses swa mæg!

         That [distress] he overwent,
             So . I . can . this!

The failures of life's hopes and ambitions have been so often lamented,
that the subject is rather hackneyed and conventional. Here is a piece
out of the beaten track; fresh, though ingenious and artistic. Such a
poem is all the more welcome as the subject belongs to an extinct
career--the career of a court minstrel.

The Ballads have a peculiar value of their own. There is a sense in
which they are the best representatives of the native muse. There are
several extant specimens of various merit, but two are pre-eminent, and
these are, beyond all doubt, preserved in their original and unaltered
form. They were manifestly produced in the moment when the sensation of
a great event was yet fresh. They are impassioned and effusive, and they
bear good witness to the characteristics of primitive poetry. One
spontaneous element they preserve, which has been quite discarded from
modern poetry, and of which the other traces are few. I mean the poetry
of derision. The light and shade of the ballad is glory and scorn. The
most popular subject of this species of poetry is a battle. Whether your
ballad is of victory or of disaster, these two elements, not indeed with
the same intensity or the same proportions, but still these two, are the
constituents required. Our best examples are the "Victory of Brunanburh"
(937), and the "Disaster of Maldon" (991).

The battle of Brunanburh was fought by King Athelstan and his brother
Edmund (children of Edward), against the alliance of the Scots under
Constantinus with the Danes under Anlaf.

Various attempts have been made to present in modern English the Ballad
of Brunanburh, the most successful being that by the Poet Laureate. Our
language is rather out of practice for kindling a poetic fervour around
the sentiment of flinging scorn at a vanquished foe; but the following
will serve to illustrate this heathenish element, or such relics of it
as survived in the tenth century. The person first railed at is


    Slender reason had
    _He_ to be proud of
    The welcome of war-knives--
    He that was reft of his
    Folk and his friends that had
    Fallen in conflict,
    Leaving his son, too,
    Lost in the carnage,
    Mangled to morsels,
    A youngster in war!


    Slender reason had
    _He_ to be glad of
    The clash of the war-glaive--
    Traitor and trickster
    And spurner of treaties--
    He nor had Anlaf,
    With armies so broken,
    A reason for bragging
    That they had the better
    In perils of battle
    On places of slaughter--
    The struggle of standards,
    The rush of the javelins,
    The crash of the charges,
    The wielding of weapons--
    The play that they played with
    The children of Edward.

              ALFRED TENNYSON, "Ballads and Other Poems," 1880, p. 174.

The longest of our ballads, though it is imperfect, is that of the
"Battle of Maldon." In the year 991 the Northmen landed in Essex, and
expected to be bought off with great ransom; but Brithnoth, the alderman
of the East Saxons, met them with all his force, and, after fighting
bravely, was killed. The lines here quoted occur after the alderman's

    Leofsunu gemælde,
        and his linde ahof,
    bord to gebeorge;
        he tham beorne oncwæth;
    Ic thæt gehate,
        thæt ic heonon nelle
    fleon fotes trym,
        ac wille furthor gan,
    wrecan on gewinne
        mine wine drihten!
    Ne thurfon me embe Sturmere
        stede fæste hæleth,
    wordum ætwitan,
        nu min wine gecranc,
    thæt ic hlafordleas
        ham sithie
    wende from wige!
        ac me sceal wæpen niman,
    ord and iren!

         Then up spake Leveson
             and his shield uphove,
         buckler in ward;
             he the warrior addressed:
         I make the vow,
             that I will not hence
         flee a foot's pace,
             but will go forward;
         wreak in the battle
             my friend and my lord!
         Never shall about Stourmere,
             the stalwart fellows,
         with words me twit
             now my chief is down,
         that I lordless
             homeward go march,
         turning from war!
             Nay, weapon shall take me,
         point and iron.

Other ballads, or something like ballads, that are embodied in the Saxon
chronicles are:--"The Conquest of Mercia" (942); "The Coronation of
Eadgar at Bath" (973); "Eadgar's Demise" (975); "The Good Times of King
Eadgar" (975); "The Martyr of Corf Gate" (979); "Alfred the Innocent
Ætheling" (1036); "The Son of Ironside" (1057); "The Dirge of King
Eadward" (1065).

Others there are of which only brief scraps remain, almost embedded in
the prose of the chronicles:--"The Sack of Canterbury" (1011); "The
Wooing of Margaret" (1067); "The Baleful Bride Ale" (1076); "The
High-handed Conqueror" (1086).[88]

Our last piece shall be "Widsith, or the Gleeman's Song."[89] This is a
string of reminiscences of travel in the profession of minstrelsy; some
part of which has a genuine air of high antiquity.[90] In the course of
a long tradition it has undergone many changes which cannot now be
distinguished. But, besides these, there are some glaring patches of
literary interpolation, chiefly from Scriptural sources. I quote the
concluding lines:--

    Swa scrithende
        gesceapum hweorfath,
    gleo men gumena
        geond grunda fela;
    thearfe secgath
        thonc word sprecath,
    simle suth oththe north
        sumne gemetath,
    gydda gleawne
        geofum unhneawne,
    se the fore duguthe
        wile dom aræran
    eorlscipe æfnan;
        oth thæt eal scaceth
    leoht and lif somod:
        Lof se gewyrceth
    hafath under heofenum
        heahfæstne dom.

         So wandering on
             the world about,
         glee-men do roam
             through many lands;
         they say their needs,
             they speak their thanks,
         sure south or north
             some one to meet,
         of songs to judge
             and gifts not grudge,
         one who by merit hath a mind
             renown to make
         earlship to earn;
             till all goes out
         light and life together.
             Laud who attains
         hath under heaven
             high built renown.


[74] In "A Book for the Beginner in Anglo-Saxon," Clarendon Press
Series; ed. 2 (1879), p. 70.

[75] The editions and translations are by Thorkelin, Copenhagen, 1815;
Kemble, ed. 1, London, 1833; ed. 2, London, 1835; translation, 1837;
Ettmüller, German translation, Zurich, 1840; Schaldemose, with Danish
translation, Copenhagen, 1851; Thorpe, with English translation, Oxford,
1855; Grundtvig, Copenhagen, 1861; Moritz Heyne, German translation,
Paderborn, 1863; Grein, 1867; Arnold, Oxford, 1876; Moritz Heyne, Text,
ed. 4, 1879.


    Wulfgar then spoke to his own dear lord:
    "Here are arrived, come from afar
    Over the sea-waves, men of the Geats;
    The one most distinguished the warriors brave
    Beowulf name. They are thy suppliants
    That they, my prince, may with thee now
    Greetings exchange; do not thou refuse them
    Thy converse in turn, friendly Hrothgar!
    They in their war-weeds seem very worthy
    Contenders with earls; the chief is renowned
    Who these war-heroes hither has led."
    Hrothgar then spoke, defence of the Scyldings;
    "I knew him of old when he was a child;
    His aged father was Ecgtheow named;
    To him at home gave Hrethel the Geat
    His only daughter: his son has now
    Boldly come here, a trusty friend sought."

This is from Mr. Garnett's translation, which is made line for line.
Published by Ginn, Heath, & Co., Boston, 1882.

[77] Dr. Karl Müllenhof (papers in Haupt's "Zeitschrift") follows the
same line. His treatment is thus described by Mr. Henry Morley:--"The
work was formed, he thinks, by the combination of several old songs--(1)
'The Fight with Grendel,' complete in itself, and the oldest of the
pieces; (2) 'The Fight with Grendel's Mother,' next added; then (3) the
genealogical introduction to the mention of Hrothgar, forming what is
now the opening of the poem. Then came, according to this theory, a
poet, A, who worked over the poem thus produced, interpolated many
passages with skill, and added a continuation, setting forth Beowulf's
return home. Last came a theoretical interloper, B, a monk, who
interspersed religious sayings of his own, and added the ancient song of
the fight with the dragon and the death of Beowulf. The positive critic
not only finds all this, but proceeds to point out which passages are
old, older, and oldest, where a few lines are from poet A, and where
other interpolation is from poet B."--"English Verse and Prose" in
"Cassell's Library of English Literature," p. 11.

[78] No one needs to be told that the dragon story is of high antiquity.
But even of the elements which have most the appearance of history some
may be traced so far back till they seem to fade into legend. Thus
Higelac can hardly be any other than that Chochilaicus of whom Gregory
of Tours records that he invaded the Frisian coast from the north, and
was slain in the attempt. In our poem, this recurs with variations no
less than four times as a well-known passage in the adventures of
Higelac. But it affords a doubtful basis for argument about the date of
our poem.

[79] See Dr. Vigfusson's remarks in the Prolegomena to his edition of
the "Sturlinga Saga," Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1878.

[80] See Dr. Morris's Preface to the Blickling Homilies.

[81] Cod. Exon., ed. Thorpe, p. 473.

[82] Cod. Exon., ed. Thorpe, p. 476; Grein, i., 248.

[83] Years ago I discussed this little poem before the Bath Field Club;
and my arguments were subsequently printed in the "Proceedings" of that
society (1872). Professor Wülcker has since agreed with me that the
subject of the poem is a city, and not a fortress. My identification of
the ruin with Acemanceaster (Bath) has been approved by Mr. Freeman in
his volume on "Rufus."

[84] The feeling which pervades this remarkable fragment was strangely
recalled by the following passage in a recent book that has interested
many:--"Masses of strange, nameless masonry, of an antiquity dateless
and undefined, bedded themselves in the rocks, or overhung the clefts of
the hills; and out of a great tomb by the wayside, near the arch, a
forest of laurel forced its way, amid delicate and graceful frieze-work,
moss-covered and stained with age. In this strangely desolate and
ruinous spot, where the fantastic shapes of nature seem to mourn in
weird fellowship with the shattered strength and beauty of the old Pagan
art-life, there appeared unexpectedly signs of modern dwelling."--"John
Inglesant," by J.H. Shorthouse, new edition, 1881, vol. ii., p. 320.

[85] Cod. Exon., ed. Thorpe, p. 286.

[86] A translation of this poem in Alexandrines appeared in the
_Academy_, May 14, 1881, by E.H. Hickey.

[87] Cod. Exon., ed. Thorpe, p. 377. His title is "Deor the Scald's
Complaint." I have adopted the title from Professor Wülcker, "Des
Sängers Trost."

[88] Sometimes a prose passage of unusual energy raises the apprehension
that it may be a ballad toned down. Dr. Grubitz has suggested this view
of the Annal of 755, in which there is a fight in a Saxon castle (burh).
The graphic description of the place, the dramatic order of the
incidents, and the life-like dialogue of the parley, might well be the
work of a poet.

[89] Kemble called it "The Traveller's Song;" Thorpe, Cod. Exon., p.
318, "The Scop or Scald's Tale."

[90] A valuable testimony is borne to the substantial antiquity of this
poem, by the fact that Schafarik, who is the chief ethnographer for
Sclavonic literature, regards it as a valuable source on account of the
Sclavonic names contained in it. I am indebted to Mr. Morfil, of Oriel
College, for this information.



"No other Germanic nation has bequeathed to us out of its earliest
experience so rich a treasure of original legal documents as the
Anglo-Saxon nation has." Such is the sentence of Dr. Reinhold Schmid,
who upon the basis of former labours, and particularly those of Mr.
Benjamin Thorpe, has given us the most compact and complete edition yet
produced of the Anglo-Saxon laws.[91]

It might seem as if laws were too far removed from the idea of
literature, to merit more than a passing notice here. Writers on modern
English literature generally leave the lawyer's work altogether out of
their field. But these are among the things that alter with age. Laws
become literary matter just as they become old and obsolete. Then the
traces they have left in words and phrases and figures of speech, their
very contrasts with the laws of the present, makes them material
eminently literary. We know what effective literary use Sir Walter Scott
has made of the antiquities and curiosities of law.

And to this may be added another remark. When we are engaged in
reconstructing an ancient, we might almost say a lost literature, we
need above all things some leading ideas concerning the conditions of
social life and opinion and mental development at the period in
question. Nothing supplies these things so safely as the laws of the


The oldest extant West Saxon laws are those of King Ine,[92] who reigned
thirty-eight years, A.D. 688-726. As the West Saxon power
gradually absorbed all other rule in this island, we here find ourselves
entering the central stream of history. In the preamble to Ine's Laws
the name of Erconwald, bishop of London, who died in 693, is among the
persons present at the Gemôt. Consequently these laws must be referred
to the first years of Ine's reign, and they must be older than the date
of the Kentish laws of Wihtred.

The laws of Ine are preserved to us as an appendix of the laws of
Alfred. This is the case in all the manuscripts. Not only does the elder
code follow the younger, but the numbering is continuous as if welding
the two codes into one. Thorpe follows the manuscripts in this
arrangement, though not in the numbering of the sections, and the
student who consults his edition is apt to be confused with this
chronological inversion, unless he has taken note of the cause. Ine
reigned over a mixed population of Saxons and Britons, and his code is
of a more comprehensive character than that of the Kentish kings. His
enactments became, through subsequent re-enactments, the basis of the
laws not only of Wessex, but also of all England. Accordingly they seem
more intelligible to the modern reader.[93]

9. If any one take revenge before he sue for justice, let him give up
what he has seized, and pay for the damage done, and make amends with
thirty shillings.

12. If a thief be taken, let him die, or let his life be redeemed
according to his "wer." ... Thieves we call them up to seven men; from
seven to thirty-five a band (_hloth_); after that it is a troop

32. If a Wylisc-man have a hide of land, his "wer" is 120 shillings; if
he have half a hide, eighty shillings; if he have none, sixty shillings.

36. He who takes a thief, or has a captured thief given over to him, and
then lets him go or conceals the theft, let him pay for the thief
according to his "wer." If he be an ealdorman, let him forfeit his
shire, unless the king be pleased to show him mercy.

39. If any one go from his lord without leave, or steal himself away
into another shire, and word is brought; let him go where he before was,
and pay his lord sixty shillings.

40. A ceorl's close should be fenced winter and summer. If it be
unfenced, and his neighbour's cattle get in through his own gap, he hath
no claim on the cattle; let him drive it out and bear the damage.

43. In case any one burn a tree in a wood, and it come to light who did
it, let him pay the full penalty, and give sixty shillings, because fire
is a thief. If one fell in a wood ever so many trees, and it be found
out afterwards, let him pay for three trees, each with thirty shillings.
He is not required to pay for more of them, however many they might be,
because the axe is a reporter and not a thief (_forthon seo æsc bith
melda, nalles theof_).[94]

44. But if a man cut down a tree that thirty swine may stand under, and
it is found out, let him pay sixty shillings.

52. Let him who is accused of secret compositions clear himself of those
compositions with 120 hides, or pay 120 shillings.[95]


Here I will quote from the introductory portion a piece which
illustrates the subject generally, and which is rendered interesting by
the wide diversity of comment which it has elicited from Mr. Kemble and
Sir H. Maine. The former is almost outrageously angry at Alfred for
attributing the system of bôts or compensations to the influence of
Christianity; while in the strong terms wherewith treason against the
lord is branded, he can only see "these despotic tendencies of a great
prince, nurtured probably by his exaggerated love for foreign
literature."[96] It is positively refreshing to come out of this heat
and dust into the orderly and consecutive demonstration of Sir H. Maine,
who concludes a course of systematic exposition on the history of
Criminal Law, and indeed concludes his entire book on Ancient Law, with
an appreciative quotation of this passage from the Laws of Alfred. It is
thus introduced:--

"There is a passage in the writings of King Alfred which brings out into
remarkable clearness the struggle of the various ideas that prevailed in
his day as to the origin of criminal jurisdiction. It will be seen that
Alfred attributes it partly to the authority of the Church and partly to
that of the Witan, while he expressly claims for treason against the
lord the same immunity from ordinary rules which the Roman Law of
Majestas had assigned to treason against the Cæsar."

     Siththan thæt tha gelamp, thæt monega theoda Cristes
     geleafan onfengon, tha wurdon monega seonothas geond ealne
     middan geard gegaderode, and eac swa geond Angel cyn,
     siththan hie Cristes geleafan onfengon, haligra biscepa and
     eac otherra gethungenra witena. Hie tha gesetton for thære
     mildheortnesse, the Crist lærde, æt mæstra hwelcre misdæde,
     thæt tha woruld hlafordas moston mid hiora leafan buton
     synne æt tham forman gylte thære fioh-bote onfon, the hie
     tha gesettan; buton æt hlaford searwe, tham hie nane
     mildheortnesse ne dorston gecwæthan, fortham the God
     Ælmihtig tham nane ne gedemde the hine oferhogodon, ne
     Crist, Godes sunu, tham nane ne gedemde, the hyne sealde to
     deathe; and he bebead thone hlaford lufian swa hine selfne.

          After that it happened that many nations received the faith
          of Christ, and there were many synods assembled through all
          parts of the world, and likewise throughout the Angle race
          after they had received the faith of Christ, of holy
          bishops and also of other distinguished Witan. They then
          ordained, out of that compassion which Christ had taught,
          in the case of almost every misdeed, that the secular lords
          might, with their leave and without sin, for the first
          offence accept the money penalty which they then ordained;
          excepting in the case of treason against a lord, to which
          they dared not assign any mercy, because God Almighty
          adjudged none to them that despised Him, nor did Christ,
          the Son of God, adjudge any to them that sold Him to death;
          and He commanded that the lord should be loved as Himself.

     Hie tha on monegum senothum monegra menniscra misdæda bote
     gesetton, and on monega senoth bec hy writon hwær anne dom
     hwær otherne.

          They then in many synods ordained a "bot" for many human
          misdeeds, and in many a synod-book they wrote, here one
          decision, there another.

     Ic tha Ælfred cyning thas togædere gegaderode and awritan
     het monege thara, the ure foregengan heoldon, tha the me
     licodon; and manege thara the me ne licodon, ic awearp mid
     minra witena getheahte, and on othre wisan bebead to
     healdenne, fortham ic ne dorste gethristlæcan thara minra
     awuht feala on gewrit settan, fortham me wæs uncuth, hwæt
     thæs tham lician wolde, the æfter us wæren. Ac tha the ic
     gemette, awther oththe on Ines dæge, mines mæges, oththe on
     Offan, Myrcena cyninges, oththe on Æthelbryhtes, the ærest
     fulluht onfeng on Angel cynne, tha the me ryhtoste thuhton,
     ic tha her on gegaderode and tha othre forlet.

          I then, Alfred, king, gathered these together, and I
          ordered to write out many of those that our forefathers
          held which to me seemed good; and many of those that to me
          seemed not good I rejected, with the counsel of my Witan,
          and in other wise commanded to hold; forasmuch as I durst
          not venture to set any great quantity of my own in writing,
          because it was unknown to me what would please those who
          should be after us. But those things that I found
          established, either in the days of Ine my kinsman, or in
          Offa's, king of the Mercians, or in Æthelbryht's, who first
          received baptism in the Angle race, those which seemed to
          me rightest, those I have here gathered together, and the
          others I have rejected.

     Ic tha Ælfred, West seaxna cyning, eallum minum witum thas
     geeowde, and hie tha cwædon, thæt him thæt licode eallum to

          I then, Alfred, king of the West Saxons, to all my Witan
          showed these; and they then said, that it seemed good to
          them all that they should be holden.


This is a little code which marks a crisis in Alfred's life, and, it may
be added, a crisis also in the life of the nation. When Alfred by his
victory over the Danes in 878 had brought them to sue for peace, the
treaty was made at Wedmore in Somersetshire. The original text of the
peace between Alfred and Guthrum is among the Anglo-Saxon laws, and we
present it to the reader in its entire form. The first item is about the
frontier line between the two races which was drawn diagonally through
the heart of England, cutting Mercia in two, and leaving half of it
under the Danes. The two parts into which the country was thus divided,
were designated severally as the "Engla lagu" and the "Dena lagu."

     _Ælfredes and Guthrumes frith._

     This is thæt frith, thæt Ælfred cynincg and Gythrum cyning
     and ealles Angel cynnes witan, and eal seo theod the on East
     Englum beoth, ealle gecweden habbath, and mid athum
     gefeostnod, for hy sylfe and for heora gingran, ge for
     geborene, ge for ungeborene, the Godes miltse recce oththe

          _Alfred and Guthrum's Peace._

          This is the peace that king Alfred and king Guthrum and the
          counsellors of all Angel-kin, and all the people that are in
          East Anglia, have all decreed and with oaths confirmed for
          themselves and for their children, both for the born and for
          the unborn, all who value God's favour or ours.

     Cap. 1. Ærest ymb ure land-gemæra: up on Temese and thonne
     up on Ligan, and andlang Ligan oth hire æ wylm, thonne on
     gerihte to Bedan forda, thonne up on Usan oth Wætlinga

          Cap. 1. First about our land-boundaries:--Up the Thames,
          and then up the Lea, and along the Lea to her source, then
          straight to Bedford, then up the Ouse to Watling Street.

     2. Thæt is thonne, gif man ofslagen weorthe, ealle we
     lætath efen dyrne Engliscne and Deniscne, to VIII
     healfmarcum asodenes goldes, buton tham ceorle the on gafol
     lande sit, and heora liesingum, tha syndan eac efen dyre,
     ægther to CC scill.

          2. Videlicet, if a person be slain, we all estimate of
          equal value, the Englishman and the Dane, at eight
          half-marks of pure gold; except the ceorl who resides on
          gafol-land, and their [_i.e._ the Danish] liesings, those
          also are equally dear, either at two hundred shillings.

     3. And gif mon cyninges thegn beteo manslihtes, gif he hine
     ladian dyrre, do he thæt mid XII cininges thegnum.
     Gif man thone man betyhth, the bith læssa maga thonne se
     cyninges thegn, ladige he hine mid XI his gelicena
     and mid anum cyninges thægne. And swa ægehwilcere spræce,
     the mare sy thonne IIII mancussas. And gyf he ne
     dyrre, gylde hit thry gylde, swa hit man gewyrthe.

          3. And if a king's thane be charged with killing a man, if
          he dare to clear himself, let him do it with twelve king's
          thanes. If the accused man be of less degree than the
          king's thane, let him clear himself with eleven of his
          equals, and with one king's thane. And so in every suit
          that may be for more than four mancuses. And if he dare
          not, let him pay threefold, according as it may be valued.

     _Be getymum._

     4. And thæt ælc man wite his getyman be mannum and be horsum
     and be oxum.

          _Of Warrantors._

          4. And that every man know his warrantor for men and for
          horses and for oxen.

     5. And ealle we cwædon on tham dæge the mon tha athas swor,
     thæt ne theowe ne freo ne moton in thone here faran butan
     leafe, ne heora nan the ma to us. Gif thonne gebyrige, thæt
     for neode heora hwilc with ure bige habban wille, oththe we
     with heora, mid yrfe and mid æhtum, thæt is to thafianne on
     tha wisan, thæt man gislas sylle frithe to wedde, and to
     swutelunge, thæt man wite thæt man clæne bæc hæbbe.

          5. And we all said on that day when the oaths were sworn,
          that neither bond nor free should be at liberty to go to
          the host[97] without leave, nor of them any one by the same
          rule (come) to us. If, however, it happen, that for
          business any one of them desires to have dealings with us
          or we with them, about cattle and about goods, that is to
          be granted on this wise, that hostages be given for a
          pledge of peace, and for evidence whereby it may be known
          that the party has a clean back [_i.e._, that he has not
          carried off on his back what is not his own].


Besides two codes of laws of Eadward, the son of Alfred, we have also a
code entitled as above. Of these laws it is said that they were first
made between Alfred and Guthrum, and afterwards between Eadward and
Guthrum.[98] Many of the enactments of this code were transmitted to
later ordinances.

     This syndon tha domas the Ælfred cyneg and Guthrum cyneg

          These are the dooms that king Alfred and king Guthrum

     And this is seo gerædnis eac the Ælfred cyng and Guthrum
     cyng. and eft Eadward cyng and Guthrum cyng. gecuran and
     gecwædon. Tha tha Engle and Dene to frithe and to
     freondscipe fullice fengen. and tha witan eac the syththan
     wæron eft and unseldan thæt seolfe geniwodon and mid gode

          And this is the ordinance, also, which king Alfred and king
          Guthrum, and afterwards king Eadward and king Guthrum,
          chose and ordained, when the English and Danes fully took
          to peace and to friendship; and the Witan also, who were
          afterward, often and repeatedly renewed the same and
          increased it with good.


Under the name of Athelstan we have five codes, of which the second and
third are mere abstracts in Latin; but the others are in Saxon; and
besides these a substantive ordinance bearing the special title of "The
Judgments of the City of London." This has been described as
follows:--"The rules of the guild composed of thanes and ceorls
(gentlemen and yeomen), under the perpetual presidency of the bishop
and portreeve of London."[99] They combine to protect themselves against
robbery, and this in two ways: (1) by promoting the action of the laws
against robbers; (2) by mutual insurance.

The determination of this code to the reign of Athelstan is guided by
the mention of the places of enactment, which are Greatley (near
Andover, Hants); Exeter; and Thundersfield (near Horley, Surrey), with
which places all the previous laws of Athelstan are associated.

From the fourth of the above-mentioned ordinances I will quote the law
about the tracking of cattle lost, stolen, or strayed:--

2. "And if any one track cattle within another's land, the owner of that
land is to track it out, if he can; if he cannot, that track is to count
as the fore-oath," _i.e._, the first legal step in an action to recover.

A more explicit description of the method of tracking cattle occurs in
the Ordinance of the Dunsæte.

This ordinance is placed by Thorpe between the laws of Æthelred and
those of Cnut. This little code of nine sections is intended to rule the
relations of a border country which, on its home side, is continuous
with Wessex, and on its outer side is next the Welsh. Sir Francis
Palgrave, misled perhaps by a questionable reading in Lambarde (1568),
who has the form Deunsætas, took this to be a treaty between the English
and British inhabitants of Devon, and bestowed on it the succinct title
of the Devonian Compact. But Mr. Thorpe objected to the form "Deun" as
groundless, and he also quoted the text of the code against it; for the
last section speaks thus:--"Formerly the Wentsæte belonged to the
Dunsæte, but that district more strictly belongs to Wessex, for they
have to send thither tribute and hostages." This admits of no
explanation in Devonshire, but in South Wales it does, and we learn from
William of Malmesbury that the river Wye was fixed by King Athelstan as
the boundary between the English and Welsh. On this basis the Wentsæte
will be the people of Gwent, and the Dunsæte will be the Welsh of the
upland or hill-country.

One of the most remarkable sections of this Code is the first, which
prescribes the method for tracking stolen cattle.

The laws concerning theft relate almost entirely to the protection of
cattle, and naturally so, because the chief wealth of the time consisted
in flocks and herds. Stolen cattle were tracked by fixed rules. If the
track led into a given district, the men of that district were bound to
show the track out of their boundary or to be responsible for the lost
property. We have just seen this in Athelstan's laws; but in the
previous reign a law of Edward, the son of Alfred, directs that every
proprietor of land is to have men ready to dispatch in aid of those who
are following the track of cattle, and that they are not to be diverted
from this duty by bribes, or inclination, or violence. But the most
explicit text on this subject is in the first chapter of the Ordinance
respecting the Dunset folk, as above said. It runs thus:--

"If the track of stolen cattle be followed from station to station, the
further tracking shall be committed to the people of the land, and proof
shall be given that the pursuit is genuine. The proprietor of the land
shall then take up the pursuit, and he shall have the responsibility,
and he shall pay for the cattle by nine days therefrom, or deposit a
pledge by that date, which is worth half more, and in a further nine
days discharge the pledge with actual payment. If objection be made that
the track was wrongly pursued, then the tracker must lead to the
station, and there with six unchosen men, who are true men, make oath
that he by folk-right makes claim on the land that the cattle passed up
that way."

We cannot follow the laws in detail, but must now conclude this subject
with one or two observations of a general kind. In the above I have
repeatedly used the word "Code"; but this is not to be understood with
technical exactness. Of late years we have heard much of "codifying" our
laws; and this expression suggests the idea of a compact and consistent
body of law, which should take the place of partial, occasional,
anomalous, and often conflicting legislation. Of "codes" in this sense,
there is very little to be found in the whole record of English law. Our
Kentish and West Saxon laws are little more than statements of custom or
amendments of custom; and while Professor Stubbs claims for the laws of
Alfred, Æthelred, Cnut, and those described as Edward the Confessor's,
that they aspire to the character of codes, yet "English law (he adds)
from its first to its latest phase, has never possessed an
authoritative, constructive, systematic, or approximately exhaustive
statement, such as was attempted by the great compilers of the civil and
canon laws, by Alfonso the Wise or Napoleon Bonaparte."[100]

There is a prominent characteristic of our laws which they have in
common with all primitive codes. These all differ from maturer
collections of laws in their very large proportion of criminal to civil
law. Sir Henry Maine says that, on the whole, all the known collections
of ancient law are distinguished from systems of mature jurisprudence by
this feature,--that the civil part of the law has trifling dimensions as
compared with the criminal.[101] This is strikingly seen in the Kentish
laws; and even in the West Saxon laws a very little study will enable
the reader to verify this characteristic.

Our next and last observation shall be based on the absence of something
which the reader might possibly expect to find in the Saxon laws.

Of all the legal institutions that have claimed a Saxon origin, none
compares for importance with that of trial by jury. This has been called
the bulwark of English liberty, and it has been assigned to King Alfred
as the general founder of great institutions. But this is only a popular

Perhaps there is no single matter in legal antiquities that has been so
much debated as the origin of trial by jury. In the vast literature
which the subject has called forth, the most various accounts have been
proposed. It is an English institution, but whence did the English get
it? From which of the various sources that have contributed to the
composite life of the English nation? Was it Anglo-Saxon, or was it
Anglo-Norman, or was it Keltic? Was it a process common to all the
Germanic family? If it was Norman, from which source--from their
Scandinavian ancestors or from their Frankish neighbours? All these
origins have been maintained, and others besides these. According to
some writers, it is a relic of Roman law; some trace it to the Canon
law; and champions have not been wanting to vindicate it as originally a
Slavonic institution which the Angles borrowed from the Werini ere they
had left their old mother country.[102]

In all this diversity of view there is one fixed point of common
agreement. It is allowed on all hands that England is the arena of its
historical career, and the question therefore always takes this
start,--How did the English acquire it?

The Anglo-Saxon laws have been diligently scanned to see if the practice
or the germ of it could be discovered there. In Æthelred iii., 3, there
is an ordinance that runs thus:--

     And gan ut tha yldestan XII thegnas, and se gerefa
     mid, and swerian on tham haligdome, the heom man on hand
     sylle, thæt hig nellan nænne sacleasan man forsecgan, ne
     nænne sacne forhelan.

          Let the XII senior thanes go out, and the reeve
          with them, and swear on the halidom that is put in their
          hand, that they will not calumniate any sackless man, nor
          conceal any guilty one (? suppress any suit).

This looks like the grand jury examining the bills of indictment before
trial, and determining _primâ facie_ whether they are true bills which
ought to be tried in court. But the progress of modern inquiry has led
to the conclusion, that though there may be rudiments of the principle
in Anglo-Saxon and in all Germanic customs, still it was among the
Franks in the Carling era that a definite beginning can first be
recognised. The Frankish capitularies had a process called Inquisitio,
which was adopted into Norman law, and was there called Enquête; this,
having passed with the Normans into England, was finally shaped and
embodied in the common law among the legal reforms of Henry II.

Under the Saxon laws, the true men who were sworn to do justice had a
very different part to act from that which falls to the lot of our
English jury. The duty of the latter is to deliver a verdict on matter
of fact as proved by evidence given in court. The judge charges them to
put aside what they may have heard out of court, and let it have no
influence on their verdict, but to let that verdict be strictly based
upon the evidence of witnesses before the court.

In Æthelred's time it was different. The sworn men were not to judge
testimony truly, but to bear witness truly. They were to bring into
court their own knowledge of the case, and of any circumstances that
threw light upon it, including the general opinion and persuasion of the
neighbourhood. There was no attempt to collect evidence piecemeal, and
to rise above the level of local rumour, by a patient judicial
investigation. This provides us with something like a measure of the
intellectual stage of the public mind in Saxon times, and will perhaps
justify these remarks if they have seemed like drifting away from our
proper subject. The notion of weighing evidence had not taken its place
among the institutions of public life. This has now become with us
almost a popular habit. Proficiency and soundness in it may be rare, but
the appreciation of it, the perception of its power and beauty, and
withal a pride and glory in it, is almost universal. How wide a distance
does this seem to put between us and our Saxon forefathers, only to say
that they had but the most rudimentary notions about the nature of

Witnesses came into court, not to speak, one by one, to a matter of
fact, but to pronounce in a body what they all believed and held. They
came to testify and uphold the popular opinion. Such testimony is like
nothing known to us now, except when witnesses are called to speak to
general character. These witnesses gave their evidence on oath; but it
would naturally happen sometimes that such sworn testimony was to be had
on both sides of the question. When this was the case, there was but one
resource left, and that was the Ordeal--the appeal to the judgment of
God. Such are the devices of inexperienced nations, who have no skill in
sifting out the truth, and are baffled by contending testimony. Nothing
can better illustrate the stage of our national progress in the times
which produced the literature which we are now surveying.

But, withal, it was in such a rude age that the foundations of English
law were laid, and those customs took a definite form which are the
groundwork of our jurisprudence, and in which consists the distinction
between our English law and the law of the other nations of Western
Europe, who have all (Scotland included) formed their legal system upon
the civil law of Rome.


From the seventh century down to the end of our period we have a series
of legal documents, such as grants of land, purchases, memorials,
written wills, memoranda of nuncupatory wills, royal writs, family
arrangements, interchanges of land. The first thing to be noticed about
this whole body of writings is that they, at the beginning of the
series, are entirely in Latin; then a few words of the vulgar tongue
creep in, and then this native element goes on increasing until we have
entire documents in Saxon. Nevertheless, it remained a prevalent habit
in the case of transfer of land to have the grant written in Latin, and
the boundaries and other details expressed in Anglo-Saxon. This is a
large body of literature, and it fills six octavo volumes in Kemble's
"Codex Diplomaticus." Being of very various degrees of genuineness--some
absolute originals, some faulty copies, some too carefully amended, down
to the veriest forgeries--there is here a good field for the exercise of
critical discrimination. And there are many curious and interesting
details to reward the patient student. The following extract is from a
memorial addressed to Edward, the son of Alfred, touching matters that
had mostly fallen in his father's time; and it opens a glimpse of Alfred
in his bed-chamber receiving a committee that came to report progress.

     Tha bær mon tha boc forth and rædde hie; tha stod seo
     hondseten eal thæron. Tha thuhte us eallan the æt thære
     some wæran thet Helmstan wære athe thæs the near. Tha næs
     Æthelm na fullice gethafa ær we eodan in to cinge and rædan
     eall hu we hit reahtan and be hwy we hit reahtan: and
     Æthelm stod self thær inne mid; and cing stod thwoh his
     honda æt Weardoran innan thon bure. Tha he thæt gedon hæfde
     tha ascade he Æthelm hwy hit him ryht ne thuhte thæt we him
     gereaht hæfdan; cwæth thæt he nan ryhtre gethencan ne
     meahte thonne he thone ath agifan moste gif he meahte.

          Then they brought forward the conveyance and read it; there
          stood the signatures all thereon. Then seemed it to all of
          us who were at the arbitration, that Helmstan was all the
          nearer to the oath. Then was not Æthelm fully convinced
          before we went in to the king and explained everything--how
          we reported it, and on what grounds we had so reported it:
          and Æthelm himself stood there in the room with us; and the
          king stood and washed his hands at Wardour in the chamber.
          When he had done that, then he asked Æthelm why it seemed
          to him not right what we had reported to him; he said that
          he could think of nothing more just than that he might be
          allowed to discharge the oath if he were able.


[91] The Anglo-Saxon laws have been edited by William Lambarde, London,
1568, 4to.; Abraham Whelock, Cambridge, 1644; Wilkins, London, 1721,
folio; Dr. Reinhold Schmid, Leipzig, 1832; Thorpe, 1840; Schmid, ed. 2,
1858. It is Schmid's second edition that is spoken of above.

[92] Ine is to be pronounced as a word of two syllables.

[93] Palgrave, "English Commonwealth," i., 46.

[94] Grimm, "Legal Antiquities," § 10, quotes some widely-scattered
parallels: from Rügen he produces the proverb, "Mit der exe stelt men
nicht" (with the axe men steal not); and from Wetterau, "Wan einer
hauet, so ruft er" (when one hews, he shouts). He dubs the Anglo-Saxon
formula the more poetical (_poetischer_).

[95] "These secret compositions are forbidden by nearly every early code
of Europe; for by such a proceeding both the judge and the Crown lost
their profits. The "Capitulary" of 593 puts the receiver of a secret
composition on a level with the thief: 'Qui furtum vult celare, et
occulte sine judice compositionem acceperit, latroni similis est.' And
even now in common law, the rule is to obtain the sanction of the Court
for permission 'to speak with the prosecutor,' and thus terminate the
suit by compounding the affair in private."--THORPE. The reason
assigned is, however, not the whole reason.

[96] "Saxons in England," vol. ii., p. 208.

[97] _I.e._, go to the Danish camp in East Anglia.

[98] Here we have to understand two distinct kings of the name of

[99] Coote, "The Romans of Britain," p. 397.

[100] "Documents Illustrative of English History," p. 60.

[101] "Ancient Law," chap. x. init.

[102] Palgrave, "Anglo-Saxon Commonwealth;" Stubbs, "Constitutional
History;" Heinrich Brunner, "Die Entstehung der Schwurgerichte," Berlin,



Of the historical writings that remain from the Anglian period--namely,
those of Æddi and Bede, we have already spoken; the subject of the
present chapter will be the Saxon Chronicles and the Latin histories
which are more or less related to these Chronicles.

The habit of putting together annals began to be formed very early. In
our Chronicles there are some entries that may perhaps be older than the
conversion of our people. The contributors to Bede's "History" would
appear to have sent in their parts more or less in the annalistic form.
That form is even now but slightly veiled in the grouped arrangement
into which the venerable historian has, with little reconstruction but
considerable skill, cast his materials. Annal-writing, we may venture to
say, had by his time become a recognised habit in literature, and there
is extant a brief Northumbrian Chronicle which ends soon after Bede's
death.[103] Continuous with this we have a series of annals which were
produced in the north, and which are now imbedded in the West Saxon
Chronicles; but the traces of their birth are not obliterated. Such
vernacular annals were probably at first designed as little more than
notes and memoranda to serve for a Latin history to be written another
day; but the Danish wars broke the tradition of Latin learning, and made
a wide opening which gave opportunity for the elevation of a vernacular
literature. There is no part of Anglo-Saxon literature more
characterised by spontaneity than are the Saxon Chronicles. Nowhere can
we better see how the mother-tongue received the devolution of the
literary office in an unexpected way when the learned literature was
suddenly and violently displaced.

One of the strong features of these Chronicles is the genealogies of the
kings, ascending mostly to Woden as their mythical ancestor. The most
complete of these is that of the West Saxon kings, which is prefixed to
the Parker manuscript in manner of a preface. This genealogy was
originally made for Ecgbryht, who reigned from 800 to 836,--it was made
at his death, and it comprised the accession of his son, Æthelwulf.
Subsequently an addition was made, which continued the line of kings
down to Alfred, and closed with the date of his accession. This, when
combined with the fact that the first hand in this book ends with 891,
seems to fix the date of the Winchester Chronicle. This interesting
appendix is as follows:--

     Ond tha feng Æthelbald his sunu to rice and heold v gear.
     Tha feng Æthelbryht his brother to and heold v gear. Tha
     feng Æthered hiera brothur to rice and heold v gear. Tha
     feng Ælfred hiera brothur to rice and tha wæs agan his
     ielde xxiii wintra, and ccc and xcvi wintra thæs the his
     cyn ærest Wessexana lond on Wealum geodon.

          And then Æthelbald his son took to the realm and held it 5
          years. Then succeeded Æthelbryht his brother, and held 5
          years. Then Æthered their brother took to the realm, and
          held 5 years. Then took Alfred their brother to the realm,
          and then was agone of his age 23 years; and 396 years from
          that his race erst took Wessex from the Welsh.

These Chronicles are remarkable for a certain unconscious ease and
homeliness. Even when, in the course of their progress, they grow more
copious and mature, they hardly discover any consciousness of literary
dignity. Of the Latin writings of the Anglo-Saxon period this could not
be said. This _naïveté_ is naturally more observable in the earlier
parts, which seem like rescued antiquities, which might have been built
into their place when, in the latter end of the eighth or beginning of
the ninth century, the importance of the national and vernacular
chronicle began to be realised.

Some of the brief entries concerning the various settlements on the
coasts and the early contests with the Britons have the appearance of
traditional reminiscences that had been preserved in popular songs. Such
is that of 473, that the Welsh flew the English like fire; 491, that
Ælle and Cissa besieged Andredescester, and slew all those that therein
dwelt--there was not so much as one Bret left; 584, how that Ceawlin,
in his expedition up the Vale of Severn, where his brother fell, took
many towns and untold spoils, and, angry, he turned away to his own.

Mingled with these are entries which, though ingenious, are hardly less
spontaneous. Such are those in which there is a manifest rationalising
upon the names of historical sites, and a fanciful discovery of their
heroes or founders. Thus, in 501, we read that Port landed in Britain at
the place called Portsmouth. Now, we know that the first syllable in
Portsmouth is the Latin _portus_, a harbour, and it seems plain that
here we have a name made into a personage. In 534 we read how Cynric
gave the Isle of Wight to Stuf and Wihtgar, and how Wihtgar died in 544,
and was buried at Wihtgaraburg, also called Wihtgaræsburh. Here the
person of Wihtgar has been made out of the name of the place, because
that name was understood as meaning Castle of Wihtgar. But it meant the
Burgh "of" Wihtgar only in the sense of the Burgh which was called
Wihtgar. The last syllable, _gar_, is the British word for burg,
fortress, castle, which the Welsh call _Caer_ to this day. And the
Saxons, having often to use the word _gar_ in this sense--much as our
reporters of New Zealand affairs have to speak of a _pa_--distinguished
the _gar_ that was in Wiht, as Wihtgar, and then they added their own
word, _burh_, as the interpretation of _gar_, and after a time the
historian, finding the name of Wihtgarburh, took Wihtgar for a man, and
called it Wihtgar's Burg, Wihtgaresburh, a genitive form which still
lives in "Carisbrooke."

The originals of the Chronicles are preserved in seven different books.
They are known by the signatures A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

A, the famous book in Archbishop Parker's library, preserved in Corpus
Christi College, Cambridge. The structure of this book indicates that it
was made in 891, and, indeed, the penmanship of this copy--at least, of
the compilation--may possibly be as old as the lifetime of King Alfred.
It bears the local impress of Winchester, except in the latest
continuation, 1005-1070, which appears to belong to Canterbury. It seems
to have passed from Canterbury to the place where it is now deposited;
but that it was a Winchester book in its basis seems indicated by the
regular notices of the bishops of Wessex from 634 to 754, by the diction
of the compilation to 891, and especially by that of the remarkable
continuation, 893-897.

B, British Museum, Cotton Library, Tiberius A. vi. Closes with the year
977, and was probably written at St. Augustine's, Canterbury.

C, British Museum, Cotton Library, Tiberius B. i. The first handwriting
stops at 1046, and is probably of that date. Closes with 1066.
Apparently a work of the monks of Abingdon.

D, British Museum, Cotton Library, Tiberius B. iv. The first hand, which
stops at 1016, may well be of that date. Closes with 1079. This book
contains strong internal evidence of being a product of Worcester Abbey.

E, Bodleian Library, Laud, 636. This is the fullest of all extant
Chronicles; it embodies most of the contents of the others, and it adds
the largest quantity of new and original history. It gives seventy-five
years' history beyond any of the others, and closes with the death of
Stephen in 1154. The local relations of this book are unmistakable. The
first hand ends with 1121, and all the evidence goes to prove that this
book was prepared at that date in the abbey of Peterborough. On Friday,
August 3, 1116, a great fire had occurred at Peterborough which had
destroyed the town and a large part of the abbey, and this book was
apparently undertaken among the acts of restoration. The varying shades
of Saxon which this book contains, both in the compilation and in the
several continuations, render it of great value for the history of the
English language, especially in the obscure period of the twelfth

F, British Museum, Cotton Library, Domitian A. viij. A bilingual
Chronicle, Latin and Saxon, which, by internal evidence, is assigned to
Christ Church, Canterbury. The abrupt ending at 1058 is no indication of
the book's date: it was written late in the twelfth century.

G, British Museum, Cotton Library, Otho B. xi. A late copy of A, made
probably in the twelfth century. It nearly perished in the fire of 1731,
and only three leaves have been rescued; but happily the book had,
before this disaster, been published entire and without intermixture by
Wheloc; and, consequently, his edition is now the chief representative
of this authority.

Of these books there are three which are distinguished above the rest
by individuality of character. These are the Parker book (A); the
Worcester book (D); and the Peterborough book (E). A Chronicle may have
a marked individuality in two ways--that is to say, either in its
compilation or in its continuation. I will give an example of each kind.
The first shall be from the Worcester Chronicle, which combines with the
former stock of southern history a valuable body of northern history
between the years 737 and 806. The following are selected as being
annals which, either wholly or in part, are derived from a northern
source. The new matter is indicated by inverted commas:--

     737. Her Forthhere biscop . and Freothogith cwen ferdon to
     Rome . "and Ceolwulf cyning feng to Petres scære . and
     sealde his rice Eadberhte his fæderan sunu . se ricsade xxi
     wintra . And Æthelwold biscop . and Acca forthferdon . and
     Cynwulf man gehalgode to biscop . And thy ilcan gære
     Æthelbald cyning hergode Northhymbra land."

          737. Here Forthere bishop (of Sherborne) and Freothogith
          queen (of Wessex) went to Rome; "and Ceolwulf, king (of
          Northumbria) received St. Peter's tonsure, and gave his
          realm to Eadberht, his father's brother's son; who reigned
          21 years. And Æthelwold, bishop (of Lindisfarne) and Acca
          died, and Cynwulf was consecrated bishop. And that same
          year Æthelbald, king (of Mercia) ravaged the Northumbrians'

     757. "Her Eadberht Northhymbra cyning feng to scære . and
     Oswulf his sunu feng to tham rice, and ricsade an gær . and
     hine ofslogon his hiwan . on viii Kl. Augustus."

          757. "Here Eadberht, king of the Northumbrians, became a
          monk; and Oswulf, his son, took to the realm, and reigned
          one year, and him his domestics slew, on July 25."

     762. Her Ianbryht was gehadod to arcebiscop . on thone
     XL dæg ofer midne winter . "and Frithuweald biscop
     æt Hwiterne forthferde . on Nonas Maius. se wæs gehalgod on
     Ceastre on xviii Kl. September . tham vi Ceolwulfes rices .
     and he wæs biscop xxix wintra. Tha man halgode Pehtwine to
     biscop æt Ælfet ee on xvi Kl. Agustus . to Hwiterne."

          762. Here Ianbryht was ordained archbishop (of Canterbury)
          on the fortieth day after Midwinter (Christmas). "And
          Frithuweald, bishop of Whitehorne, died on May 7th. He was
          consecrated at York, on the 15th of August, in the sixth
          year of Ceolwulf's reign; and he was bishop 29 years. Then
          was Pehtwine consecrated to be bishop of Whitehorne at
          Ælfet Island on the 17th of July."

     777. Her Cynewulf and Offa gefliton ymb Benesingtun . and
     Offa genom thone tun . "and tha ilcan geare man gehalgode
     Æthelberht to biscop to Hwiterne in Eoforwic . on xvii Kl.

          777. Here Cynewulf and Offa fought about Bensington
          (Benson, Oxf.), and Offa took the town. "And that same year
          was Æthelberht hallowed for bishop of Whitehorne, at York
          on the 15th of June."

     779. Her Ealdseaxe and Francan gefuhton. "and Northhymbra
     heahgerefan forbærndon Beorn ealdorman on Seletune . on
     viii Kl. Janr. and Æthelberht arcebiscop forthferde in
     Cæstre . in thæs steal Eanbald wæs ær gehalgod . and
     Cynewulf biscop gesæt in Lindisfarna ee."

          779. Here the Old Saxons and the Franks fought. "And
          Northumbrian high-reeves burned Beorn the alderman at
          Silton on the 25th of December. And Æthelberht, the
          archbishop, died at York, into whose place Eanbald had been
          previously consecrated; and bishop Cynewulf sate on
          Lindisfarne island."

     782. "Her forthferde Werburh . Ceolredes cwen . and
     Cynewulf biscop on Lindisfarna ee . and seonoth wæs æt

          782. "Here died Werburh, queen of Ceolred (king of Mercia):
          and Cynewulf, bishop of Lindisfarne Island. And synod was
          at Aclea."

     788. "Her wæs sinoth gegaderad on Northhymbra lande æt
     Pincanheale . on iiii Non. Septemb. and Aldberht abb .
     forthferde in Hripum."

          788. "Here was a synod gathered in the land of the
          Northumbrians at Finchale, on 2nd September. And abbot
          Aldberht died at Ripon."

     793. "Her wæron rethe forebecna cumene ofer Northhymbra
     land . and thæt folc earmlice bregdon . thæt wæron ormete
     thodenas . and ligræscas . and fyrenne dracan wæron
     gesewene on tham lifte fleogende. Tham tacnum sona fyligde
     mycel hunger . and litel æfter tham . thæs ilcan geares .
     on vi Id. Janv. earmlice hæthenra manna hergung adilegode
     Godes cyrican in Lindisfarna ee . thurh hreaflac and
     mansliht . and Sicga forthferde on viii Kl. Martius."

          793. "Here came dire portents over the land of the
          Northumbrians, and miserably terrified the people; these
          were tremendous whirlwinds, and lightning-strokes; and
          fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. Upon these
          tokens quickly followed a great famine:--and a little
          thereafter, in that same year, on January 8, pitifully did
          the invasion of heathen men devastate God's church in
          Lindisfarne Island, with plundering and manslaughter. And
          Sicga died on Feb. 22."

     806. "Her se mona athystrode on Kl. Septemb. and Eardwulf
     Northhymbra cyning wæs of his rice adrifen . and Eanberht
     Hagestaldes biscop forthferde."

          806. "Here the moon eclipsed on Sept. 1; and Eardwulf, king
          of the Northumbrians, was driven from his realm: and
          Eanberht, bishop of Hexham, died."

In these few selections the orthography shows occasional relics of the
northern dialect; and an expression here and there, such as "Ceaster"
for York, indicates the writer's locality. Apart, however, from such
traces, the contents and the domestic interest would sufficiently
declare the home of these annals. They are specimens of the vernacular
annals of the north, which are now best seen in bulk in Simeon of
Durham's Latin Chronicle.

Our next example will serve to illustrate the free writing of an
original continuation. It is taken from the Winchester Chronicle (A).
This Chronicle exhibits, in the annals of 893-897, the first
considerable piece of original historical composition that we have in
the vernacular. Indeed, we may say that these pages, on the whole,
contain the finest effort of early prose writing that we possess. The
quotation relates how Alfred set to work to construct a navy:--

     Thy ilcan geare drehton tha hergas on East Englum and on
     Northhymbrum West Seaxna lond swithe be thæm suth stæthe .
     mid stæl hergum . ealra swithust mid thæm æscum the hie
     fela geara ær timbredon. Tha het Alfred cyng timbran lang
     scipu ongen tha æscas[104] . tha wæron fulneah tu swa lange
     swa tha othru . sume hæfdon lx ara . sume ma. Tha wæron
     ægther ge swiftran ge unwealtran . ge eac hieran thonne tha
     othru. Næron nawther ne on Fresisc gescæpene . ne on Denisc
     . bute swa him selfum thuhte thæt hie nytwyrthoste beon

          That same year the armies in East Anglia and in
          Northhymbria distressed the land of the West Saxons very
          much about the south coast with marauding invasions; most
          of all with the "æscas" that they had built many years
          before. Then king Alfred gave orders to build long ships
          against the "æscas;" those were well-nigh twice as long as
          the others; some had 60 oars, some more. Those were both
          swifter and steadier, and also higher than the others. They
          were not shaped either on the Frisic or on the Danish
          model, but as he himself considered that they might be most

The most extensive original continuations are in the Peterborough
Chronicle (E). From one of these I quote the character of the Conqueror,
which accompanies the record of his death in 1086. The passage is
remarkable as containing the nearest approach to a discovery of
authorship that anywhere occurs in these Chronicles:--

     Gif hwa gewilnigeth to gewitane hu gedon mann he wæs .
     oththe hwilcne wurthscipe he hæfde . oththe hu fela lande
     he wære hlaford . Thonne wille we be him awritan swa swa we
     hine ageaton . the him onlocodan . and othre hwile on his
     hirede wunedon. Se cyng Willelm the we embe specath wæs
     swithe wis man . and swithe rice . and wurthfulre and
     strengere thonne ænig his foregengra wære . He wæs milde
     tham godum mannum the God lufedon . and ofer eall gemett
     stearc tham mannum the withcwædon his willan . On tham
     ilcan steode the God him geuthe thæt he moste Engleland
     gegan . he arerde mære mynster . and munecas thær gesætte .
     and hit wæll gegodade . On his dagan wæs thæt mære mynster
     on Cantwarbyrig getymbrad . and eac swithe manig other ofer
     eall Englaland . Eac this land wæs swithe afylled mid
     munecan . and tha leofodan heora lif æfter sc̃s Benedictus
     regule . and se Cristendom wæs swilc on his dæge thæt ælc
     man hwæt his hade to belumpe . folgade se the wolde. Eac he
     wæs swythe wurthful . thriwa he bær his cyne helm ælce
     geare . swa oft swa he wæs on Englelande . on Eastron he
     hine bær on Winceastre . on Pentecosten on Westmynstre . on
     mide wintre on Gleaweceastre . And thænne wæron mid him
     ealle tha rice men ofer call Englaland . arcebiscopas . and
     leodbiscopas . abbodas and eorlas . thegnas and cnihtas .
     Swilce he wæs eac swythe stearc man and ræthe . swa thæt
     man ne dorste nan thing ongean his willan don . He hæfde
     eorlas on his bendum the dydan ongean his willan. Biscopas
     he sætte of heora biscoprice . and abbodas of heora
     abbodrice . and thægnas on cweartern . and æt nextan he ne
     sparode his agenne brothor Odo het . he wæs swithe rice
     biscop on Normandige . on Baius wæs his biscopstol . and
     wæs manna fyrmest to eacan tham cynge.

          If any one wishes to know what manner of man he was, or
          what dignity he had, or how many lands he was lord of; then
          will we write of him as we apprehended him, who were wont
          to behold him, and at one time were resident at his court.
          The king William about whom we speak was a very wise man,
          and very powerful; and more dignified and more
          authoritative than any one of his predecessors was. He was
          gentle to those good men who loved God; and beyond all
          description stern to those men who contradicted his will.
          On that selfsame spot where God granted him that he might
          conquer England, he reared a noble monastery, and monks he
          there enstalled, and well endowed the place. In his days
          was the splendid minster in Canterbury built, and also a
          great many others over all England. Also this land was
          abundantly supplied with monks; and they lived their life
          after St. Benedict's rule; and the state of Christianity
          was such in his time, that each man who was so disposed
          might follow that which appertained to his order. Likewise
          he was very ceremonious:--three times he wore his crown
          every year (as often as he was in England); at Easter he
          wore it in Winchester, at Pentecost in Westminster, at
          Christmas in Gloucester. And then there were with him all
          the mighty men over all England; archbishops and suffragan
          bishops, abbots and earls, thanes and knights. Withal he
          was moreover a very severe man and a violent; so that any
          one dared not to do anything against his will. He had earls
          in his chains who acted against his will. Bishops he put
          out of their bishoprick, and abbots from their abbacy, and
          thanes into prison; and at last he spared not his own
          brother, who was named Odo; who was a very mighty bishop in
          Normandy; at Baieux was his see, and he was the first of
          men next to the king.

These annals being all anonymous, every indication of the date of
writing excites interest. Under 643 the chronicler of B added a single
word to what he had before him (as we may presume) in his copy. That
copy said that the church at Winchester was built by order of King
Cenwalh. The chronicler of B says that the "old" church was built by
Cenwalh. This harmonises excellently with other indications of this
Chronicle, by which it is made probable that it was compiled in or about
977, when Bishop Æthelwold had built a new church at Winchester.

In the Peterborough Chronicle, under 1041, the accession of Eadward is
accompanied by a benediction which indicates that the writer wrote near
the time, or at least before 1065. He says:--Healde tha hwile the him
God unne = May he continue so long as God may be pleased to grant to
him! And the half legible closing sentence of this Chronicle, in 1154,
is a prayer of the same kind for a new abbot of Peterborough, of whom it
is said that "he hath made a fair beginning."

The Saxon Chronicles offer one of the best examples of history which has
grown proximately near to the events, of history written while the
impression made by the events was still fresh. It would be difficult to
point to any texts through which the taste for living history--history
in immediate contact with the events--can better be cultivated.

The Chronicles stretch over a long period of time. As to their contents,
they extend as a body of history from A.D. 449 to 1154--that is,
exclusive of the book-made annals that form a long avenue at the
beginning, and start from Julius Cæsar. The period covered by the age of
the extant manuscripts is hardly less than 300 years, from about A.D.
900 to about A.D. 1200. A large number of hands must have wrought from
time to time at their production, and, as the work is wholly anonymous
and void of all external marks of authorship, the various and several
contributions can only be determined by internal evidence, and this
offers a fine arena for the exercise and culture of the critical

It is no small addition to the charm and value of these Chronicles that
they are in the mother tongue at several stages of its growth, and for
the most part in the best Anglo-Saxon diction. We have, moreover, the
very soil of the history under our feet, and this study would tend to
invest our native land with all the charm of classic ground.

The Chronicle form is the foundation of the structure of historical
literature. We are no longer content to study history now in one or two
admirable specimens of mature perfection, but rather we seek to know
history as a subject. All who have this aim must study Chronicles, and
nowhere can this kind of documentary record be found in a form
preferable to that of the Saxon Chronicles.

The Saxon Chronicles are sometimes said to be meagre; indeed, it has
almost become usual to speak of them as meagre. When such a term is
used, it makes all the difference whether it is made vaguely and at
random, or with meaning and discrimination. The Saxon Chronicles stretch
over seven centuries, from the middle of the fifth to the middle of the
twelfth; and it would indeed be wonderful if in such a series of annals
there were not some arid tracts. Certainly, there are meagre places, and
it makes all the difference whether a writer uses this epithet wisely or
as a mere echo. In the following quotation it is justly used:--"For the
history of England in the latter half of the tenth century we have,
except the very meagre notices of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, no
contemporary materials, unless we admit the Lives of the Saints of the
Benedictine revival."[105] In the latter half of the tenth century the
Chronicles really are meagre, and it is a remarkable fact, seeing that
the period was one of revived literary activity.

This account of the Chronicles would be incomplete without the mention
of a small number of Latin histories which are naturally linked with
them. The Latin book of most mark in this connexion is Asser's "Life of
Alfred"--a book that has long lain under a cloud of doubt, from which,
however, it seems to be gradually emerging. (A foolish interpolation
about Oxford which marred the second edition--that by Camden--has left a
stigma on the name.) It is not easy to answer all the adverse criticism
of Mr. T. Wright; but still I venture to think that the internal
evidence corresponds to the author's name, that it was written at the
time of, and by such a person as, Alfred's Welsh bishop. The evident
acquaintance with people and with localities, the bits of Welsh, the
calling of the English uniformly "Saxons," all mark the Welshman who was
at home in England. In the course of this biography, which seems to have
been left in an unfinished state, there is a considerable extract from
the Winchester Chronicles translated into Latin.

But the earliest Latin Chronicle which was founded on the Saxon
Chronicles is that of Æthelweard. He is apparently the "ealdorman
Æthelwerd," to whom Ælfric addressed certain of his works; and he may
be the "Æthelwerd Dux" who signs charters, 976-998. His Chronicle closes
with the last year of Eadgar's reign. He took much of his material from
a Saxon Chronicle, like that of Winchester, but he has also matter
peculiar to himself; and this raises a question whether he took such
matter from a Saxon Chronicle now lost. He is grandiloquent and turgid
to an extent which often obscures his meaning. In him we perceive all
the word-eloquence of Saxon poetry, striving to utter itself through the
medium of a Latinity at once crude and ambitious.[106]

The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester terminates with 1117; but a
continuator carried it on to 1141, making use of the Peterborough
Chronicle (E). The work of Florence is often identifiable with the Saxon
Chronicles, especially with that of Worcester (D). But he has good
original insertions of his own, as in his description of the election
and coronation of Harold, on which Mr. Freeman has dwelt, as a record
intended to correct Norman misrepresentation.

Simeon of Durham made large use of Florence, and he incorporated the
Northumbrian eighth-century Chronicle, of which a specimen has been
given above.

Henry of Huntingdon closed his annals at the same date as the latest of
the Saxon Chronicles, A.D. 1154. He is a historian of secondary
rank, with antiquarian tastes, a fondness for the Saxon Chronicles, and
a special fancy for the genealogies and the ballads. To him we owe the
earliest known mention of Stonehenge.

All these, except Asser and Æthelweard, are, as regards our Chronicles,
subsequent and derivative rather than collateral. They used the
chronicles as translators and compilers merely. The first who attempted
something more was William of Malmesbury. This remarkable writer (who in
1140 came near to being elected Abbot of Malmesbury) was the first after
Beda who left the annal form, and aimed at a more comprehensive
treatment of the national history. He recognised the value of traditions
from the Saxon times, which in his day were still to be gathered, and it
is by the incorporation of such elements that his book has in some
respects the character of a supplement to the Saxon Chronicles.

We cannot but be struck with the isolation of the Saxon Chronicles.
Great literary products do not grow up alone; but they have, doubtless,
a tendency to create a solitude around them. Professor Stubbs apprehends
such may have been the case with these Chronicles. He has surmised that
probably the Chronicles had the same effect upon the previous schemes of
history that Higden's "Polychronicon" had in the fourteenth century,
that is to say, it would have prevented the writing of new histories,
and caused the neglect or destruction of the old.[107]


[103] Lappenberg, "Geschichte," Introduction, p. xlviii.; referring to
Hickes' "Thesaurus," iii., 288; and the preface to Smith's edition of
Bede. That lover of English history, Dr. Reinhold Pauli, in the
Göttingen "Gelehrt. Anzeig." for 1866, p. 1407, suggested that the whole
mediæval institution of annal-writing came from Northumbria, and was
carried on the mission-path of the Saxons into Frankland and Germany,
and there produced the fine Carlovingian series.

[104] The "æscas" were the light and speedy galleys of the Danes.

[105] Professor Stubbs, "Memorials of Saint Dunstan," Rolls Series, p.

[106] Reinhold Pauli, "Life of Alfred," anno 877, note.

[107] Preface to "Chronica Rogeri de Hoveden," Rolls Series, p. xi.



Around the great name of Alfred many attributes have gathered and
clustered, some of which are true, some exaggerated, some impossible. It
is quite unhistorical that Alfred divided the country into shires and
hundreds, or that he instituted trial by jury, or that he founded the
University of Oxford. Under the shadow of great names myths are apt to
spring, that is to say, unconscious authorless inventions, growing up of
themselves round any person or thing which happens to be the subject of
much talk and little knowledge. Had the conditions been favourable in
England as they were in France, the myths about Alfred might have
grouped into an epic cycle, as those about Charlemagne did; and, had the
eleventh century produced a great heroic poem analogous to the "Chanson
de Roland," it would have formed a graceful and much-needed coping to
the now too disjointed pile of Anglo-Saxon literature.

But, when we come to Alfred's literary achievements, we find no tendency
to exaggerate or embellish the sober truth. His hand is manifest in the
Laws, and strongly surmised in the Chronicles. In both these vernacular
products we find a new start, a fresh impulse, under Alfred. But that
which stamps a peculiar character on his Translations is that here we
discern a new stride in the elevation of the native language to
literary rank. Latin was no longer to be the sole medium of learning and

The learned language had almost perished out of the island where it had
once so eminently flourished. In the north the seats of learning had
been demolished; and the monasteries of Wessex, their first use as
mission-stations having been discharged, had become secularised in their
habits, and had not become seats or seminaries of learning. Alfred found
no one in his ancestral kingdom who could aid him in the work of
revival. Like Charles the Great, he looked everywhere for scholars, and
drew them to his court. In Mercia, the land adjoining scholastic Anglia,
he found a few learned men--Werferth, bishop of Worcester; Plegmund, who
was elected (A.D. 890) archbishop of Canterbury, and two of
obscurer name;[108] he drew Grimbald from Gaul, and John from Old
Saxony; Asser, from whose pen we know about these scholars, came to him
from South Wales. With the help of such men Alfred gave a new impulse to
literature, not as Charles had done, in Latin merely, but as much, or
even more, in his own vernacular.

We must not look upon his translations as if they were only makeshifts
to convey the matter of famous books to those who could not read the
originals. Alfred deplored the low state of Latin,--but then he could
substitute his own language for it, and that not merely because he must,
but also because the very scarcity of Latin had favoured the culture of
English. For it was in no dull or stagnant time that Wessex had let
Latin wane; it was in that vigorous stage of youth and growth when
Wessex was fitting herself to take an imperial place at home and raise
her head among the nations. In almost all the transactions of life,
public and private, where Latin was used in other countries, the West
Saxons had for a long time used their own tongue, and hence it came to
pass that, when Alfred sought to restore education and literature, he
found a language nearer to him than the Latin, and one which was fit, if
not to supersede the Latin, yet to be coupled along with it in the work
of national instruction.

Of all Alfred's translations, the foremost place is due to that of
Gregory's "Pastoral Care."[109] Both internally and externally it is
honoured with marks of distinction. The translation is executed with a
peculiar care, and a copy was to be sent to every See in the kingdom.
The very copy that was destined for Worcester is preserved in the
Bodleian; and there it may be seen by any passing visitor, lying open
(under glass) at the page with the Worcester address, and the bishop's
name (Wærferth) inserted in the salutation. The copy that was addressed
to Hehstan, bishop of London, is not extant; but a transcript of it,
written (in Wanley's opinion) before the Conquest, is in the Cotton
Library, or so much of it as the fire has left. The Public Library at
Cambridge has a representative of the copy which was addressed to
Wulfsige, bishop of Sherborne. Another Cotton manuscript, which was
almost consumed (Tiberius, B. xi.), had happily been described by Wanley
before the fire. In this book the place for the bishop's name was blank;
and there was this marginal note on the first leaf: ✠ Plegmunde
arcebisc'. is agifen his boc. and Swiðulfe bisc'. ⁊ Werferðe bisc'.,
_i.e._, Plegmund, archbishop, has received his book, and Swithulf,
bishop, and Werferth, bishop.[110] This book, therefore, of which only
fragments now remain, was like the Hatton manuscript in the Bodleian,
one of Alfred's originals.

Thus the Bodleian book (Hatton 20, formerly 88), for originality and
integrity remains unique; and from it we quote the opening part of
Alfred's prefatory epistle:--


     Ælfred Kyning hateth gretan Wærferth biscep his wordum
     luflice and freondlice; and the cythan hate thæt me com
     swithe oft on gemynd, hwelce wiotan iu wæron gyond
     Angelcynn, ægther ge godcundra hada ge woruldcundra; and hu
     gesæliglica tida tha wæron giond Angelcynn; and hu tha
     kyningas gas the thone ónwald hæfdon thæs folces on tham
     dagum Gode and his ærendwrecum hersumedon; and hie ægther ge
     hiora sibbe ge hiora siodo ge hiora ónweald innanbordes
     gehioldon, and eac út hiora ethel gerymdon; and hu him tha
     speow ægther ge mid wige ge mid wisdome; and eac tha
     godcundan hadas hu giorne hie wæron ægther ge ymb lare ge
     ymb liornunga, ge ymb ealle tha thiowotdomas the hie Gode
     scoldon; and hu man utanbordes wisdom and lare hieder ón
     londe sohte, and hu we hie nu sceoldon ute begietan gif we
     hie habban sceoldon. Swæ clæne hio wæs othfeallenu ón
     Angelcynne thæt swithe feawa wæron behionan Humbre the hiora
     theninga cuthen understondan on Englisc, oththe furthum án
     ærendgewrit of Lædene on Englisc areccean; and ic wene thæt
     noht monige begiondan Humbre næren. Swæ feawa hiora wæron
     thæt ic furthum anne ánlepne ne mæg gethencean besuthan
     Temese tha tha ic to rice feng. Gode ælmihtegum sie thonc
     thæt we nu ænigne ón stal habbath lareowa.


          Alfred, king, commandeth to greet Wærferth, bishop, with his
          words in loving and friendly wise: and I would have you
          informed that it has often come into my remembrance, what
          wise men there formerly were among the Angle race, both of
          the sacred orders and the secular: and how happy times those
          were throughout the Angle race; and how the kings who had
          the government of the folk in those days obeyed God and his
          messengers; and they, on the one hand, maintained their
          peace, and their customs and their authority within their
          borders, while at the same time they spread their territory
          outwards; and how it then went well with them both in war
          and in wisdom; and likewise the sacred orders, how earnest
          they were, as well as teaching us about learning, and about
          all the services that they owed to God; and how people from
          abroad came to this land for wisdom and instruction; and how
          we now should have to get them abroad if we were going to
          have them. So clean was it fallen away in the Angle race,
          that there were very few on this side Humber who would know
          how to render their services into English; and I ween that
          not many would be on the other side Humber. So few of them
          were there that I cannot think of so much as a single one
          south of Thames when I took to the realm. God Almighty be
          thanked that we have now any teachers in office.

The king goes on to say that he remembered how, before the general
devastation, the churches were well stocked with books, and how there
were plenty, too, of clergy, but they were not able to make much use of
the books, because the culture of learning had been neglected. Their
predecessors of a former generation had been learned, but now the
clergy had fallen into ignorance. Wherefore, it seemed that there was no
remedy but to have the books translated into the language they
understood. And this (the king reflected) was according to precedent;
for the Old Testament was first written in Hebrew, and then the Greeks
in their time translated it into their speech, and subsequently the
Romans did the like for themselves. And all other Christian nations had
translated some Scriptures into their own language.

     Forthy me thincth betre, gif iow swæ thincth, thæt we eac
     sumæ bec, tha the niedbethearfostæ sien eallum monnum to
     wiotonne, thæt we tha on thæt gethiode wenden the we ealle
     gecnawan mægen, and ge don swæ we swithe eathe magon mid
     Godes fultume, gif we tha stilnesse habbath, thæt eal sio
     gioguth the nu is on Angelcynne friora monna, thara the tha
     speda hæbben thæt hie thæm befeolan mægen, sien to
     liornunga othfæste, tha hwile the hie to nanre otherre note
     ne mægen, oth thone first the hie wel cunnen Englisc gewrit
     arædan: lære mon siththan furthur on Læden gethiode tha the
     mon furthor læran wille and to hieran hade don wille. Tha
     ic tha gemunde hu sio lar Læden gethiodes ær thissum
     afeallen wæs giond Angelcynn, and theah monige cuthon
     Englisc gewrit arædan, tha ongan ic on gemang othrum
     mislicum and manigfealdum bisgum thisses kynerices tha boc
     wendan on Englisc the is genemned on Læden Pastoralis, and
     on Englisc Hierde boc, hwilum word be worde, hwilum andgit
     of andgite, swæ swæ ic hie geliornode æt Plegmunde minum
     ærcebiscepe and æt Assere minum biscepe and æt Grimbolde
     minum mæsse prioste and æt Johanne minum mæsse prioste.
     Siththan ic hie tha gelornod hæfde swæ swæ ic hie forstod,
     and swæ ic hie andgitfullicost areccean meahte, ic hie on
     Englisc awende; and to ælcum biscepstole on minum rice
     wille ane onsendan; and on ælcre bith an æstel, se bith on
     fiftegum mancessa. Ond ic bebiode on Godes naman thæt nan
     mon thone æstel from thære bec ne do, ne tha boc from thæm
     mynstre. Uncuth hu longe thær swæ gelærede biscepas sien,
     swæ swæ nu Gode thonc wel hwær siendon; forthy ic wolde
     thæt hie ealneg æt thære stowe wæren, buton se biscep hie
     mid him habban wille oththe hio hwær to læne sie, oththe
     hwa othre biwrite.

          Therefore to me it seemeth better, if it seemeth so to you,
          that we also some books, those that most needful are for
          all men to be acquainted with, that we turn those into the
          speech which we all can understand, and that ye do as we
          very easily may with God's help, if we have the requisite
          peace, that all the youth which now is in England of free
          men, of those who have the means to be able to go in for
          it, be set to learning, while they are fit for no other
          business, until such time as they can thoroughly read
          English writing: afterwards further instruction may be
          given in the Latin language to such as are intended for a
          more advanced education, and to be prepared for higher
          office. As I then reflected how the teaching of the Latin
          language had recently decayed throughout this people of the
          Angles, and yet many could read English writing, then began
          I among other various and manifold businesses of this
          kingdom to turn into English the book that is called
          "Pastoralis" in Latin, and "Shepherding Book" in English,
          sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense, just as
          I learned it of Plegmund, my archbishop, and of Asser, my
          bishop, and of Grimbald, my priest, and of John, my priest.
          After that I had learned it, so as I understood it, and as
          I it with fullest meaning could render, I translated it
          into English; and to each see in my kingdom I will send
          one; and in each there is an "æstel," which is of the value
          of 50 mancusses. And I command in the name of God that no
          man remove the "æstel" from the book, nor the book from the
          minster. No one knows how long such learned bishops may be
          there, as now, thank God! there are in several places; and
          therefore I would that they (the books) should always be at
          the place; unless the bishop should wish to have it with
          him, or it should be anywhere on loan, or any one should be
          writing another copy.

Here we have a direct statement that the "Pastoral" was translated by
King Alfred himself, after a course of study in which he had been
assisted by Plegmund, Asser, Grimbald, and John. His interest in this
book seems to show that his estimate of it was something like that of
Ozanam, who said that Gregory's "Pastoral Care" determined the character
of the Christian hierarchy, and formed the bishops who formed the

Gregory's "Dialogues," on the contrary, were translated, not by the
king, but by Werferth, bishop of Worcester, as we are informed by
Asser.[111] This translation is extant in manuscripts, but it has not
yet been edited. It is, perhaps, the most considerable piece of
Anglo-Saxon literature that yet remains to be made public. And it is
striking, though not unaccountable, that a book which was one of the
most popular ever written,[112] which retained its popularity for
centuries, and which has left behind it in literature and in popular
Christian ethics bold traces of its influence, should, in the modern
revival of Anglo-Saxon, have been so long neglected. As this book is
practically inaccessible, and as it was moreover a book peculiarly
germane and congenial to the average intelligence of these times, it
seems to claim a somewhat fuller notice.

Here, as in other translations, the king wrote a few words of preface.

     Ic Ælfred gyfendum Criste mid cynehades mærnesse geweorthad
     hæbbe cuthlice ongiten, and thurh haligra boca rædunge oft
     gehyred . thæt us tham God swa micele healicnysse woruld
     gethingtha forgifen hæfth . is seo mæste thearf thæt we
     hwilon ure mod gelithian and gebigian to tham godcundum and
     gastlicum rihte . betweoh thas eorthlican carfulnysse . and
     ic fortham sohte and wilnode to minum getrywum freondum
     thæt hy me of Godes bocum be haligra manna theawum and
     wundrum awriton thas æfterfyligendan lare . thæt ic thurh
     tha mynegunge and lufe getrymmed on minum mode hwilum
     gehicge tha heofenlican thing betweoh thas eorthlican
     gedrefednyssa . Cuthlice we magan nu æt ærestan gehyran hu
     se eadiga and se apostolica wer Scs Gregorius spræc to his
     diacone tham wæs nama Petrus . be haligra manna thæawum and
     life, to lare and to bysne eallum tham the Godes willan
     wyrceath . and he be him silfum thisum wordum and thus  cwæth:--

          I, Alfred, by the grace of Christ, dignified with the
          honour of royalty, have distinctly understood, and through
          the reading of holy books have often heard, that of us to
          whom God hath given so much eminence of worldly
          distinction, it is specially required that we from time to
          time should subdue and bend our minds to the divine and
          spiritual law, in the midst of this earthly anxiety; and I
          accordingly sought and requested of my trusty friends that
          they for me out of pious books about the conversation and
          miracles of holy men would transcribe the instruction that
          hereinafter followeth; that I, through the admonition and
          love being strengthened in my mind, may now and then
          contemplate the heavenly things in the midst of these
          earthly troubles. Plainly we can now at first hear how the
          blessed and apostolic man St. Gregory spake to his deacon
          whose name was Peter, about the manners and life of holy
          men for instruction and for example to all those who are
          working the will of God; and he spake about himself with
          these words and in this  manner:--

     Sumon[113] dæge hit gelamp thæt ic wæs swythe geswenced mid
     tham geruxlum and uneathnessum sumra woruldlicra ymbhegena
     . for tham underfenge thyses bisceoplican folgothes . On
     tham woruld scirum we beoth full oft geneadode thæt we doth
     tha thing the us is genoh cuth thæt we na ne sceoldon . Tha
     gelyste me thære diglan stowe the ic ær on wæs on mynstre .
     seo is thære gnornunge freond . fortham man simle mæg his
     sares and his unrihtes mæst gethencean gif he ana bith on
     digolnysse . Thær me openlice æt ywde hit sylf eall swa
     hwæt swa me mislicode be minre agenre wisan . and thær
     beforan minre heortan eagan swutollice comon ealle tha
     gedonan unriht the gewunedon thæt hi me sar and sorge
     ongebrohton. Witodlice tha tha ic thær sæt swithe geswenced
     and lange sorgende . tha com me to min se leofesta sunu
     Petrus diacon se fram frymthe his iugothhades mid
     freondlicre lufe wæs hiwcuthlice to me getheoded and
     getogen . and he simle wæs min gefera to smeaunge haligre
     lare . and he tha lociende on me geseah thæt ic wæs
     geswenced mid hefigum sare minre heortan . and he thus
     cwæth to me, "La leof gelamp the ænig thing niwes . for
     hwan hafast thu maran gnornunge thonne hit ær gewunelic
     wære?" Tha cwæth ic to him, "Eala Petrus seo gnornung the
     ic dæghwamlice tholie symle heo is me eald for gewunan .
     and simle heo is me niwe thurh eacan."

          On a certain day it happened that I was very much harassed
          with the contentions and worries of certain secular cares,
          in the discharge of this episcopal function. In secular
          offices we are very often compelled to do the things that
          we well enough know we ought not to do. Then my desire
          turned towards that retired place where I formerly was in
          the monastery. That is the friend of sorrow, because a man
          can always best think over his grief and his wrong, if he
          is alone in retirement. There everything plainly showed
          itself to me, whatever disquieted me about my own
          occupation; and there, before the eyes of my heart
          distinctly came all the practical wrongs which were wont to
          bring upon me grief and sorrow. Accordingly, while I was
          there sitting in great oppression and long silence, there
          came to me my beloved son Peter the deacon, who, from his
          early youth, with friendly love was intimately attached and
          bound to me; and he was ever my companion in the study of
          sacred lore. And he then looking on me saw that I was
          oppressed with the heavy grief of my heart, and he thus
          said to me, "Ah, sire, hath anything new happened to thee,
          by reason of which thou hast more grief than was formerly
          thy wont?" Then said I to him, "Alas, Peter, the grief
          which I daily endure it is to me always old for use and
          wont; and it is to me always new through the increase of

The edifying stories are sometimes as grotesque as the strangest
carvings about a mediæval edifice:--

A nun,[114] walking in the convent garden, took a fancy to eat a leaf of
lettuce, and she ate, without first making the sign of the cross over
it. Presently she was found to be possessed. At the approach of the
abbot, the fiend protested it was not his fault; that he had been
innocently sitting on a lettuce, and she ate him.[115]

In the Dialogues we recognise that peculiar ideal of sanctity which we
identify not so much with Christianity as with mediæval Christianity.
The bright samples of Christian virtues are too like those types which
have afforded material to caricature. For example, Æquitius, the good
abbot, whose virtues adorn a series of narratives, practises in the
following manner the virtue of humility:--

     Sothlice he wæs swithe waclic on his gewædum and swa
     forsewenlic thæt, theah hwilc man him ongean come the hine
     ne cuthon, and he thone mid wordum gegrette, he wæs
     forsewen thæt he næs ongean gegreted; and swa oft swa he to
     othrum stowum faran wolde, thonne wæs his theaw thæt he
     wolde sittan on tham horse the he on tham mynstre
     forcuthost findan mihte, on tham eac he breac hælftre for
     bridele, and wethera fella for sadele.

          Moreover, he was very mean in his clothing, and so abject,
          that though any one met him (of those who knew him not),
          and he greeted him with words, he was so despised that he
          was not greeted in return; and as often as he would travel
          to other places, then was it his custom to sit on the horse
          that he could find the most despicable in the abbey, on
          which, moreover, he used a halter for a bridle, and
          sheepskins for saddle.

Constantius was the name of a sacristan who completely despised all
worldly goods, and his fame was spread abroad. On one occasion, when
there was no oil for the lamps, he filled them with water, and they gave
light just as if it had been oil. Visitors were attracted by the report
of his sanctity. Once a countryman came from a distance (com feorran sum
ceorl) to see a man of whom so much was said. When he came into the
church, Constantius was on a ladder trimming the lamps. He was an
under-grown, slight-built, shabby figure. The countryman inquired which
was Constantius; and, being told, was so shocked and disappointed, that
he spoke sneeringly, "I expected to see a fine man, and this is not a
man at all!"

     Mid tham the se Godes wer Constantius tha this gehyrde, he
     sona swithe blithe forlet tha leoht fatu the he behwearf,
     and hrædlice nyther astah and thone ceorl beclypte and mid
     swithlicre lufe ongann mid his earmum hinc clyppan and
     cyssan and him swithe thancian, thæt he swa be him gedemde,
     and thus cwæth: "Thu ana hæfdest ontynde eagan on me and me
     mid rihte oncneowe."

          When Constantius the man of God heard this, he forthwith in
          great joy left the lamps he was attending to, and nimbly
          descended and embraced the countryman, and with exceeding
          love began to hold him in his arms, and kiss him, and
          heartily thank him, that he had so judged of him; and thus
          he quoth:--"Thou alone hadst opened eyes upon me, and thou
          didst rightly know me."

Our next and last example is a story of a well-known type, and perhaps
the oldest extant instance of it:--

     Eac on othrum timan hit gelamp thæt him to becom for
     geneosunge thingon swa swa his theaw wæs Servandus se
     diacon and abbod thæs mynstres the Liberius se ealdormann
     in getimbrode on suth Langbeardena landes dælum. Witodlice
     he geneosode Benedictes mynster gelomlice . to tham thæt hi
     him betwynon gemænelice him on aguton tha swetan lifes
     word . and thone wynsuman mete thæs heofonlican etheles .
     thone hi tha gyta fullfremedlice geblissiende thicgean ne
     mihton . huru thinga hi hine geomriende onbyrigdon . for
     tham the se ylca wer Servandus eac fleow on lare
     heofonlicre gife. Sothlice tha tha eallunga becom se tima
     hyra reste and stillnysse . tha gelogode se arwurtha
     Benedictus hine sylfne on sumes stypeles upflora . and
     Servandus se diacon gereste hine on thære nyther flore thæs
     ylcan stypeles . and wæs on thære ylcan stowe trumstæger
     mid gewissum stapum fram thære nyther flora to thære up
     flora. Wæs eac æt foran tham ylcan stypele sum rum hus . on
     tham hyra begra gingran hi gereston . Tha tha se drihtnes
     wer Benedictus behogode thone timan his nihtlican gebedes
     tham brothrum restendum . tha gestod he thurhwacol æt anum
     eahthyrle biddende thone ælmihtigan drihten . and tha
     færinga on tham timan thære nihte stillnysse him ut
     lociendum geseah he ufan onsended leoht afligean ealle tha
     nihtlican thystru . and mid swa micelre beorhtnesse scinan
     thæt thæt leoht the thær lymde betweoh tham thystrum wæs
     beorhtre thonne dæges leoht. Hwæt tha on thysre sceawunge
     swythe wundorlic thing æfter fyligde . swa swa he sylf
     syththan rehte . thæt eac eall middaneard swylce under anum
     sunnan leoman gelogod . wære be foran his eagan gelæded .
     Tha tha se arwurtha fæder his eagena atihtan scearpnysse
     gefæstnode on thære beorhtnesse thæs scinendan leohtes .
     tha geseah he englas ferian on fyrenum cliwene in to
     heofenum Gérmanes sawle . se wæs bisceop Capuane thære
     ceastre . He wolde tha gelangian him sylfum sumne gewitan
     swa miceles wundres. and Servandum thone diacon clypode
     tuwa and thriwa . and ofthrædlice his naman nemde mid
     hreames micelnysse. Servandus tha wearth gedrefed for tham
     ungewunelican hreame swa mæres weres . and he up astah and
     thider locode . and geseah eallunga lytelne dæl thæs
     leohtes. Tham diacone tha wafiendum for thus mycelum wundre
     . se Godes wer be endebyrdnysse gerehte tha thing the thær
     gewordene wæron . and on Casino tham stoc wic tham
     eawfæstan were Theoprobo thær rihte bebead . thæt he on
     thære ylcan nihte asende sumne mann to Capuanan thære byri
     . and gewiste and him eft gecythde hwæt wære geworden be
     Germane tham bisceope. Tha wæs geworden thæt se the thyder
     asended wæs gemette eallunga forthferedne thone arwurthan
     wer Germanum bisceop . and he tha smeathancollice axiende
     on cneow thæt his forsith wæs on tham ylcan tyman the se
     drihtnes wer oncneow his upstige to heofenum.

          Also at another time it happened that there came to him for
          a visit, as his custom was, Servandus, the deacon and abbot
          of the monastery that Liberius the patrician had formerly
          built in South Lombardy (_in Campaniæ partibus_). In fact,
          he used to visit Benedict's monastery frequently, to the
          end that in each other's company they might be mutually
          refreshed with the sweet words of life, and the delectable
          food of the heavenly country, which they could not, as yet,
          with perfect bliss enjoy, but at least they did in
          aspiration taste it, inasmuch as the said Servandus was
          likewise abounding in the lore of heavenly grace. When,
          however, at length the time was come for their rest and
          repose, the venerable Benedict was lodged in the upper
          floor of a tower, and Servandus the deacon rested in the
          nether floor of the same tower; and there was in the same
          place a solid staircase with plain steps, from the nether
          floor to the upper floor. There was, moreover, in front of
          the same tower a spacious house, in which slept the
          disciples of them both. When, now, Benedict, the man of
          God, was keeping the time of his nightly prayer during the
          brethren's rest, then stood he all vigilant at a window
          praying to the Almighty Lord; and then suddenly, in that
          time of the nocturnal stillness, as he looked out, he saw a
          light sent from on high disperse all the darkness of the
          night, and shine with a brightness so great that the light
          which then gleamed in the midst of the darkness was
          brighter than the light of day. Lo then, in this sight a
          very wonderful thing followed next, as he himself
          afterwards related; that even all the world, as if placed
          under one ray of the sun, was displayed before his eyes.
          When, now, the venerable father had fastened the intent
          observation of his eyes on the brightness of that shining
          light, then saw he angels conveying in a fiery group into
          heaven the soul of Germanus, who was bishop of the city
          Capua. He desired then to secure to himself a witness of so
          great a wonder, and he called Servandus the deacon twice
          and thrice; and repeatedly he named his name with a loud
          exclamation. Servandus then was disturbed at the unusual
          outcry of the honoured man, and he mounted the stairs and
          looked as directed, and he saw verily a small portion of
          that light. And, as the deacon was then amazed for so great
          a wonder, the man of God related to him in order the things
          that had there happened; and forthwith he sent orders to
          the faithful man Theoprobus in Casinum the chief house,
          that he in the self-same night should send a man to the
          city of Capua, and should ascertain and report to him what
          had happened about Germanus the bishop. Then it came to
          pass that he who was thither sent found that the venerable
          man, Germanus the bishop had indeed died; and he then
          cautiously enquiring, discovered that his departure was at
          that very time that the man of God had witnessed his ascent
          to heaven.

     Petrus cwæth: "This is swithe wundorlic thing and thearle
     to wafienne." Book ii., c. 35.

          Peter said: "This is a very wonderful thing, and greatly to
          be marvelled at."

In the translation of the "Comfort of Philosophy," the translator makes
his greatest effort and exerts the utmost capabilities of his language.
He is not bound by any verbal fidelity to his author; he rather adapts
the book to his own use and mental exercitation. In the original the
author is visited in affliction by Philosophy, and with this heavenly
visitant a dialogue ensues, interspersed with choral odes. Alfred sinks
the First Person of the author, and makes the dialogue run between
Heavenly Wisdom and the Mind (thæt Môd).

The choral odes (generally called the Metres of Boethius) must have been
very hard for Alfred to translate, and they are done somewhat vaguely.
We have them in two translations, one in prose and the other in verse.
There is no doubt that the poetical version was made from the prose
version, without any fresh reference to the Latin. The two are often
verbally identical, with a little change in the order of words, and some
necessary additions to satisfy the alliteration, or fill out the poetic
rhythm. It was long ago observed by Hickes that the style of these poems
differed little from prose; but it was Mr. Thomas Wright who first
noticed that they were, in fact, merely a versified arrangement of the
prose translation.

The same critic gave reasons for thinking that the versified metres were
by some later hand, and not by King Alfred. This has been recently the
subject of a very interesting discussion in the German periodical
"Anglia," it being maintained by Dr. M. Hartmann that they are by
Alfred, and the opposite view (that of Mr. T. Wright) being advocated by
Dr. A. Leicht.

When the Boethian metres make their appearance in Anglo-Saxon poetic
dress, they are considerably expanded. The original prose translation is
itself expansive, because the poetry of Boethius is exceedingly terse,
and cannot be rendered into readable prose without enlargement. The work
of the Saxon versifier is attended with further expansion, because of
the mechanical exigencies of the poetic form.

The twentieth metre (iii. 9) offers an extreme case of this kind. Here
the original consists of twenty-six hexameters, and the Anglo-Saxon poem
has 281 long lines. In this case, however, the poetic expansion is not
wholly mechanical; the poet has made some real additions to the thought.
The chief of these is a new simile, in which the poising of the Earth in
space is illustrated by the yolk of an egg. The prose translation runs

     Thu gestatholadest eorthan swithe wundorlice and fæstlice
     thæt he ne helt on nane healfe . ne on nanum eorthlic
     thinge ne stent ne nanwuht eorthlices hi ne healt . thæt
     hio ne sige . and nis hire thonne ethre to feallanne of
     dune thonne up.

          Thou hast established the earth very wondrously and firmly
          that it does not heel[116] over on any side: and yet it
          stands not on any earthly thing, nor does anything earthly
          hold it up that it sink not; and yet it is no easier for it
          to fall down than up.

The poetic version enlarges as follows:--

    Thu gestatholadest
        thurh tha strongan meaht
    weroda wuldor cyning
    eorthan swa fæste
        thæt hio on ænige
    healfe ne heldeth
        ne mæg hio hider ne thider
    sigan the swithor
        the hio symle dyde.
    Hwæt hi theah eorthlices
        auht ne haldeth
    is theah efn ethe
        up and of dune
    to feallanne
        foldan thisse:
    thæm anlicost
        the on æge bith
    geoleca on middan
        glideth hwæthre
    æg ymbutan .
        Swa stent eall weoruld
    still on tille
        streamas ymbutan
    lagufloda gelac
        lyfte and tungla
    and sio scire scell
        scritheth ymbutan
    dogora gehwilce.
        dyde lange swa.

         Thou didst establish
             through strong might
         glorious king of hosts
         the earth so fast
             that she on any
         side heeleth not
             nor can hither or thither
         any more decline
             than she ever did.
         Lo nothing earthly though
             at all sustains her,
         it is equally easy
             upwards and downwards
         that there should be a fall
             of this earth:
         likest to that
             which we see in an egg;
         the yolk in the midst
             and yet gliding free
         the egg round about.
             So standeth the world
         still in its place,
             while streaming around,
         water-floods play,
             welkin and stars,
         and the shining shell
             circleth about
         day by day now
             as it did long ago.

The translation of Orosius embodies a considerable piece of original
matter. Orosius had given, in the opening of his work, a geographical
sketch of Europe and Asia. In the translation a large addition is made
to the geography of Europe, and it was an addition not merely to this
book, but (so far as appears) to the stock of existing geographical
knowledge. This insertion consists of three parts, 1. A map-like
description of Central Europe; 2. Narrative of Ohthere, who had voyaged
round the North Cape; 3. Voyage of Wulfstan from Denmark along the
southern and eastern coasts of the Baltic. Ohthere's Narrative is
connected with King Alfred by name:--"Ohthere sæde his hlaforde Ælfrede
kynincge thæt he ealra Northmanna northmest bude," _i.e._, Ohthere said
to his lord, King Alfred, that he of all Northmen had the most northerly

The translation of Beda skips lightly over much of the twenty-two
preliminary chapters, giving good measure, however, to the description
of Britain and to the martyrdom of St. Alban. All about Gregory and
Augustine is full. So also about Eadwine, Oswald, Aidan, Oswy, and St.
Chad. (But all that famous section (iii. 25, 26) which describes the
crisis between the churches, the synod of Whitby, and the Scotian
departure, is omitted altogether). Full measure is given to Theodore,
the synod of Hertford, Wilfrid, Queen Ætheldrith, Hilda, and Cædmon. So
also Cuthbert and John of Hexham. Fully rendered are the failure of the
Irish and the success of the Anglian missions to Germany; also the
visions which we may call Dantesque. (The whole section about Adamnan's
influence and writings (v. 15, 16, 17) is omitted.) But about Aldhelm
and his writings; also Daniel, bishop of Winchester; the end of Wilfrid;
and about Albinus, the successor of Adrian, is fully rendered.

The Anglo-Saxon Gospels must be mentioned here. This is a book about
which we have no external information, and the manuscripts are
comparatively late. But the diction leads us to place it in or about the
times of Alfred.

It is probable that the "Beowulf" is the product of the same reign;
while the volume of sacred poetry that is designated by the name of
"Cædmon" appears (at least the first part of it) to be either of this
time or possibly older.

If with the above we embrace in our view the Laws of this reign and the
evidence of contemporary work in the Chronicles, we must be struck with
the extent of this great muster of native literature. But we shall
hardly do it justice unless we remember that this is the first national
display of the kind in the progress of modern Europe. Native poetry had
been cultivated in the Anglian period, and there had been a vernacular
apparatus to assist the study of Latin, but of a varied and
comprehensive literature in English or any other European vernacular,
we find no trace until now. We must not look upon Alfred's translations
as mere helps to the Latin. What with the freedom and independence of
treatment, and what with the original additions, they have a large claim
to the character of domestic products. The very scheme itself, that of
using translation as a medium of culture, which is now so familiar to
us, was then quite a novel idea. In his preface to the "Pastoral," the
king casts about for precedents, and he finds none but the translations
of Scripture into Greek and into Latin, and these do not, in fact, make
a true parallel. But he could hardly have used this argument without a
conscious pride that he had in his mother tongue an instrument not
unpractised, and not altogether unworthy to be the first of barbarian
languages to tread in the footsteps of the Greek and Latin.

This, then (I comprise the matter of three previous chapters and of
three that are to follow) is the "Anglo-Saxon"[117] literature, properly
so called; for that expression, if used with technical exactness,
affords a term of distinction for the later literature of the south as
against the earlier literature of the north, which has been called the
Anglian period.


[108] Asser's "Life of Alfred," in "Monumenta Historica Britannica,"

[109] It was published for the first time in 1871, being edited by Mr.
Sweet for the Early English Text Society.

[110] Wanley's "Catalogue," p. 217.

[111] "Monumenta Historica Britannica," 486 E.

[112] "The 'Dialogues' were printed as early as the year 1458."--T.D.
Hardy in Willelmi Malm. "Gesta Regum," i., 189.

[113] Here Gregory begins. The translation sometimes deviates from the
text:--"Quadam die nimis quorundam sæcularium tumultibus depressus,
quibus in suis negotiis plerumque cogimur solvere etiam quod nos certum
est non debere, secretum locum petii amicum mæroris, ubi omne quod de
mea mihi occupatione displicebat, se patenter ostenderet, et cuncta quæ
infligere dolorem consueverant, congesta ante oculos licenter venirent.
Ibi itaque cum afflictus valde et diu tacitus sederem, dilectissimus
filius meus Petrus diaconus adfuit, mihi a primævo juventutis flore
amicitiis familiariter obstrictus, atque ad sacri verbi indagationem
socius. Qui gravi excoqui cordis languore me intuens, ait: Num quidnam
tibi aliquid accidit, quod plus te solito mæror tenet? Cui inquam:
Mæror, Petre, quem quotidie patior, et semper mihi per usum vetus est,
et semper per augmentum novus."

[114] An nunne. This word is of two syllables; there is no silent e
final in Anglo-Saxon.

[115] Ic sæt me on anum leahtrice, tha com heo and bát me!

[116] See Skeat, "Etym. Dict.," _v._ "heel" (2).

[117] This term appears in charters of the tenth century; also Asser
styles the king "Ælfred Angulsaxonum rex," "Mon. Hist. Brit.," 483 C.
See Freeman, "Norman Conquest," vol. i., Appendix A.



Alfred died in 901. From this to the Norman Conquest there are 165
years, and the middle of this period is characterised by the works of
the greatest of Anglo-Saxon prose-writers.

The productions of Alfred and the scholars that surrounded him, are to
be understood as extraordinary efforts, and as beacons to raise men's
minds rather than as specimens of the state of learning in the country,
or even as monuments of attainments that were likely soon to become
general. Although the literary movement under Alfred was so far
sustained that it did not subsequently die out, yet it would perhaps be
too much to say that he achieved a complete revival of learning. In the
inert state of the religious houses, the soil was unprepared. Still, a
taste was kindled which continued to propagate itself until the time
when the religious houses became active seats of education. This did not
happen until the second half of the tenth century, when the reform of
the monasteries by Æthelwold and Dunstan produced that great educational
and literary movement of which the representative name is Ælfric.

The impetus which Alfred had imparted did not cease with his life. If we
look into the Chronicles, we see that the Alfredian style of work is
continued down to the death of his son Edward, in 924, and that from
that point the stream of history dwindles and becomes meagre. This may
be typical of what happened over a wider surface. The impulse given to
translation may be supposed to have continued, and we may specify two
translations likely to have been made at this time. These are the Four
Gospels[118] and the poetical Psalter.[119]

A feature of the Gospels is that the name of Jesus is regarded as a
descriptive title, and subjected to translation. It never appears in its
original form, but always as "Se Hælend"--that is, The Healer, The

To this period, the first half of the tenth century, must be assigned
some translations of another sort. There are some considerable remains
of a translating period that gave to the English reader a mass of
apocryphal, romantic, fantastic, and even heretical reading; and that
period can hardly be any other than this. I imagine that now as a
consequence of the new literary interest awakened by King Alfred, many
old book-chests were explored, and things came to light which had been
stored in the monasteries of Wessex ever since the seventh and eighth
centuries. These writings claim a manifest affinity with the early
products of the Gaulish monasteries, and from these they would naturally
have been diffused in southern Britain. But, since the religious life of
Gaul had been touched and quickened with the reform of the second
Benedict in the ninth century, some old things would have been condemned
and rejected there, which might still enjoy credit with the
old-fashioned clergy of Wessex.

Of apocryphal materials in Anglo-Saxon literature there are several
varieties. First, there is the so-called Gospel of Nicodemus. This is
from a Latin version of the Greek "Acts of Pilate," and it is our
earliest extant source for that prolific subject, the Harrowing of Hell.
The Greek text laid claim to a Hebrew original:--

     --her onginnath tha gedonan thing the be urum Hælende
     gedone wæron . eall swa Theodosius se mæra casere hyt funde
     on Hierusalem on thæs Pontiscan Pilates domerne . eall swa
     hyt Nychodemus awrat . eall mid Ebreiscum stafum on manegum
     bocum thus awriten:

          --here begin the actual things that were done in connexion
          with our Saviour, just as Theodosius the illustrious
          emperor found it in Jerusalem in Pontius Pilate's
          court-house; according as Nicodemus wrote it down all with
          Hebrew writing on many leaves as follows.

The "Dialogues of Solomon and Saturn" belong to a legendary stock that
has sent its branches into all the early vernacular literatures of
Europe. The germ is found in the Bible and in Josephus. In 1 Kings x.
1, we read that, when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon,
she came to prove him with hard questions. Josephus, in the "Jewish
Antiquities," vii. 5, tells a curious story about hard questions passing
between Solomon and Hiram, king of Tyre. From such a root appear to have
grown the multiform legends in various languages which passed under such
names as the "Controversy of Solomon," the "Dialogues of Solomon and
Saturn," or of "Solomon and Marculfus." This became at length a mocking
form of literature; often a burlesque and parody of religion. Mr. Kemble
traces these legends to Jewish tradition; but of all the examples
preserved he says "the Anglo-Saxon are undoubtedly the oldest.... With
the sole exception of one French version, they are the only forms of the
story remaining in which the subject is seriously and earnestly treated;
and, monstrous as the absurdities found in them are, we may be well
assured that the authors were quite unconscious of their
existence."[120] There are, however, some places in which one is moved
to doubt whether the extravagance is the product of pure simplicity, and
without the least tinge of drollery.

But the reader may judge for himself. The fragments preserved are partly
poetical and partly in prose: the poetry is rather insipid; our
quotation shall be from the prose. The subject is the praise and eulogy
of the Lord's Prayer, which is personified and anatomised. Saturnus
asks, "What manner of head hath the Pater Noster?" And, again, "What
manner of heart hath the Pater Noster?" We quote from the answer to the
latter question:--

     Salomon cwæth. His heorte is xii thusendum sitha beohtre
     thonne ealle thas seofon heofenas the us sindon
     ofergesette, theah the hi syn ealle mid thy domiscan fyre
     onæled, and theah the eal theos eorthe him neothan togegnes
     birne, and heo hæbbe fyrene tungan, and gyldenne hracan,
     and leohtne muth inneweardne ... ... he is rethra and
     scearpra thonne eal middangeard, theah he sy binnan his
     feower hwommum fulgedrifen wildeora, and anra gehwylc deor
     hæbbe synderlice xii hornas irene, and anra gehwylc horn
     hæbbe xii tindas irene, and anra gehwylc tind hæbbe
     synderlice xii ordas, and anra gehwylc ord sy xii thusendum
     sitha scearpra thonne seo an flan the sy fram
     hundtwelftigum hyrdenna geondhyrded . And theah the seofon
     middangeardas syn ealle on efn abrædde on thisses anes
     onlicnesse, and thær sy eal gesomnod thætte heofon oththe
     hel oththe eorthe æfre acende, ne magon by tha lifes linan
     on middan ymb fæthmian. And se Pater Noster he mæg anna
     ealla gesceafta on his thære swithran hand on anes
     wæxæpples onlienesse gethŷn and gewringan. And his gethoht
     he is springdra and swiftra thonne xii thusendu haligra
     gasta, theah the anra gehwylc gast hæbbe synderlice xii
     fetherhoman, and anra gehwylc fetherhoma hæbbe xii windas,
     and aura gehwylc wind twelf sigefæstnissa
     synderlice.--Kemble, pp. 148-152.

          Solomon said: His heart is 12,000 times brighter than all
          the seven heavens that over us are set, though they should
          be all aflame with the doomsday fire, and though all this
          earth should blaze up towards them from beneath, and it
          should have a fiery tongue, and golden throat, and mouth
          lighted up within ... ... he is fiercer and sharper than
          all the world, though within its four corners it should be
          driven full of wild deer, and each particular deer have
          severally twelve horns of iron, and each particular horn
          have twelve tines of iron, and each particular tine have
          severally twelve points, and each particular point be
          12,000 times sharper than the arrow which had been hardened
          by 120 hardeners. And though the seven worlds should be all
          fairly spread out after the fashion of this one, and
          everything should be there assembled that heaven or hell or
          earth ever engendered, they may not encircle the girth of
          his body at the middle. And the Pater Noster, he can by
          himself in his right hand grasp and squeeze all creation
          like a wax-apple. And his thought it is more alert and
          swifter than 12,00 angelic spirits, though each particular
          spirit have severally twelve suits of feathers, and each
          particular feather-suit have twelve winds, and each
          particular wind twelve victoriousnesses all to itself.

I do not undertake to assert that this piece is as old as the first half
of the tenth century; it is placed here only because this seems to be
the most natural place for the group of literature to which it belongs.
As I said, the reader must judge for himself whether this is perfectly
serious. I believe that these "Dialogues" are the only part of
Anglo-Saxon literature that can be suspected of mockery. The earliest
laughter of English literature is ridicule; and if this ridicule seems
to touch things sacred, it will, on the whole, I think, be found that
not the sacred things themselves, but some unreal or spurious use of
them, is really attacked. So here, if there is any appearance of a sly
derision, the thing derided is not the Pater Noster, but the vain and
magical uses which were too often ascribed to the repetition of it.

Here we must find a place for the translation of "Apollonius of Tyre."
This has all the features of a Greek romance, but it is only known to
exist in a Latin text, so that it has been questioned whether this
Latin romance is a translation from a Greek original, or a story
originally Latin in imitation of the Greek romancists. With those who
have investigated the subject, the hypothesis of translation is most in
favour, and for the following reason. The story presents an appearance
of double stratification, such as might naturally result if a heathen
Greek romance had been translated into Latin by a Christian. Although
the phenomenon could be equally explained by supposing a Latin heathen
original which had been re-written by a Christian editor, yet the former
is the more natural and the more probable hypothesis.[121]

We now come to the Blickling Homilies, a recently-published book of
great importance. It is not a homogeneous work, but a motley collection
of sermons of various age and quality. Some of the later sermons are not
so very different from those of Ælfric; but these are not the ones that
give the book its character. The older sort have very distinct
characteristics of their own, and they furnish a deep background to the
Homilies of Ælfric. They are plainly of the age before the great Church
reform of the tenth century, when the line was very dimly drawn between
canonical and uncanonical, and when quotations, legends, and arguments
were admissible which now surprise us in a sermon. Indeed, one can
hardly escape the surmise that the elder discourses may come down from
some time, and perhaps rather an early time, in the ninth century. One
of the sermons bears the date of 971 imbedded in its context; and this,
which is probably the lowest date of the book, is twenty years before
the Homilies of Ælfric appeared. Speaking of that frequent topic of the
time, the end of the world, which is to take place in the Sixth Age, the
preacher says:--

     --and thisse is thonne se mæsta dæl agangen, efne nigon
     hund wintra and lxxi. on thys geare.--P. 119.

          --and of this is verily the most part already gone, even
          nine hundred years and seventy-one, in this year.

Perhaps there is no book which has been published in the present
generation that has done so much for the historical knowledge of
Anglo-Saxon literature. Speaking generally, we may say that it
represents the preaching of the times before Ælfric; that it contains
the sort of preaching that Ælfric sat under in his youth (when not at
Abingdon or Winchester); the sort of preaching, too, that Ælfric set
himself to correct and to supersede. It is a book whose value turns not
so much upon its own direct communications, as on the light it throws
all around it, showing up the popular standards of the time, and
enabling us to recognise the true setting of many a waif and stray of
the old literature. But it is upon the work of Ælfric that it sheds the
most valuable light. There is in Ælfric's Homilies a certain corrective
aim, which was but faintly seen before, and when seen could not be
distinctly explained; but now we have both the aim and the occasion of
it rendered comparatively clear.

These Homilies supply to those of Ælfric their true historical
introduction. They support the reasons which Ælfric assigns for
producing homilies. In his preface he speaks of certain English books
to which he designs his sermons as an antidote. He had translated his
discourses (he says) out of the Latin, not for pride of learning, "but
because I had seen much heresy (_gedwild_) in many English books, which
unlearned men in their simplicity thought mighty wise." Not only do the
Blickling Homilies contain enough of unscriptural and apocryphal
material to justify the charge of "_gedwild_" in its vaguer sense of
error, but we have also documentary grounds for believing that a careful
theologian of that time, such as Ælfric undoubtedly was, would have
brought them under the indictment of heresy.

It used to be thought that the oldest extant list of condemned books
proceeded from Pope Gelasius, and was of about A.D. 494; but
now that list is assigned to the eighth or even ninth century. In this
Index we find sources for much of the literature which we have been
considering in this chapter; we find the "Acts of Pilate," "Journeys of
the Apostles," "Acts of Peter," "Acts of Andrew the Apostle," "The
Contradiction of Solomon," "The Book Physiologus."[122] The material
which gives the Blickling collection its peculiar character is largely
apocryphal, and, in the light of the above list, heretical.

A new vitality is imparted to Ælfric's sermons by their contrast with
these older ones. It is plain that there is a common source behind both
sets of sermons; the well-established series of topics for each occasion
seems clearly to point to some standard collection of Latin homilies
now lost.[123] The evident identity of the lines on which the discourses
run makes comparison the easier and the more satisfactory. In the sermon
for Ascension Day, Ælfric's treatment is in pointed contrast with the
older book. The Blickling is full of the signs and wonders; some,
indeed, Scriptural, but far more apocryphal; and it is effusive over
these. Whereas Ælfric teaches that the visible miracles belonged to the
infancy of the Church, and were as artificial watering to a
newly-planted tree; but, when the heathen believed, then those miracles
ceased. Now (he says) we must look rather for spiritual miracles. The
Homily on St. John Baptist is a good example. According to the old book,
John is called "angelus," because he lived on earth the angelic life,
but Ælfric takes it as messenger, and this may hint the difference of
treatment. In the same discourse there is a contrast which touches the
chronology. The old Homily says that there are only two Nativities kept
sacred by the Church--that of the Lord and that of His forerunner.
Ælfric takes up this topic with a difference. He says that there are
three Nativities, which are celebrated annually, adding that of the
Blessed Virgin to the previous two. Now, it was precisely in the tenth
century that this third began to be observed in the churches of the
West;[124] and the change took place in the interval that separates
these two sets of homilies.

On the Assumptio St. Mariæ, the elder homily is a jumble of apocryphal
legend. Here Ælfric presents a contrast, and manifestly an intentional
one. In the preamble he recalls certain teaching of Jerome, "through
which he quashed the misguided narrative which half-taught men had told
about her departure." Then, after an exposition of the Gospel for the
day, he returns to the Assumption in a passage which, when read in the
light of the elder Homily, is very pointed:--"What shall we say to you
more particularly about this festival, except that Mary was on this day
taken up to heaven from this weary world, to dwell with Him, where she
rejoices in eternal life for evermore? If we should say more to you
about this day's festival than we read in those holy books which were
given by God's inspiration, we should be like those mountebanks who,
from their own imaginations or from dreams, have written many false
stories; but the faithful teachers, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory, and
other such, have in their wisdom rejected them. But still these absurd
books exist, both in Latin and in English, and misguided men read them.
It is enough for believers to read and to relate that which is true; and
there are very few men who can completely study all the holy books that
were indited by God's Holy Spirit. Let alone those absurd fictions,
which lead the unwary to perdition, and read or listen to Holy
Scripture, which directs us to heaven."

The Homilies of Ælfric are in two series, of which the first was
published in 990, and addressed to Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury;
the second in 991, after that Danish invasion in which Byrhtnoth fell.
These were long ago published by the Ælfric Society. But there is
another set, appropriated to the commemoration of saints, after the
manner of the Benedictine hagiographies.[125] These have a Latin
preface, pointedly agreeing with the prefaces to the previous series. If
their miraculous narratives sometimes contain what we should not have
expected from Ælfric, and if this leads us to doubt the authorship, we
may reflect that the contrast is not so great as that between the "Cura
Pastoralis" and the "Dialogues" of Gregory.

As a slight specimen of the character of these latter discourses, I will
give a few lines from that on St. Swithun:--

     Eadgar cyning tha æfter thysum tacnum . wolde thæt se halga
     wer wurde up gedon . and spræc hit to Athelwolde tham
     arwurthan bisceope . thæt he hine upp adyde mid
     arwurthnysse . Tha se bisceop Athelwold mid abbodum and
     munecum dyde up thone sanct mid sange wurthlice . and bæron
     into cyrcan sce Petres huse . thær he stent mid wurthmynte
     . and wundra gefremath.

          King Eadgar then, after these tokens, willed that the holy
          man should be translated, and spake it to Athelwold, the
          venerable bishop, that he should translate him with
          honourable solemnity. Then the bishop Athelwold, with
          abbots and monks, raised the saint with song solemnly. And
          they bare him into the church St. Peter's house, where he
          stands in honoured memory, and worketh wonders.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Seo ealde cyrce wæs eall be hangen mid criccum . and mid
     créopera sceamelum fram énde oth otherne . on ægtherum
     wáge . the thær wurdon ge hælede . and man ne mihte swa
     theah macian hi healfe up.

          The old church was all hung round with crutches and with
          stools from one end to the other, on either wall, of
          cripples who there had been healed: and yet they had not
          been able to put half of them up.

Ælfric's place in literature consists in this:--That he is the voice of
that great Church reform which is the most signal fact in the history of
the latter half of the tenth century. Of this reform, the first step was
the restoration of the rule of Benedict in the religious houses. The
great movement had begun in Gaul early in the ninth century, and its
extension to our island could hardly be delayed when peaceful times left
room for attention to learning and religion. Both in Frankland and in
England the religious revival followed the literary one; only there it
followed quickly, and here after a long interval.[126]

The chief author of this revival was Odo (died 961), and the chief
conductors of it were Æthelwold, Dunstan, Oswald. The leaders of this
movement were much in communication with the Frankish monasteries,
especially with the famous house at Fleury on the Loire. Various kinds
of literature were cherished, but that which is most peculiar to this
time is the biographies of Saints. Lanferth, a disciple of Æthelwold,
wrote Latin hagiographies, and from his Latin was derived the extant
homily of the miracles of St. Swithun. Wulstan, a monk of Winchester and
a disciple of Æthelwold, was a Latin poet, and wrote hagiography in
verse; among the rest, he versified the work of Lanferth on St. Swithun.

Ælfric was an alumnus of Æthelwold at Winchester, and perhaps at
Abingdon earlier; from Winchester he was sent to Cernel (Cerne Abbas in
Dorsetshire), to be the pastor of Æthelweard's house and people, and
there he wrought at his homilies. The highest title that we find
associated with his name is that of abbot; and this probably is in
relation to Egonesham (Eynsham, Oxon), where Æthelweard founded a
religious house, and Ælfric superintended it. In Æthelweard the
ealdorman we have our first example of a great lay patron of literature:
much of Ælfric's work was undertaken at the instance of Æthelweard.

It was at his request that he engaged in the translation of the Old
Testament, and when he had done the Pentateuch (with frequent
omissions), and some parts of Joshua and Judges,[127] he ceased, and
declared he would translate no more, having a misgiving lest the
narration of many things unlike Christian morality might confuse the
judgment of the simple. This is the earliest recorded instance of a
devout Christian withholding Scripture from the people for their good.
And, when we take it in conjunction with the authorised diffusion of the
Benedictine hagiographies of the time, we see what was approved placed
by the side of that which was mistrusted.

The so-called "Canons of Ælfric" are a mixed composition, in which some
matters of historical and doctrinal instruction are united with
directions and regulations and exhortations for correcting the practices
of the ignorant priests. They were compiled by Ælfric, at the request
of Wulfsige, Bishop of Sherborne (A.D. 992-1001), for the
benefit of his clergy. The reformation of the monasteries had already
made considerable progress, and this seems like an extension of the same
movement to embrace the secular clergy. Among the divers matters touched
in the Articles are these:--The relative authority of the councils; the
first four are to be had in reverence like the four gospels (Tha feower
sinothas sind to healdenne swa swa tha feower Cristes bec)--the
vestments, the books, and the garb of the priest; the seven orders of
the Christian ministry; some points of priestly duty as regards
marriages and funerals; of Baptism and the Eucharist, with rebuke of
superstitious practices; the priest to speak the sense of the Gospel to
the people in English on Sundays and high days, as also of the Lord's
Prayer and the Creed; but, withal, the immediate practical aim of the
whole seems, above all things, to be the celibacy of the clergy.[128]

Ælfric was the author of the most important educational books of this
time that have come down to us--namely, his "Latin Grammar," in English,
formed after Donatus and Priscian; his "Glossary of Latin Words"; and
his "Colloquium," or conversation in Latin, with interlinear Saxon.[129]

But for us, as for the men of the sixteenth century, the most important
of Ælfric's works are his Homilies. The English of these Homilies is
splendid; indeed, we may confidently say that here English appears fully
qualified to be the medium of the highest learning. And their interest
has been greatly enhanced of late years by two important additions to
our printed Anglo-Saxon library. The first of these was the "Blickling
Homilies," edited by Dr. Morris, which threw a new light upon Ælfric,
and added greatly to the significance of his Homilies.

The circuit of Anglo-Saxon homiletic literature has again been greatly
enlarged by a more recent publication, namely, that of the "Homilies of
Wulfstan."[130] These homilies are quite distinct in character from all
the preceding. There is nothing of controversy, and little in the shape
of argument: simply the assertion of Christian dogma and the enforcement
of Christian duty. The one topic that lies beyond these was more
practical, in the view of that day, than it is in our view--I mean the
repeated introduction of Antichrist and the near approach of the end of
the world. In the quotation the þ and ð (for th) are kept, as in Mr.
Napier's text.

     Uton beon â urum hlaforde holde and getreowe and æfre
     eallum mihtum his wurðscipe ræran and his willan wyrcan,
     forðam eall, þet we æfre for rihthlafordhelde doð, eal we
     hit doð us sylfum to mycelre þearfe, forðam ðam bið
     witodlice God hold, þe bið his hlaforde rihtlice hold; and
     eac ah hlaforda gehwylc þæs for micle þearfe, þæt he his
     men rihtlice healde. And we biddað and beodað, þæt Godes
     þeowas, þe for urne cynehlaford and for eal cristen folc
     þingian scylan and be godra manna ælmessan libbað, þæt hy
     þæs georne earnian, libban heora lif swa swa bec him
     wisian, and swa swa heora ealdras hym tæcan, and began
     heora þeowdom georne, þonne mægon hy ægþer ge hym sylfum
     wel fremian ge eallum cristenum folce . and we biddað and
     beodað, þæt ælc cild sy binnan þrittigum nihtum gefullad;
     gif hit þonne dead weorðe butan fulluhte, and hit on
     preoste gelang sy, þonne ðolige he his hâdes and dædbete
     georne; gif hit þonne þurh mæga gemeleaste gewyrðe, þonne
     þolige se, ðe hit on gelang sy, ælcere eardwununge and
     wræcnige of earde oððon on earde swiðe deope gebete, swa
     biscop him tæce . eac we lærað, þæt man ænig ne læte
     unbiscpod to lange, and witan þa, ðe cildes onfôn, þæt heo
     hit on rihtan geleafan gebringan and on gôdan þeawan and on
     þearflican dædan and â forð on hit wisian to ðam þe Gode
     licige and his sylfes ðearf sy; þonne beoð heo rihtlice
     ealswa hy genamode beoð, godfæderas, gif by heora godbearn
     Gode gestrynað.

     Homily xxiv.

          Let us be always loyal and true to our Lord, and ever by
          all means maintain his worship and work his will, because
          all that ever we do out of sincere loyalty, we do it all
          for our own great advantage, inasmuch as God will assuredly
          be gracious to the man who is perfectly loyal to his lord;
          and likewise it is the bounden duty of every lord, that he
          his men honourably sustain. And we entreat and command,
          that God's ministers, who most intercede for our royal
          lord, and for all Christian folk, and who live by good
          men's alms, that they accordingly give diligent attention
          to live their life as the bookes guide them, and so as
          their superiors direct them, and to discharge their service
          heartily; then may they do much good both to themselves and
          to all Christian people. And we entreat and command that
          every child be baptised within thirty days; if, however, it
          should die without baptism and it be along of the priest,
          then let him suffer the loss of his order and do careful
          penance; if, however, it happen through the relatives'
          neglect, then let him who was in fault suffer the loss of
          every habitation, and be ejected from his dwelling, or else
          in his dwelling undergo very severe penance, as the bishop
          may direct him. Also we instruct you, that none be left
          unbishopped too long; and they who are sponsors for a child
          are to see that they bring it up in right belief, and in
          good manners and in dutiful conduct, and always continually
          guide it to that which may be pleasing to God and for his
          own good; then will they verily be as they are called,
          "godfathers," if they train their god-children for God.

Hitherto Wulfstan has been represented in print by one sermon only, the
most remarkable, indeed, of all his discourses--being an address to the
English when the Danish ravages were at their worst, A.D. 1012,
the year in which Ælfheah, Archbishop of Canterbury, was martyred. In
this discourse the miseries of the time are ascribed to the vengeance of
God for national sins; and the coming of Antichrist is said to be near.
Wulfstan was Archbishop of York from 1003 to 1023. Beautiful and
valuable as his sermons are in themselves, their value is greatly
increased by their connexion with the preceding series, and by the
continuity they give to this branch of our old literature. With the
"Blickling Homilies," in all their variety, and those of Ælfric, and
those of Wulfstan, in our possession, it is hardly too much to say that
we have a vernacular series of sermons that fairly represents the
Anglo-Saxon preaching for a period of one hundred and fifty years.


[118] The Anglo-Saxon Version of the Holy Gospels, ed. Thorpe, 1842.

[119] Edited by Thorpe from the eleventh-century manuscript at Paris;
Oxford, 1835. This contains Psalms li.-cl. in poetry; the first fifty
are in prose. Dietrich (in Haupt's "Zeitschrift") pointed out that the
prose was eleventh-century work, but the poetical version was much
older. He surmised that the prose translation had been made for the
purpose of giving completeness to a mutilated book, and that the whole
Psalter had once existed in Anglo-Saxon verse. Since then some fragments
of the missing psalms have been found. See Grein, "Bibliothek der
Angelsächs. Poesie," vol. ii., p. 412.

[120] "The Dialogue of Solomon and Saturnus, with an Historical
Introduction." By John M. Kemble, M.A. Ælfric Society, 1848, p. 2. See
Dean Stanley, "Jewish Church," ii. 170.

[121] Rohde, "Der Griechische Roman," p. 408.

[122] The list may be seen in the "Dictionary of Christian Antiquities"
_v._ Prohibited Books.

[123] The series that goes by the name of Eusebius of Emesa has much
general similarity to the required collection.

[124] "Dictionary of Christian Antiquities," vol. ii., p. 1143.

[125] This third set of Homilies is now for the first time in course of
publication by the Early English Text Society, under the editorship of
Professor Skeat.

[126] In like manner the literary revival of the fifteenth century was
followed by the religious revival of the sixteenth.

[127] "Heptateuchus," ed. Thwaites, 1698: reprinted by Grein.

[128] "A Collection of all the Ecclesiastical Laws, Canons, &c., &c., of
the Church of England, from its First Foundation to the Conquest, that
have hitherto been published in the Latin and Saxonic Tongues. And of
all the Canons and Constitutions Ecclesiastical, made Since the Conquest
and Before the Reformation ... now first translated into English ... by
John Johnson, M.A., London, 1720." A New Edition, by John Baron, of
Queen's College (now Dr. Baron, Rector of Upton Scudamore), Oxford, John
Henry Parker, 1850. In two volumes, 8vo. Vol. i., p. 388.

[129] See above, p. 40. The "Colloquium" is printed in Thorpe's

[130] Wulfstan, "Sammlung der ihm zugeschriebenen Homilien nebst
Untersuchungen über ihre Echtheit: Herausgegeben von Arthur Napier.
Erste Abtheilung: Text und Varianten. Berlin 1883."



    How still the legendary lay
    O'er poet's bosom holds its sway.


Between the Primary and the Secondary Poetry we must acknowledge a wide
borderland of transition. Some poetical works lying in this interval we
have already found occasion to notice, and have given them such space as
we could afford. We have spoken of the Cædmon, and of the poetical
Psalter; and with these I must group the "Judith," a noble fragment,
which is found in the Cotton Library in the same manuscript volume with
the Beowulf. This fragment preserves 350 long lines at the close of a
poem which appears--by the numbering of the Cantos--to have been of
about four times that length. This remnant contains what would naturally
have been the most vigorous and stirring parts of the poem: the riotous
drinking of Holofernes, the trenchant act of Judith, her return with her
maid to Bethulia, their enthusiastic reception, the muster for battle,
the anticipation of carnage by the birds and beasts of prey, the
destruction of the invading host.

The poetry which is distinctly Secondary is contained--the best
specimens of it--in two famous books, that of Exeter, and that of
Vercelli; and in both of these books it is largely connected with the
name of a single poet, Cynewulf. Here is at once an indication of the
secondary poetry; not merely that we have a poet's name, for we also
entitle poems by Cædmon's name; but that the poet himself supplies us
with his name, and has left it--vailed and enigmatic--for posterity to

Curiously and fancifully did Cynewulf interweave into the lines of his
verse the Runes which spelt his name; and it needed the skill of Kemble
to explain it to us. There are three of the extant poems in which he has
thus left his mark, namely two in the Exeter book and one in the
Vercelli book. In two cases out of the three this ingenious contrivance
is at the close of the poem. In the Vercelli book it occurs in the
Elene, the last of the poems in the manuscript, and Mr. Kemble remarked
that it was "apparently intended as a tail-piece to the whole
book."[131] This naturally suggests the inference, which indeed is
generally accepted, that all the poems in the Vercelli book are by

But when a like inference is drawn for the Exeter book, inasmuch as the
same Runic device is there found in two pieces, that therefore the book
is simply a volume of Cynewulf's poems, there seems less reason to
acquiesce. That a large part of the book is Cynewulf's poetry will be
generally thought probable. The first thirty-two leaves of the
manuscript, which correspond to the first 103 pages in Thorpe's edition,
contain a series of pieces which are really parts of one whole, as was
shown by Professor Dietrich, of Marburg;[132] and, as one of these
connected pieces has Cynewulf's Runic mark, it seems to follow that the
whole "Christian Epic" is by him. Again in the middle of the volume from
the 65th to the 75th leaf there is the poem of St. Juliana with the
Runes of Cynewulf's name at its close, and this is therefore undoubtedly
his. This brings us to Mr. Thorpe's 286th page. The four pieces which
lie between the above, more especially two of them, St. Guthlac and the
Phœnix, may well be his. But from the close of St. Juliana (Thorpe, p.
286) the pieces become shorter and more miscellaneous, exhibiting
greater diversity both of subject and of quality, being altogether such
as to suggest that they have been collected from various sources and are
of different ages. So that on this view the volume might be interpreted
as containing (1) Poems by Cynewulf; and (2) a miscellaneous collection.
Thus Cynewulf's part would close with "St. Juliana," which ends with the
Runic device, like the Elene closing his poems in the Vercelli
book.[133] About the person of this poet nothing is known, beyond what
the poems themselves may seem to convey. His date has been variously
estimated from the 8th to the 11th century. The latter is the more
probable. If we look at his matter, we observe its great affinity with
the hagiology of the tenth century, the high pitch at which the poetry
of the Holy Rood has arrived, and the expansion given to the subject of
the Day of Judgment. If we consider his language and manner, we remark
the facility and copious flow of his poetic diction, but with a
something that suggests the retentive mind of the student; his
cumulation of old heroic phraseology not unlike the romantic poetry of
Scott, joined occasionally with a departure from old poetic usage which
seems like a slip on the part of an accomplished imitator.[134]
Occasionally he has a Latin word of novel introduction.

All these signs forbid an early date, but they agree well with Kemble's
view of the time and person of Cynewulf. He proposed to identify our
poet with that Kenulphus who in 982 became abbot of Peterborough, and in
1006 became (after Ælfheah) bishop of Winchester. To this prelate
Ælfric dedicated his Life of St. Æthelwold, and he is praised by Hugo
Candidus as a great emender of books, a famous teacher, to whom (as to
another Solomon) men of all ranks and orders flocked for instruction,
and whom the abbey regretted to lose when after fourteen years of his
presidency he was carried off to the see of Winchester by violence
rather than by election.[135]

The Canto in the "Christian Epic" in which the Cynewulf-Runes appear, is
on the near approach of Domesday. This piece closes with a prolonged and
detailed Simile, such as occurs only in the later poetry. Life is a
perilous voyage, but there is a heavenly port and a heavenly pilot:--

    Nu is thon gelicost
        swa we on laguflode
    ofor cald wæter
        ceolum lithan
    geond sidne sæ
        sund hengestum
    flod wudu fergen.

         Now it is likest to that
             as if on liquid flood
         over cold water
             in keels we navigated
         through the vast sea
             with ocean-horses
         ferried the floating wood.

        Is thæt frecne stream
    ytha ofermæta
        the we her onlacath
    geond thas wacan woruld
        windge holmas
    ofer deop gelad.

             A frightful surge it is
         of waves immense
             that here we toss upon
         through this uncertain world--
             windy quarters
         over a deep passage.

        Wæs se drohtath strong
    ær thon we to londe
        geliden hæfdon
    ofer hreone hrycg--
        tha us help bicwom
    thæt us to hælo
        hythe gelædde
    Godes gæst sunu:

             It was discipline strong
         ere we to the land
             had sailed (if at all)
         o'er the rough swell--
             when help to us came,
         so that us into safety
             portwards did guide
         God's heavenly Son:

        And us giefe sealde
    thæt we oncnawan magun
        ofer ceoles bord
    hwær we sælan sceolon
        sund hengestas
    ealde yth mearas
        ancrum fæste.

             And he gave us the gift
         that we may espy
             from aboard o' the ship,
         place where we shall bind
             the steeds of the sea,
         old amblers of water,
             with anchors fast.

    Utan us to thære hythe
        hyht stathelian
    tha us gerymde
        rodera waldend
    halge on heahthum
        the he heofnum astag.

         Let us in that port
             our confidence plant,
         which for us laid open
             the Lord of the skies,
         (holy port in the heights)
             when he went up to heaven.

The grandest of the allegorical pieces is that on the Phœnix. Of the
pedigree of the fable we have already spoken; as also of the Latin poem
which the Anglo-Saxon poet followed. It is rather an adaptation than a
translation, and it has a second part in which the allegory is
explained. At the close there is a playful alternation of Latin and
Saxon half-lines, which does not at all lessen the probability that the
poet may have been the ingenious Cynewulf.

    Hafað us alysed
        lucis auctor,
    þæt we motun her
    god dædum begietan
        gaudia in celo,
    þær we motun
        maxima regna
    secan, and gesittan
        sedibus altis,
    lifgan in lisse
        lucis et pacis,
    agan eardinga
        alma letitiæ,
    brucan blæd daga;--
        blandem et mitem
    geseon sigora frean
        sine fine,
    and him lof singan
        laude perenne,
    eadge mid englum

         Us hath a-loosed
             the author of light,
         that we may here
             worthily merit,
         with good deeds obtain
             delights in the sky,
         where we may be able
             magnificent realms
         to seek, and to sit
             in heavenly seats,
         live in fruition
             of light and of peace,
         have habitations
             happy and glad,
         brook genial days:--
             gentle and kind
         see Victory's Prince
             for ever and ever,
         and praise to him sing,
             perennial praise,
         happy angels among

Of the other allegorical pieces the Whale was derived from the book
Physiologus, and probably the Panther also. The whale is used as a
similitude of delusive security. The story reappears in the Arabian
Nights, where it is the chief incident in the first voyage of Sindbad.
The monster lies on the sea like an island, and deludes the unsuspecting

    Is þæs hiw gelic
        hreofum stane,
    swylce worie
        bi wædes ofre
    sond beorgum ymbseald
        sæ ryrica mæst,[136]
    swa þæt wenaþ
        wæg liþende,
    þæt hy on ealond sum
        eagum wliten;
    and þonne gehydaþ
        heah stefn scipu
    to þam únlonde
        oncyr rapum;
    setlað sæ mearas
        sundes æt ende.[137]

         In look it is like
             to a stony land,
         with the eddying whirl
             of the waves on the bank,
         with sandheaps surrounded
             a mighty sea-reef;
         so they wearily ween
             who ride on the wave,
         that some island it is
             they see with their eyes;
         and so they do fasten
             the high figure-heads
         to a land that no land is
             with anchor belayed;
         sea-horses they settle
             no farther to sail.

When they have lighted their fires, and are getting comfortable, then
all goes down. This is an apologue of misplaced confidence in things

But the great and absorbing subject of poetry in this age is
Hagiography. We still see the old discredited apocryphal literature in
occasional use, but it retires before the more approved medium of
popular edification, the Lives and Miracles of the Saints. These offer
material very apt for poetical treatment. Even the Homilies, when on the
lives of Saints, are often clothed in the poetic garb.

In the Exeter book there are two of this class of poems; St. Guthlac and
St. Juliana. In St. Juliana, a characteristic passage is that in which
the tempter visits her in the guise of an angel of light, advising her
to yield and to sacrifice to the gods. At her prayer, the fiend is
reduced to his own shape, reminding us of a famous passage in Milton.
St. Guthlac is distressed by fiends, and among the trials to which he is
exposed, one is this, that he sees in vision the evil life of a
disorderly monastery. When he has endured his trials, and he returns to
his chosen retreat, the welcome of the birds is very charming.

But the greatest pieces of this sort are the two in the Vercelli book;
the Andreas and the Elene.

In the Andreas we have an ancient legend which is now known only in
Greek, but which no doubt lay before the Anglo-Saxon poet in a Latin
version. In this story Matthew is imprisoned in Mirmedonia, and he is
encouraged by the hope that Andrew shall come to his aid. Andrew is
wonderfully conveyed to Mirmedonia, where he arrives at a time of
famine, and he finds the people casting lots who shall be slain for the
others' food. On the intervention of Andrew the devil comes on the scene
and suggests that he is the cause of their troubles. Then follows a long
series of tortures to which the saint is subjected. When his endurance
has been put to extreme proof, the word of deliverance comes to him and
he puts forth miraculous power. He calls for a flood, and it comes and
sweeps the cruel persecutors away. But the whole ends in a general
conversion, and the drowned are restored to life. He is escorted to his
ship and has a happy voyage back to Achaia like the return of any hero
crowned with success. Here we are reminded of the return of Beowulf; and
widely different as the two poems are, they have not only points of
similarity but also a certain likeness of type. There is, however, this
great dissimilarity, that in the Andreas the poet stops to speak of
himself and of his inadequate performance, but still he will give us a
little more. The most novel and extraordinary part is the voyage of
Andrew to Mirmedonia. The ship-master is a Divine person, and the
instructive conversation which the saint addresses to him, is
exceedingly well managed, for while it verges on the humorous, it is
perfectly reverent; a strong contrast with the free use of such
situations in the later mediæval drama. Another feature which calls for
notice is the sarcasm with which the drowning people are told there is
plenty of drink for them now.

The "Elene" opens with the outbreak of barbarian war, and Constantine in
camp on the Danube, frightened at the multitude of the Huns. In a dream
of the night he sees an angel who shows him the Cross, and tells him
that with this "beacon" he shall overcome the foe. II. Comforted by his
dream, he had a cross made like that of the vision, and under this
ensign he was victorious. Then he assembles his wise men to inquire of
them who the god was that this sign belonged to? No one knew, until some
christened folk, who (according to this poet) were then very few, gave
the required information. Constantine is baptised by Silvester. III.
Zealous to recover the true Cross, he sends his mother, Elene, with a
great equipment to Judea. IV. She proclaims an assembly, and 3,000 come
together, and she requires of them to choose those who can answer
whatever questions she may ask. V. They select 500 for that purpose.
When they are come to the queen, she addresses a chiding speech to them
about their blindness in rejecting Him who came according to prophecy;
but she does not reveal her aim. Afterwards, the Jews in consternation
discuss among themselves what the imperial lady can mean. At length one
Judas divines that she wants the Cross which is hidden, and which it is
of the greatest consequence to keep from discovery; for his grandfather
Zacheus, when a-dying, told his son, the speaker's father, that whenever
that Cross was found the power of the Jews would end. VI. The speaker
further said that his father told him the history of the Saviour's life,
and how his son Stephen had believed in him and had been stoned. The
speaker was a boy when his father told him this, and seems to have thus
learnt about his brother Stephen for the first time.[138] VII. When they
are summoned into the imperial presence they all profess to know nothing
about the subject of her inquiry, they had never heard of such a thing
before! She threatens. Then they select Judas as a wise man who knows
more than the rest, and they leave him as a hostage. VIII. The queen
will know where the Rood is. Judas pleads that it all happened so long
ago that he knows nothing about it. She says it was not so long ago as
the Trojan war, and yet people know about that. When he persists, she
orders him to be imprisoned and kept without food. He endures for six
days, but on the seventh he yields. IX. Released from prison he leads
the way to Calvary. He utters a fervent supplication in Hebrew, in which
he pleads that He who in the famous times of old revealed to Moses the
bones of Joseph would make known by a sign the place of the Rood, vowing
to believe in Christ if his prayer is granted. X. A steam rises from the
ground. There they dig, and at a depth of twenty feet three crosses are
found. Which is the holy Rood? A dead man is carried by; Judas brings
the corpse in contact with the crosses one after another, and the touch
of the third restores life. XI. Satan laments that he has suffered a new
defeat, which is all the harder as the agent is "Judas," a name so
friendly to him before! He threatens a persecuting king who shall make
the newly-converted man renounce his faith. Judas returns a spirited
answer, and Helena rejoices to hear the new convert rise superior to the
Wicked one. XII. The report spreads, to the joy of Christians and the
confusion of the Jews. The queen sends an embassy to the emperor at Rome
with the happy tidings. The greatest curiosity was displayed in the
cities on their road. Constantine, in his exaltation, sent them quickly
back to Helena with instructions to build a church in their united names
on the sacred spot of the discovery. The queen gathered from every side
the most highly-skilled builders for the church; and she caused the holy
Rood to be studded with gold and jewels, and then firmly secured in a
chest of silver:--

    Tha seo cwen bebeád
        cræftum getŷde
    sundor âsecean
        tha selestan
    tha the wrætlicost
        wyrcan cuthon
        on tham stede-wange
    girwan Godes tempel
        swa hire gasta weard
    reórd of roderum .
        Heo tha rôde heht
    golde beweorcean
        and gimcynnum
    mid tham æthelestum
    besettan searocræftum;
        and tha in seolfren fæt
    locum belûcan .
        Thær thæt lifes treó
    sêlest sigebeáma
        siththan wunode
    æthelu anbroce .

         Then the queen bade
             of craftsmen deft
         at large to seek
             the skilfullest,
         the most curious
             and cunning to work
         structures of stone;--
             upon that chosen site
         God's temple to grace
             as the Guarder of souls
         gave her rede from on high.
             She the Rood hight
         with gold to inlay
             and the glory of gems,
         with the most prized
             of precious stones
         to set with high art;--
             and in a silver chest
         secure enlock:--
             so there the Tree of life
         dearest of trophies
             thenceforward dwelt;
         fabric of honour.

XIII. Helena sends for Eusebius, "bishop of Rome," and he, at her
bidding, makes Judas bishop in Jerusalem, and changes his name to
Cyriacus. Then she inquires after the nails of the crucifixion, and, at
the prayer of Cyriacus, their hiding-place is revealed. When the nails
were brought to the queen she wept aloud, and the fountain of her tears
flowed over her cheeks and down upon the jewels of her apparel. XIV. She
seeks guidance by oracle as to the disposal of the nails. She is
directed to make of them rings for the bridle of the chief of earthly
kings. He who rides to war with such a bridle should be invincible; and
a prophecy to that effect is quoted! Helena obeys, and sends the bridle
over sea to Constantine,--"no contemptible gift!" Helena assembles the
chief men of the Jews, bids them submit to Cyriacus, and keep up the
anniversary of the Finding of the Cross. Finally, for those who keep the
day is proclaimed a benediction so unmeasured and profuse as to leave
behind it an air in which the solemn evaporates in the histrionic.

Here more than in any other piece of Anglo-Saxon poetry we feel near the
mediæval drama. Almost every canto is like a scene; and little
adaptation would be required to put it upon the stage. The narrative at
the beginning is like a prologue, and then after the close of the piece
we have an epilogue, in which the author speaks about himself, and
weaves his name with Runes into the verses in the manner already

The briefest fragment in the Vercelli book is about False Friendship;
and it contains a long-drawn simile in which the bee is rather hardly

        Anlice beoð
    swa þa beon berað
        buton ætsomne;
    arlicne anleofan
        and ætterne tægel
    habbað on hindan;
        hunig on muðe
    wynsume wist:
        hwilum wundiað
    sare mid swice
        þonne se sæl cymeð.
    Swa beoð gelice
        þa leasan men,
    þa þe mid tungan
        treowa gehatað
    fægerum wordum,
        facenlice þencað;
    þonne hie æt nehstan
        nearwe beswicað:
    habbað on gehatum
        hunig smæccas,
    smeðne sib cwide;
        and in siofan innan
    þurh deofles cræft
        dyrne wunde.

             Likened they are
         to the bees who bear
             both at one time,
         food for a king's table,
             and venomous tail
         have in reserve;
             honey in mouth,
         delectable food:
             in due time they wound
         sorely and slyly
             when the season is come.
         Such are they like,
             the leasing men,
         those who with tongue
             give assurance of troth
         with fair-spoken words,
             false in their thought;
         then do they at length
             shrewdly betray:
         in profession they have
             the perfume of honey,
         smooth gossip so sweet;
             and in their souls purpose,
         with devilish craft,
             a stab in the dark.

The "Runic Poem"[139] is a string of epigrams on the characters of the
Runic alphabet, beginning with F, U, Þ, O, R, C, according to that
primitive order, whence that alphabet was called the "Futhorc." Each of
these characters has a name with a meaning, mostly of some well-known
familiar thing, apt subject for epigram.

When learned men began to look at the Runes with an eye of erudite
curiosity, they often ranged them in the A, B, C order of the Roman
alphabet; hence it gives the Rune poem some air of antiquity that it
runs in the old Futhorc order. And, indeed, some of the versicles may
perhaps be ancient; that is, they may possibly date from a time when
Runes were still in practical use. But certainly much of this chaplet of
versicles must be regarded as late and dilettante work. The Rune names
are not all clearly authentic; for example, "Eoh" is rather dubious; but
the poet treats the name as meaning Yew, and gives us an interesting
little epigram on the Yew-tree:--

    EOH bith utan
        unsmethe treow
    heard hrusan fæst
        hyrde fyres
    wyrtrumum underwrethed
        wynan on æthle.

         YEW is outwardly
             unpolished tree;
         hard and ground-fast,
             guardian of fire;
         with roots underwattled
             the home of the Want.[140]

The Riddles are mostly after Simphosius and Aldhelm;[141] but some are
aboriginal. The form is mostly that of the epigram, only instead of
having the name of the subject at the head of the piece as with
epigrams, these little poems end with a question what the subject is.
These Riddles are found in the Exeter book in three batches; Grein has
drawn them all together, and made eighty-nine of them. That on the
Book-Moth, of which the Latin has been given above, p. 88, is unriddled
by the translator:--

    Moððe word fiæt;
        me þæt þuhte
    wrætlicu wyrd
        þa ic þæt wundor gefrægn;
    þæt se wyrm forswealg
        wera gied sumes
    þeof in þystro
        þrymfæstne cwide
    and þæs strangan staðol.
        Stælgiest ne wæs
    wihte þy gleawra
        þe he þam wordum swealg.

         Moth words devoured;
             to me it seemed
         a weird event
             when I the wonder learnt;
         that the worm swallowed
             sentence of man
         (thief in the dark)
             document sure,
         binding and all.
             The burglar was never
         a whit the more wise
             for the words he had gulped.

Toward the end of the period, the poetic form becomes much diluted. The
poetic diction wanes, so does the figured style and the parallel
structure; and what remains is an alliterative rhythmical prose, which,
from the nature of the subjects treated, appears to have been very
taking for the ear of the people. Of this sort is the Lay of King Abgar,
which Professor Stephens assigns to the reign of Cnut. The Abgar legend
is in Eusebius (died 340) "History," i. 13. Abgar, king of Edessa, being
sick, wrote a letter to the Saviour (it being the time of His earthly
ministry) praying him to come and heal him, and adding, that if, as he
hears, the Jews seek to persecute Him, his city of Edessa, though a
little one, is stately, and sufficient for both.

        ... and ic wolde the biddan
    thæt thu gemedemige the sylfne
        thæt thu siðige to me
    and mine untrumnysse gehæle
        for than the ic eom yfele gahæfd.
    Me is eac gesæd
        thæt tha Judeiscan syrwiath
    and runiath him betwynan
        hu hi the berædan magon,
    and ic hæbbe ane burh,
        the unc bam genihtsumath.

             ... and I would thee pray,
         that thou condescend
             to come unto me,
         and my infirmity cure,
             for I am in evil case.
         To me is eke said
             that the Jews are plotting
         and rowning together
             how they may destroy thee;
         and I have a burgh
             large enough for us both.[142]

The impression which this secondary poetry leaves is, that the old
ancestral form could no longer furnish an adequate poetry for the
growing mind of the nation. In contrast with the expanding prose, it
seems to shrink and fade before our eyes. Its only means of enlargement
seems to be in forgetting its own traditions and assimilating itself to
the prose. Moreover, we have traces of various tentative sallies; one
poet trying rhymes,[143] another trying hexameters,[144] which reminds
us of the efforts and essays of the unsatisfied poetic genius in the
middle of the sixteenth century. The Benedictine revival had drawn off
the interest from the old native themes of song to subjects less fitted
for poetry, or with which the poetry of the time was not yet skilled to
deal. The old poetry fitted the old heroic themes with which it had
grown up; and now it throve better on apocryphal and legendary fables
than on the verities of the faith which were rather beyond its strength.
In the new zeal the old vein of poetry was lost or neglected, and its
place was not yet appropriately filled.

For this want a provision was already making in the south. A fresh
spirit of poetry had risen in the region where Roman and Arabic fancy
met, and, after kindling France, was coming to England on the wings of
the French language. With the new romances came new models of poetic
form. A long struggle ensued between the native garb of English poetry
and that of the French. Both lived together until the fourteenth
century, when the victory of the French form was finally determined in
Chaucer; and France set the fashion in poetry to England, as it did
generally to modern Europe.


[131] In Wright's "Biographia Literaria," Anglo-Saxon Period, p. 502,
_seq._, these three Runic passages are collected and translated. In
Bosworth's "Anglo-Saxon Dictionary," ed. Toller, v. Cynewulf; the Runic
passage is quoted from the Elene, and translated. This poet's Runic
device affects us somewhat as when, at the end of a volume of
Coleridge's poems, we come upon his epitaph, written by himself:--

    "Stop, Christian passer-by!--Stop, child of God!
    And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
    A poet lies, or that which once seem'd he--
    Oh, lift one thought in prayer for S.T.C.!"

[132] In Haupt's "Zeitschrift," ix.

[133] We have already seen in the chapter on the West Saxon laws, that a
bookmaker of the Saxon period appended the laws of Ine to the laws of
Alfred, as if he found it natural to treat the old material as an
appendix to the new.--But there is also something on the other side. In
the after part of the Exeter book there are three batches of riddles,
and the first riddle of the first series (Thorpe, p. 380), is a charade
upon the name of Cynewulf, as was shown by Heinrich Leo. This has
naturally led to the surmise that Cynewulf has had more to do with the
riddles than simply to preface them in his own honour.

[134] Thus:--"ofer ealne yrmenne grund." Juliana _init._; and in the
same poem we find "bealdor" used of a woman!

[135] All this is marred by William of Malmesbury, who represents him as
having trafficked for this promotion, and as having been cut off before
he had long enjoyed it. And yet the two pictures are not incompatible.
The poetry sets before us a poet of the most splendid gifts, but I know
nothing that indicates a superiority of character. Indeed, the
comparison with Solomon suggests a moral type to which the known and
supposed writings of Cynewulf aptly correspond.

[136] "Dorsum immane mari summo." Æneid i.

[137] Milton has set this to his own deep music:--

    "Him haply slumb'ring on the Norway foam,
    The pilot of some small night-founder'd skiff
    Deeming some island, oft, as seaman tell,
    With fixed anchor...."

[138] The reader will not stumble at a few historical inaccuracies in a
narrative where a speaker in Helena's time is a brother of the

[139] Kemble, "Runes of the Anglo-Saxons," pp. 13-19. Grein, vol. ii.,
p. 351; and literary notice at p. 413.

[140] It may not be known to all readers, that this is an English word;
and historically, perhaps, the best English name, for the mole (talpa).
Along the Elbe it appears in a form nearer to that of the text: "Win
worp oder Wind-worp, _der Maulwurf_." Bremisch-Niedersachsisches

[141] See Prof. Dietrich in Haupt's "Zeitschrift," xi.

[142] Prof. Stephens, "Tvende Olde-Engelske Digte," Kiobenhavn, 1853.

[143] "The Riming Poem," Cod. Exon. ed. Thorpe, p. 352.

[144] Stubbs, "St. Dunstan," Preface.



The first of these chapters took a brief survey of the literature that
preceded and elevated the Anglo-Saxon literature: this concluding
chapter must be still briefer in sketching the manner of its decline. It
would be true to say that the Norman Conquest dealt a fatal blow to
Anglo-Saxon literature; but it would also be true to say that the
cultivation of Anglo-Saxon literature never came to an end at all. I
will presently endeavour to reconcile this seeming contradiction; but
first I have some little remainder to tell of the main narrative.

There are two small sets of writings which have not yet been described.
These are the liturgical and scientific remains. Of liturgical, we have
the "Benedictionale of Æðelwold,"[145] and we have the so-called "Ritual
of Durham," with its interlinear Northumbrian gloss. But the most famous
book of this kind is that which is called "The Leofric Missal," because
Leofric, the first Bishop of Exeter (of Crediton, 1046-1050; of Exeter,
1050-1072) gave it to his cathedral. It is now in the Bodleian Library.
"It is one of the only three surviving Missals known to have been used
in the English Church during the Anglo-Saxon period," the other two
being the Missal of Robert of Jumièges, Archbishop of Canterbury, now in
Rouen Library, and the "Rede Boke of Darbye," in the Parker Library at

It may seem almost idle to talk of the "scientific" remains of
Anglo-Saxon times. For Science, in its grandest sense,--the recognition
of constant order in nature and the reign of law,--had not yet dawned
upon the world. Science, in this sense, dates only from the seventeenth
century, and its patriarchal names are Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler.
But, nevertheless, the earlier and feebler efforts at the explanation of
phenomena have a real and a lasting value for human history, and what
they lack in scientific quality has somehow the effect of throwing them
all the more into the arms of the literary historian.

There is, however, one small Anglo-Saxon writing which needs not this
apology, and which may be considered as a real contribution even to
science. I mean the Geography which King Alfred inserted into his
translation of Orosius. All our other scientific relics are but
compilation and translation in the primitive paths of Medicine, and
Botany, and Astronomy.

We have some considerable lists of Anglo-Saxon Botany. The vernacular
names of plants, many of them, seem to indicate a Latin tradition dating
from Roman times.[147] In the medical treatises we see the practice of
medicine greatly mingled with superstition. Witchcraft is reckoned among
the causes of disease, and formulæ are provided for breaking the spell.
The "Leech Book" contains a series of prescriptions for divers ailments,
with directions for preparation and medical treatment. One batch of
these prescriptions is said to have been sent to King Alfred by Elias,
Patriarch of Jerusalem. A very popular book was the Herbarium of
Apuleius. It was translated into Anglo-Saxon, and four manuscripts of
this translation are still extant.[148]

On astronomical and cosmical matters there exists a well-written little
treatise of unknown authorship. It has been attributed to Ælfric, and it
is most likely a work of his time. It seems to have been very
popular.[149] It is, as it professes to be in the prologue, a popular
abridgment of Beda, "De Natura Rerum." It begins with a succinct
abstract of the creation, the sixth day being thus rendered:--

     On ðam syxtan dæge he gescop eall deor cynn, ⁊ ealle nytena
     þe on feower fotum gað, ⁊ þa twegen menn Adam ⁊ Efan.

          On the sixth day he created all animal-kind, and all the
          beasts that go on four feet, and the two men Adam and Eve.

The eclipse of the moon is well explained. After saying that Night is
the shade of the earth when the sun goes down under it, before it comes
up the other side,--

     Woruldlice uðwitan sædon, {þæt} seo sceadu astihð up oð
     ðæt heo becymð to þære lyfte ufeweardan, and þonne be yrnð
     se mona hwiltidum þonne he full byð on ðære sceade
     ufeweardre, and faggeteð oððe mid ealle asweartað, for þam
     þe he næfð þære sunnan leoht þa hwile þe he þære sceade ord
     ofer yrnð oð ðæt þære sunnan leoman hine eft onlihton.

          Worldly philosophers said, that the shadow mounts up until
          it arrives at the top of the atmosphere, and then sometimes
          the moon when he is full runs into the upper part of the
          shadow, and is darkened or utterly blackened, forasmuch as
          he hath not the sun's light so long as he traverses the
          shadow's point until that the sun's rays again enlighten

The Norman Conquest gave the death-blow to our old native literature, in
the sense that the use of the literary Anglo-Saxon in its first
integrity, as at once a learned language and a spoken language, did not
extend beyond the generation that witnessed that great dynastic change.
In this strict sense we might point to the close of the Worcester
Chronicle in 1079 as the termination of Anglo-Saxon literature. There
is, indeed, a Saxon Chronicle that was even begun after that date, one
which comprises the whole Saxon period, and was continued by original
writers down to 1154, but it is not written in normal Anglo-Saxon. It
represents the flectional decay which the living and popular English was

It exhibits, also, something of that new growth which was to compensate
for the loss of flection. And it already bears marks of that French
influence which was so largely to affect the whole complexion of the
language. I quote from the last Annal in the Saxon Chronicle of

     1154. On þis gær wærd þe King Stephan ded and bebyried þer
     his wif and his sune wæron bebyried æt Faures feld, þet
     minstre hi makeden . Þa þe King was ded, þa was þe eorl
     beionde sæ . and ne durste nan man don oþer bute god for þe
     micel eie of him . Þa he to Engle land com . þa was he
     under fangen mid micel wurtscipe . and to king bletcæd in
     Lundene on þe Sunnen dæi be foren midwinter dæi . and held
     þær micel curt.

          In this year was King Stephen dead and buried where his
          wife and his son were buried at Feversham, the minster he
          made. When the King was dead, then was the earl beyond sea,
          and no man durst do other than good for the great awe of
          him. When he came to England, then was he received with
          great worship, and consecrated king in London on the Sunday
          before Christmas Day; and he held there a great court.

Here, then, at the very latest, we must close the canon of Anglo-Saxon
literature. And here our subject branches in two; we have to follow with
a brief glance what happened in two divergent lines of succession. As
when, in the early mountainous course of some growing river, a broken
hill has fallen across its bed, the old water-way is choked, and the
descending waters make new channels to the right and to the left; so it
was with the fortunes of our native language and literature after the
Norman Conquest. The stream of largest volume was the spontaneous and
popular utterance which amused in hall and taught in church; the lesser
stream was the artificial maintenance of Anglo-Saxon literature which
went on in the old seats of religion and learning.

The Norman Conquest brought in a vast body of romantic literature.
Heroic or entertaining tales in a ballad form were at that time highly
popular; and a peculiar talent for this sort of narrative was developed
in France and among the Normans. The oldest French romances were those
of which the central figure was Charles the Great. It was one of these,
the "Song of Roland," that animated the conquering Normans at Senlac.
According to high authorities, it was in the next generation after the
Conquest that the "Chanson de Roland" took that final epic form which
now it bears, and probably the poet's home was in England.[150] For a
long time the speech of the upper society was wholly French. The two
languages quickly met one another in the market, and in all the
necessary business of life; but in respect of literature they long stood
apart. Such was the state of things in this island during the time in
which the Carling cycle prevailed. With that cycle the English language
never came into contact at all in its palmy days; and the few Carling
poems that exist in English are of later date, and are of a mixed
nature. When at length, towards the close of the twelfth century, a
literary intercourse had sprung up between the two languages, the hero
of popular song was no longer Charles, but Arthur. In the English poetry
of Layamon (1205), founded upon the French of Robert Wace, we see the
story of Arthur in that early stage where it still purports to be
history rather than romance. Layamon represents the first great step
from the old literature to the new; and he is the first to give an
English home to that ideal king who was to be the chosen theme of
Spenser and of Tennyson. We will quote the death of Arthur and his
funeral cortège:--


Line 28,582.

    Tha nas ther na mare,
    i than fehte to laue,
    of twa hundred thusend monnen,
    tha ther leien to-hawen;
    buten Arthur the king one,
    and of his cnihtes tweien.
    Arthur wes forwunded
    wunderliche swithe.
    Ther to him com a cnaue,
    the wes of his cunne;
    he wes Cadores sune,
    the eorles of Cornwaile.
    Constantin hehte the cnaue;
    he wes than kinge deore.
    Arthur him lokede on,
    ther he lai on folden,
    and thas word seide,
    mid sorhfulle heorte.
    Constantin thu art wilcume,
    thu weore Cadores sune:
    ich the bitache here,
    mine kineriche:
    and wite mine Bruttes,
    a to thines lifes:
    and hald heom alle tha laȝen,
    tha habbeoth istonden a mine daȝen:
    and alle tha laȝen gode,
    tha bi Vtheres daȝen stode.
    And ich wulle uaren to Aualun,
    to uairest alre maidene;
    to Argante there quene,
    aluen swithe sceone:
    and heo scal mine wunden,
    maiken all isunde,
    al hal me makien,
    mid haleweiȝe drenchen.
    And seothe ich cumen wulle
    to mine kineriche:
    and wunien mid Brutten,
    mid muchelere wunne.

         Then was there no more
         in that fight left alive,
         out of 200,000 men,
         that there lay cut to pieces;
         but Arthur the King only
         and two of his knights.
         Arthur was wounded
         dangerously much.
         There to him came a youth
         who was of his kin;
         he was son of Cador,
         the earl of Cornwall.
         Constantine hight the youth;
         to the king he was dear.
         Arthur looked upon him,
         where he lay on the ground,
         and these words said,
         with sorrowful heart.
         Constantine thou art welcome
         thou wert Cador's son:
         I here commit to thee,
         my kingdom;
         and guide thou my Britons
         aye to thy life's cost;
         and assure them all the laws,
         that have stood in my days:
         and all the laws so good,
         that by Uther's days stood.
         And I will fare to Avalon,
         to the fairest of all maidens;
         to Argante the queen,
         elf exceeding sheen:
         and she shall my wounds,
         make all sound;
         all whole me make,
         with healing drinks.
         And sith return I will,
         to my kingdom:
         and dwell with Britons,
         with mickle joy.

      Æfne than worden,
    ther com of se wenden,
    that wes an sceort bat lithen,
    sceouen mid vthen:
    and twa wimmen therinne,
    wunderliche idihte:
    and heo nomen Arthur anan,
    and aneouste hine uereden,
    and softe hine adun leiden,
    and forth gunnen hine lithen.

           Even with these words,
         lo came from sea wending,
         that was a short boat moving,
         driving with the waves:
         and two women therein,
         of marvellous aspect:
         and they took Arthur anon,
         and straight him bore away
         and softly down him laid,
         and forth with him to sea they gan to move away.

      Tha wes hit iwurthen,
    that Merlin seide whilen;
    that weore unimete care,
    of Arthures forth-fare.

           Then was it come to pass
         what Merlin said whilome;
         that there should be much curious care,
         when Arthur out of life should fare.

      Bruttes ileueth ȝete,
    that he beo on liue,
    and wunnie in Aualun,
    mid fairest alre aluen:
    and lokieth euere Bruttes ȝete,
    whan Arthur cume lithen.

           Britons believe yet,
         that he be alive,
         and dwelling in Avalon
         with the fairest of all elves:
         still look the Britons for the day
         of Arthur's coming o'er the sea.

In this poetry there is a new vein of popularity. Since we left the
primary poetry we have been on the track of a literature whose spring
was in book-learning. A foreign erudition had thrown the lore of the
native minstrel into the shade. But some relics of domestic material
reappear with the new gush of popular song in the 13th century. Among
the mass of stories which fill that time, we find here and there an old
English tale, and sometimes it is a translation back from the French.
The romance of King Horn is one of these. The names of the personages,
and the general course of the plot--the Saracens notwithstanding--are
essentially Saxon. There are lines which are almost pure Saxon poetry,
and there are incidents that recall the Beowulf.

The story is as follows:--Horn was the son of the King of Suddene; he
was of matchless beauty, and he had twelve companions, among whom two
were specially dear to him; they were Athulf and Fikenild, the best and
the worst. The land was conquered by Saracens, who slew the king, but
sent off Horn and his twelve in a ship to perish at sea. They came to a
land where the king was Aylmar, who thus addressed them:--

    Whannes beo ȝe, faire gumes,
    That her to londe beoth icume,
    Alle throttene
    Of bodie swithe kene.

"Whence be ye, fair gentlemen, that here to land are come? All thirteen
of body very keen. By him that made me, so fair a band saw I at no time;
say what ye seek?" Horn tells his story, and Aylmar likes him, and bids
Athelbrus, his steward, teach him woodcraft, and the harp and song, and
also to carve and be cupbearer:--

    Bifore me to kerve
    And of the cupe serve.

The Princess Rymenhild falls in love with Horn, and this is an occasion
to prove the loyalty of Athulf. She orders Athelbrus to send Horn to
her; but he, fearing the consequences, and being specially responsible
for Horn, sends Athulf instead. Athulf finds that the princess has been
deceived, and declares at once that he is not Horn. When at length Horn
does meet Rymenhild, he points out to her the inequality of his rank.
She gets her father to knight him. She also gives him a ring, in which
the stones are of such virtue that if he looks on them and thinks of her
he need fear no wounds:--

    The stones beoth of suche grace
    That thu ne schalt in none place
    Of none duntes beon of drad.

He rides forth in search of adventures to prove his knighthood. He falls
in with a crew of Saracens, slays 100 of them, and brings the head of
the master Saracen on the point of his sword to the king, where he sits
in hall among his knights, and presents it in acknowledgment of his
dubbing (compare p. 130 above). Fikenild tells Aylmar of Horn's love
for his daughter, and Aylmar banishes Horn. Departing, he promises
Rymenhild to return in seven years or she shall be free to marry
another. He leaves the faithful Athulf behind to look after Rymenhild.

He arrives at the court of King Thurston, and there he calls himself
Cutberd. The land is infested by pagan invaders. Cutberd slays a giant
and many of the Saracens who were with him. Thurston offers him his
daughter and the kingdom with her. Cutberd tells the king that it must
not be so, but that he will claim his reward when he has relieved the
king of all his troubles, which will be at seven years' end (compare p.
131 above).

Meanwhile, Rymenhild is sought in marriage by King Modi, and the day is
fixed. In her distress she sends in all directions to seek Horn; her
messenger finds Horn and delivers his message, but he never returns to
the princess, because he is drowned. Now Horn tells King Thurston his
story, and entreats his help. He adds that he will provide a worthy
husband for his daughter, namely, Athulf, one of the best and truest of
knights. Thurston assembles his men and they go with Horn. Horn leaves
them under the wood while he goes towards the palace. He meets a palmer
and changes clothes with him. In the palace he takes his place with the
beggars, and when Rymenhild rises to offer wine to the guests he gets
speech of her and lets her see the ring she had given him. This leads to
a full recognition and the betrothal of Horn with Rymenhild. Such is the
tale of King Horn.

But, of all the old native stories that crop up in this later time, the
most remarkable is the "Lay of Havelok the Dane," a large subject which
we can only just indicate here.[151]

Of the learned branches a good deal continued unbroken by the Conquest.
Such was mostly the case with Homilies and Lives of saints, and Poetry
of the allegorical and instructive kind.

In the Exeter Song-book we saw pieces that had been taken from the old
book "Physiologus." This allegorical poetry retained its place through
all the changes.[152] Here is a passage from the "Whale," in the
language of the thirteenth century:--

    Wiles that weder is so ille,
    the sipes that arn on se fordriven
    (loth hem is deth, and lef to liven)
    biloken hem and sen this fis;
    an eilond he wenen it is.
    Thereof he aren swithe fagen,
    and mid here migt tharto he dragen,
    sipes onfesten,
    and alle up gangen.
    Of ston mid stel in the tunder
    wel to brennen one this wunder,
    warmen hem wel and heten and drinken;
    the fir he feleth and doth hem sinken,
    for sone he diveth dun to grunde,
    he drepeth hem alle withuten wunde.

These examples may suffice to represent that new literature which began
to rise after the violent removal of the old. They do not belong to the
history of Anglo-Saxon literature except indirectly as a foil and a
contrast. They show how ready were new forms to take the place of the
old. But while the English language was thus following the natural and
spontaneous course of its development, there still survived a powerful
interest in the old classical Englisc. The seat of this literature was
in the old monasteries, which became strongholds of ancient culture and
tradition. The old books were perused and re-copied, and a scholarly
knowledge of the old language was made an object of study. This was
sustained not only by sentiment, and curiosity, and literary taste, but
also by a sense of corporate interest. The titles of the old
monasteries to their lands were wholly or very largely contained in
Saxon writings, and these grew in importance with the growing habits of
documentary legality under Norman rule. A language which was at once
native and recondite, far more recondite than the Latin of the ordinary
scholar, could not but be impressive as a documentary medium. The number
of extant Saxon books and deeds which were either originally composed
after the Conquest, or at least re-copied and re-edited, is quite enough
to prepare us to receive what Matthew Parker said in the Latin preface
to his edition (1574) of "Asser":--

     "Furthermore; inasmuch as the medium of many legal documents and
     venerable memorials and royal charters preserved in archives,
     dating, some before, some after, the coming of the Normans into
     England, is Saxon both in language and in writing, I will advise
     all who study the institutions of this realm, to undergo the slight
     and insignificant labour which is necessary to make themselves
     masters of this language. If they will but do this, they will
     doubtless make discoveries daily, and will bring to light things
     which now lie hidden and remote; yea, they will without effort
     clear up the intricacies and perplexities of a great number of
     things. And in ages past there were societies of religious persons
     who were ordered by our forefathers for this work, that some among
     them might be trained in the knowledge of this tongue, and might
     transmit the same in succession to those who came after. To wit, in
     Tavistock Abbey, in the county of Devon, and in many other
     fraternities (within my memory) this was an established thing; to
     the end, as I suppose, that acquaintance with a literature whose
     language is antiquated might not perish for lack of use."

Thus we see that in the centuries between the Conquest and the
Reformation the old ENGLISC was a recognised subject of study;
and that it enjoyed, as the Latin did, the honours of an ancient
language which was too much esteemed to be allowed to perish. And,
therefore, it was said above that the Anglo-Saxon language and
literature never died out; for the knowledge of it was kept up till the
time when, through the general Revival of learning, new motives were
supplied for its diligent study, and the very man in whom the new
movement is impersonated is he who testifies that the study had lasted
down to a time within his own memory.


[145] Written and illustrated with miniatures by order of Æðelwold,
Bishop of Winchester, A.D. 963-984. Hexameter verses in a
superior style of penmanship, namely, the old Latin rustic, record the
history of the book, and give the scribe's name as Godeman, perhaps the
Abbot of Thorney, who began A.D. 970. The illuminations are
engraved in "Archæologia," xxiv.

[146] The "Leofric Missal," edited by F.E. Warren, B.D., Clarendon
Press, 1883.

[147] Particulars may be found in my "English Plant Names from the Tenth
to the Fifteenth Century," Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1880.

[148] The medical treatises have been collected in three volumes (Rolls
Series) by Mr. Cockayne, under the title of "Saxon Leechdoms."

[149] There are four copies of it in the Cotton Library, and one in
Cambridge University library; some also in other collections. It has
been printed from a Cotton manuscript written, the editor says, about
A.D. 990. "Popular Treatises on Science," edited by T. Wright,

[150] "La Chanson de Roland," par Léon Gautier, ed. 7 (1880),

[151] This poem, of which there are many external traces, had long been
given up as lost, was deplored by Tyrwhitt and by Ritson, and was
accidentally discovered in a Bodleian manuscript, latent amidst legends
of saints. From this unique MS. it was edited by Sir F. Madden; and
again (1868) by the Rev. W.W. Skeat, who says in his preface:--"There
can be little doubt that the tradition must have existed from
Anglo-Saxon times, but the earliest mention of it is presented to us in
the French version of the Romance.... The story is in no way connected
with France; ... From every point of view, ... the story is wholly
English," p. iv.

[152] An old English Miscellany, containing a "Bestiary," &c., ed. R.
Morris (E.E.T.S.), 1872, p. 17. The "Phisiologus" is quoted in Chaucer,
apparently from this very "Bestiary"; and Dr. Morris says that scraps of
it are found even in Elizabethan writers. I add a translation of the
piece quoted:--"Whilst that weather is so bad, the ships that are driven
about on the sea (death is unwelcome, men love to live) look about them
and see this fish; they ween it is an island. They are very glad of it,
and with all their might they draw towards it, make the ships fast, and
all go ashore. With stone and steel and tinder they make a good fire on
this monster, and warm themselves well, and eat and drink; the whale
feels the fire and makes them sink, for he quickly dives to the bottom,
he kills them all without wound."


Abgar, Lay of, 241

Abingdon Chronicle, 32, 173

Ælfric, Abbot, 23, 40, 67, 207, 213, 221, 245
  Bata, 40

Ælfheah, Archbishop, 224

Æthelberht, 81

Æthelred's Laws, 164

Æthelweard, 183, 220

Æthelwold, Bishop, 25, 51, 181, 207, 219, 243

Aidan, Bishop, 99

Alcuin, 23, 99, 117

Aldhelm, 21, 53, 86

Alfred, 15, 24, 186 ff., 207, 244

Alfred Jewel, 49

Alfred's Laws, 154 ff.

Andreas, the, 90, 233 f.

"Anglo-Saxon," 206

Apollonius of Tyre, 18, 212

Apuleius, 245

Architecture, 52

Arnold, Thomas, 121, 136

Arthur, 59, 249

Arundel Marbles, 48

Ashburnham House, 32

Ashmolean Museum, 49

Asser, 43, 183, 187, 256

Athelstan's Laws, 159

Augustine, Archbishop, 52

Avitus, Bishop, 14

Ballads, the, 145 ff.

Baron, Dr., 221

Beda, 21, 64, 81, 102 ff., 204, 245

Benedict of Nursia, 15
  of Aniane, 209

Beowulf, the, 32, 45, 58, 68, 71, 120 ff., 225

Biscop, Benedict, 86, 99

Blickling Homilies, 47, 139, 213 ff.

Blume, Dr., 46

Bodleian Library, 34

Boethian Metres, 71, 202 ff.

Boethius, 14, 201 ff.

Boniface (Winfrid), 21

Bosworth, Dr., 44, 226

Bradford-on-Avon, 53

Buckley, Professor, 40

Burials, Saxon, 55

Byrhtnoth, 217

Cædmon, 14, 22, 39, 68, 99, 111

Cæsar, 62

Camden, William, 43, 183

Canons of Ælfric, 67, 220

Canterbury, 20, 79, 98

Carling Romances, 248

Cenwalh, 180

Ceolfrid, Abbot, 102

Charles the Great, 187, 248

Chaucer, 27, 242, 254

Chronicles, the, 20, 22, 61, 169 ff.

Cockayne, Oswald, 245

Colman, Bishop, 99

Conybeare, 45

Cotton Library, 32, 245

Cotton, Sir Robert, 31, 35

Coxe, Henry Octavius, 39, 40

Cuthbert, St., 99, 104

Cynewulf, 226 ff.

Danihel, Bishop, 21

Dasent, Sir George, 68

Day, John, 35, 42

Days of the Week, 73

Dialogues, Gregory's, 16, 36, 193 ff.
  of Solomon, &c., 210 ff.

Dietrich, Professor, 208, 227, 240

Documents, Legal, 167

Dunstan, Archbishop, 25, 43, 207, 219

Durham Ritual, 111, 243

Eadmer, 52

Ebert, Adolf, 103, 118

Edda, the, 65

Eddi, 21, 99

Edwin, King, 98

Egbert, Archbishop, 21, 99

Elene, the, 90, 234 ff.

Epinal Gloss, 91, 97

Ettmüller, Ludwig, 121, 134

Eusebius of Cæsarea, 241
  of Emesa, 216

Evesham, 69

Exeter Book, 29, 88, 225 ff., 254.

Eynsham, 220

Felix, Bishop, 80

Florence, 184

Floriacum, 25

Frankish Art, 51
  Graves, 56

Freeman, E.A., 54, 141, 184, 206

Futhorc, the, 239

Gibson, Edmund, 45

Gildas, 60

Glossaries, 90

Godeman, 243

Gospels in A.-S., 73, 205, 208

Gough, Richard, 39

Gregory the Great, 15, 20, 85
  of Tours, 18, 19, 85

Grein, Dr., 121, 135, 208, 220, 239.

Grettir, Saga of, 137

Grimbald, 187

Grimm, Jacob, 46, 73, 153

Grundtvig, Dr., 121

Guthlac, St., 227, 232

Guthrum, 156, 159

Hadrian, Abbot, 21, 85

Harley, Robert, 34

Hatton, Lord, 36

Havelok the Dane, 254

Heliand, the, 22, 23, 68, 116

Henry of Huntingdon, 184

Heyne, Moritz, 121

Hickes, George, 44

Hickey, E.H., 144

Higden, 185

Hild, Abbess, 100

Homilies of Ælfric, 74, 102, 214 ff.
  of Wulfstan, 222 ff.
  see Blickling.

Horn, Romance of, 251 ff.

Hugo Candidus, 229

Illuminated Books, 51

Ine's Laws, 151

Inscriptions, 47

Irish Teachers, 86

Isidore of Seville, 85

Jarrow, 103

Jerome, 217

Jewellery, 49

John of Saxony, 187

Joscelin, 43

Judith, the, 225

Juliana, St., 227, 232

Junius, Franciscus, 37, 44, 112

Kemble, J.M., 90, 121, 154, 210, 226, 228, 239

Kentish Dialect, 84, 90, 97
  Laws, 80

Lambarde, William, 150

Lanferth, 219

Lappenberg, J.M., 46, 169

Laud, Archbishop, 34

Laws, the, 66, 150 ff.

Layamon, 27, 249

Leofric, Bishop, 28, 244
  Missal, 29, 243

Lumby, Professor, 103

Lindisfarne, 117
  Gospels, 33, 51, 111

Macray, W.D., 34

Madden, Sir F., 254

Maidulf, 86

Maine, Sir H., 154, 163

Marshall, Dr., 44

Matthew Parker, 29, 42, 256

Mayor, Professor, 103

Metcalfe, F., 44

Milton, John, 14, 112, 115, 232

More, Bishop, 41, 101

Morfil, W.R., 148

Morley, Henry, 134

Morris, Dr. R., 222, 254

Müllenhof, Dr. Karl, 134

Napier, Arthur, 222

Nicodemus, Gospel of, 209

Northumbria, 21

Northumbrian Dialect, 111

Notker, 15

Odin, 75

Odo, Archbishop, 25, 219

Orm, 27

Orosius, 13, 204

Oswald, Bishop, 219

Palgrave, Sir Francis, 152, 164

Panther, the, 231

Parker, Archbishop, 29, 42, 256

Parker, J.H., 54

Parker Library, 44, 244

Pastoral Care, the, 16, 36, 188 ff.

Paulinus, Bishop, 98

Pauli, Reinhold, 169

Paulus Diaconus, 23

Pericles (Shakespeare), 18

Peterborough Chronicle, 26, 36, 178, 181, 184

Phœnix, the, 9, 227, 230

Physiologus, the, 215, 231, 254

Pilate, Acts of, 209

Plegmund, Archbishop, 187

Psalter (Kentish), 94
  (Poetical), 90, 208

Rawlinson, Richard, 38, 45

Riddles, 87, 240

Robert of Jumièges, 244

Rochester Book, 26

Ruined City, the, 140

Rule of St. Benedict, 40

Runes, 78, 111, 226, 238

Runic Poem, 239

Rushworth, John, 38

Ruthwell Cross, 111

Sanders, W. Basevi, 41

Schaldemose, 121

Schmid, Reinhold, 150

Scott, Sir Walter, 150, 228

Sculpture, 55

Sievers, Edouard, 116

Sigeric, Archbishop, 217

Simeon of Durham, 177, 184

Simposius, 10, 240 {Transcriber's note: Symposius and Simphosius in text}

Skeat, Professor, 44, 111, 218, 254

Smaragdus, 23

Solomon and Saturn, 209 ff.

Somner, William, 44

Spell, 75

Spelman, Sir Henry, 43, 44
  Sir John, 44

Spenser, Edmund, 136, 249

St. Augustine's, Canterbury, 20, 35

Stallybrass, J.S., 70

Stephens, Professor George, 47, 111, 117, 241

Stubbs, Professor, 162, 183, 185

Sweet, Mr., 33

Swithun, St., 69, 218, 219

Tacitus, 62

Tavistock, 256

Tennyson, Alfred, 136, 147, 249

Theodore, Archbishop, 21, 85, 100

Thorkelin, G.J., 45, 121

Thorney, 243

Thorpe, Benjamin, 46, 121, 150, 208, 222

Thwaites, Edward, 220

Trial by Jury, 163 ff.

Vercelli Book, 46, 90, 225, 233 ff.

Vigfusson, Dr. Gudbrand, 138

Wace, Robert, 27, 249

Walahfrid Strabo, 23

Waldhere (Fragment), 47

Wanley, Humphrey, 45

Warren, F.E., 244

Watson, R. Spence, 113

Wearmouth, 102

Weland, 58, 70

Werfrith, Bishop, 36, 187, 189, 193

Westwood, Professor, 30, 39, 51

Whale, the, 231, 255

Wheloc, Abraham, 43, 150

Whitby, 99

Widsith, the, 148

Wilfrid, 99, 100

Wilkins, Bishop, 150

Willebrord, 99

William of Malmesbury, 185

Winchester Chronicle, 171, 178

Winfrid (Boniface), 21, 99

Winton Book, 26

Woden, 66

Worcester Chartulary, 26
  Chronicle, 32, 173

Wordsworth, Canon, 48

Wright, Thomas, 183, 226, 245

Wülcker, Professor, 112, 140

Wulfstan, Archbishop, 224

Wulstan, Latin poet, 219

York, 21

Zeuner, Rudolf, 33

Zupitza, Julius, 41


       *       *       *       *       *



{Transcriber's note: These corrections have been made in the transcribed
text, except the first, which refers to a page heading.}

Page 103, Heading, _for_ "Anglican" _read_ "Anglian."

 "   115, line 22, _for_ "vora" _read_ "wora."

 "   150,  "   23, _for_ "Lombarde" _read_ "Lambarde."

 "   154,  "   16, _for_ "History" _read_ "history."

 "   208,  "   12, _for_ "translations" _read_ "translation."

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