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by John Earle
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{Transcriber's Note: This e-text contains a number of unusual characters which are represented as follows: {+} maltese cross {&} tironian ampersand {-o} o-macron {~c} c-tilde {^y} y-circumflex {gh} yogh {t} with a stroke through the top. oe ligatures have been unpacked.}



The Dawn of European Literature.

* * * * *

ANGLO-SAXON LITERATURE.

BY JOHN EARLE, M.A. RECTOR OF SWANSWICK, RAWLINSON PROFESSOR OF ANGLO-SAXON IN THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD.

PUBLISHED UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE COMMITTEE OF GENERAL LITERATURE AND EDUCATION APPOINTED BY THE SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE.

LONDON: SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE, NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, CHARING CROSS, W.C.; 43, QUEEN VICTORIA STREET, E.C.; 26, ST. GEORGE'S PLACE, HYDE PARK CORNER S.W. BRIGHTON: 133, NORTH STREET. NEW YORK: E. & J.B. YOUNG & CO.

1884.



PREFACE.

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; lfric'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.

15, NORHAM ROAD, OXFORD, March 15th, 1884.



CONTENTS.

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.—LFRIC 207

XI.—THE SECONDARY POETRY 225

XII.—THE NORMAN CONQUEST, AND AFTER THAT 243

INDEX 259



ANGLO-SAXON LITERATURE.



CHAPTER I.

A PRELIMINARY VIEW.

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 Camen, unlike the sthetic 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 Nvius (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 Camen might well weep for Nvius, the last representative of the Latin language.

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 Csar; 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 sthetic effect might be beautiful in a masterpiece, it was apt to be embarrassing in weaker hands. sthetic 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 Csar were antiquated long before the end of the first century.

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 lapse.

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 sthetic 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 Ages.[3]

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 concerned.

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 Phoenix, 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 Phoenix. 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 Phoenix 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 Phoenix 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 Symposius.

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 Cyclopdia 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 onward.

About A.D. 500, Avitus, bishop of Vienne, wrote a Latin poem on the mighty acts of Sacred History—(De Spiritalis Histori Gestis); and this book has been regarded as the original source of some passages in Cdmon 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 lfric, 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 Moesia, 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 converted.

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 "Cdmon." 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 lfric 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 lfric would be likely to know this book; but for the composition of his Homilies it is more likely that lfric 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 etymologies.

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 lfric 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 lfric 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 eighth.

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. Benot-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 elwold 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 family.

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 VIII.

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.

FOOTNOTES:

[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 medival 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 Leon.

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



CHAPTER II.

THE MATERIALS.

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.

I.

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 Cambridge.

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 registers.

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 Palographical 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 palographer, 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 Library.

THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY

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. 441.

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 country.

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 lfric 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 Cdmon, 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 lfric; the latter, some by lfric 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 Frmen, 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 "Cdmon," 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]

CORPUS CHRISTI COLLEGE, OXFORD,

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."

ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE, OXFORD,

has an important manuscript containing (1) lfric's Grammar, (2) Glossary, and (3) the Colloquy of lfric Bata, in usum puerorum (for the boys). On fol. 202, the writer calls himself, "I lfric Bata," and says that his master "lfric 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.

THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY AT CAMBRIDGE

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 manuscript.

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 entries.[23]

RESEARCH, DISCOVERY, AND RECONSTRUCTION.

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 Oxford.

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 Mso-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 studies.

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 Foedera," 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 lfric,—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."

II.

INSCRIPTIONS

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.

OF VERNACULAR INSCRIPTIONS

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 Hbner, 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]

JEWELLERY.

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: LFRED 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.

DRAWING AND ILLUMINATION OF BOOKS.

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 thelwold (between 963 and 970). From the same cause, the character of the penmanship also passes through a corresponding change, but more gradually and indistinctly.[31]

ARCHITECTURE.

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.



SCULPTURE.

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.

BURIALS.

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 fibul are circular and highly ornamented, but these are sparingly found beyond the area of the earliest settlers. From Suffolk to Leicestershire the fibul 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 3 inches in diameter, 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 descriptions.

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.

FOOTNOTES:

[11] "Palographia 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 below.

[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, 1875-6.

[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 lfric 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] Hbner, 197.

[29] Hbner, 179, 180, 181.

[30] Kemble, "Archologia," Anno 1843; Stephens, "Runic Monuments," p. 405.

[31] Westwood, "Palographia 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, "Hor Ferales."

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



CHAPTER III.

THE HEATHEN PERIOD.

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 Aglesthrep; and his brother Horsa was slain; and after that Hengest took to the kingdom, and sc, his son.

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

491. Here lle 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 gelesburg (Aylesbury), Bnesingtun (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 Csar 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. Csar 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, Csar 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 Csar 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 another.

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