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BY THE LATE SIR AUBREY DE VERE, BART.
Mary Tudor: an Historical Drama. Julian the Apostate and the Duke of Mercia. A Song of Faith, Devout Exercises and Sonnets.
B. M. PICKERING.
AUBREY DE VERE
Hic sunt in fossa Bedae Venerabilis ossa
LONDON C. KEGAN PAUL & CO., 1 PATERNOSTER SQUARE 1879
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TO THE VENERABLE BEDE
'Mid quiet vale or city lulled by night Well-pleased the wanderer, wakeful on his bed, Hears from far Alps on fitful breeze the sound Of torrents murmuring down their rocky glens, Strange voice from distant regions, alien climes:— Should these far echoes from thy legend-roll Delight of loftier years, these echoes faint, Thus waken, thus make calm, one restless heart In our distempered day, to thee the praise, Voice of past times, O Venerable Bede!
Many years ago a friend remarked to me on the strangeness of the circumstance that the greatest event in the history of a nation, its conversion to Christianity, largely as it is often recorded in national legends, has never been selected as a theme for poetry. That event may indeed not supply the materials necessary for an Epic or a Drama, yet it can hardly fail to abound in details significant and pathetic, which especially invite poetic illustration. With the primary interest of that great crisis, many others, philosophical, social, and political, generally connect themselves. Antecedent to a nation's conversion, the events of centuries have commonly either conduced to it, or thrown obstacles in its way; while the history as well as the character of that nation in the subsequent ages is certain to have been in a principal measure modified by that event. Looking back consequently on that period in which the moral influences of ages, early and late, are imaged, a people recognises its own features as in a mirror, but sees them such as they were when their expression was still undetermined; and it may well be struck by the resemblance at once to what now exists, and also by the dissimilitude. Many countries have unhappily lost almost all authentic records connected with their conversion. Such would have been the fate of England also, had it not been for a single book, 'Bede's Ecclesiastical History.' In the following poems I have endeavoured to walk in the footsteps of that great master. Their scope will best be indicated by some remarks upon the character of that wonderful age which he records.
St. Augustine landed in the Isle of Thanet A.D. 597, and Bede died A.D. 735. The intervening period, that of his chronicle, is the golden age of Anglo-Saxon sanctity. Notwithstanding some twenty or thirty years of pagan reaction, it was a time of rapid though not uninterrupted progress, and one of an interest the more touching when contrasted with the calamities which followed so soon. Between the death of Bede and the first Danish invasion, were eighty years, largely years of decline, moral and religious. Then followed eighty years of retribution, those of the earlier Danish wars, till, with the triumph of Alfred, England's greatest king, came the Christian restoration. Once more periods of relaxed morals and sacrilegious princes alternated with intervals of reform; again and again the Northmen over-swept the land. The 460 years of Anglo-Saxon Christianity constituted a period of memorable achievements and sad vicissitudes; but that period included more than a hundred years of high sanctity, belonging for the most part to the seventh century, a century to England as glorious as was the thirteenth to Mediaeval Europe.
Within that century the kingdoms of the Heptarchy successively became Christian, and those among them which had relapsed returned to the Faith. Sovereigns, many of whom had boasted a descent from Odin himself, stood as interpreters beside the missionaries when they preached, and rivalled each other in the zeal with which they built churches, some of which were founded on the sites of ancient temples, though, in other cases, with a charitable prudence, the existing fanes were spared, purified, and adapted to Christian worship. At Canterbury and York, cathedrals rose, and on many a site besides; and when the earlier had been destroyed by fire, or had fallen through decay, fabrics on a vaster scale rose above their ruins, and maintained a succession which lasts to this day. Monasteries unnumbered lifted their towers above the forests of a land in which the streams still ran unstained and the air of which had not yet been dimmed by smoke, imparting a dignity to fen and flat morass. Round them ere long cities gathered, as at St. Albans, Malmesbury, Sherborne, and Wimborne; the most memorable of those monasteries being that at Canterbury, and that at Westminister, dedicated to St. Peter, as the cathedral church near it had been dedicated to St. Paul. In the North they were at least as numerous. The University of Oxford is also associated with that early age. It was beside the Isis that St. Frideswida raised her convent, occupied at a later date by canons regular, and ultimately transformed into Christ Church by Cardinal Wolsey—becoming thus the chief, as it had been the earliest, among the schools in that great seat of learning which within our own days has exercised a religious influence over England not less remarkable than that which belonged to its most palmy preceding period.
During that century England produced most of those saintly kings and queens whose names still enrich the calendar of the Anglo-Saxon Church, sovereigns who ruled their kingdoms with justice, lived in mortification, went on pilgrimages, died in cloisters. The great missionary work had also begun. Within a century from the death of St. Augustine, apostles from England had converted multitudes in Germany, and St. Wilfrid had preached to the inhabitants of Friesland. Something, moreover, had been done to retrieve the past. The Saxon kings made amends for the wrongs inflicted by their ancestors upon the British Celts, endowing with English lands the churches and convents founded by them in Brittany. King Kenwalk of Wessex showed thus also a royal munificence to the Celtic monastery of Glastonbury, only stipulating in return that the British monks there, condoning past injuries, should offer a prayer for him when they knelt at the tomb of King Arthur.
The England of the seventh century had been very gradually prepared for that drama of many ages which had then its first rehearsal. In it three races had a part. They were those of the native Britons, the Saxons who had over-run the land, and the Irish missionaries. Rome, the last and greatest of the old-world empires, had exercised more of an enfeebling and less of an elevating influence among the British than among her other subject races; but her great military roads still remained the witnesses of her military genius; and many a city, some in ruin, were records of her wealth and her arts. The Teutonic race in England, which for centuries had maintained its independence against Rome, could not forgive the Britons for having submitted to their hated foe, and trampled on them the more ruthlessly because they despised them. Yet they at least might well have learned to respect that race. It has been well remarked that if the Britons submitted easily to Rome, yet of all her subject races they made far the most memorable fight against that barbaric irruption which swept over the ruins of her empire. For two centuries that race had fought on. It still retained the whole of Western Britain, Cornwall, Wales, and Strathclyde; while in other parts of England it possessed large settlements. On the other hand, in matters of spiritual concern the British race contrasted unfavourably with the other races subjected by the barbarians. In France, Spain, and Italy, the conquered had avenged a military defeat by a spiritual victory, bringing over their conquerors to Christianity; and, as a consequence, they had often risen to equality with them. In those parts of England, on the contrary, where the British had submitted to the Pagan conquerors, they by degrees abandoned their Christian faith; and where they retained their independence, they hated the Saxon conquerors too much to share their Christianity with them. Far from desiring their conversion, they resisted all the overtures made to them by the Roman missionaries who ardently desired their aid; and as a consequence of that refusal, they eventually lost their country. The chief cause of that refusal was hatred of the invader. The Irish as well as the British had a passionate devotion to their own local traditions in a few matters not connected with doctrine; but they notwithstanding worked cordially with the Benedictines from St. Gregory's convent for the spread of the Christian Faith. Had the Britons converted the Anglo-Saxon race they would probably have blended with them, as at a later time that race blended with their Norman conquerors. Three successive waves of the Teuton-Scandinavian race swept over their ancient land, the Anglo-Saxon, the Danish, and the Norman: against them all the British Celts fought on. They fell back toward their country's western coasts, like the Irish of a later day; and within their Cambrian mountains they maintained their independence for eight centuries.
Yet the Anglo-Saxons' victory was not an unmixed one. Everywhere throughout England they maintained during the seventh century two different battles, a material and a spiritual one, and with opposite results. Year by year that race pushed further its military dominion; but yearly the Christian Faith effected new triumphs over that of Odin. For this there were traceable causes. The character of the Teutonic invader included two very different elements, and the nobler of these had its affinities with Christianity. If, on the one hand, that character was fierce, reckless, and remorseless, and so far in natural sympathy with a religion which mocked at suffering and till the ninth century offered up human sacrifices, it was marked no less by robustness, simplicity, honesty, sincerity, an unexcitable energy and an invincible endurance. It possessed also that characteristic which essentially contradistinguishes the ordo equestris from the ordo pedestris in human character, viz., the spirit of reverence. It had aspirations; and, as a background to all its musings and all its hopes there remained ever the idea of the Infinite. As a consequence, it retained a large measure of self-respect, purity, and that veneration for household ties attributed to it by the Roman historian at a time when that virtue was no longer a Roman one. Such a character could not but have its leanings toward Christianity; and, when brought under its influences, it put forth at once new qualities, like a wild flower which, on cultivation, acquires for the first time a perfume. Its spirit of reverence developed into humility, and its natural fortitude into a saintly patience; while its fierceness changed into a loyal fervour; and the crimes to which its passions still occasionally hurried it were voluntarily expiated by penances as terrible. Even King Penda, the hater of Christianity, hated an insincere faith more. 'Of all men,' he said, 'he that I have ever most despised is the man who professes belief in some God and yet does not obey his laws.' Such was that character destined to produce under the influences of faith such noble specimens of Christian honour and spiritual heroism. From the beginning its greatness was one
True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home;
and in later ages it became yet more eminently domestic, combining household ties with the pursuit of letters and science in colleges which still preserved a family life. Its monks had no vocation to the life of the desert; in this unlike the Irish saints, who, like those of Eastern lands, delighted in the forest hermitage and the sea-beat rock.
The Anglo-Saxon race was but a branch of that great Teuton-Scandinavian race, generically one whether it remained in the German forests or wandered on to the remoter coasts of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It was the race which the Romans called 'the Barbarians,' but which they could never conquer. A stern history had trained it for a wonderful destiny. Christianity in mastering the Greek had possessed itself of the intellect of the world, and in mastering Rome had found access to all those vast regions conquered by Roman arms, opened out by Roman roads, governed by Roman law, and by it helped to the conception of a higher law. But the Greek and the Roman civilisations had, each of them, corrupted its way, and yielded to the seductions of pride, sense, and material prosperity; and, as a consequence, both had become incapable of rendering full justice to much that is highest in Christianity. That which they lacked the 'Barbaric' race alone was capable of supplying. In its wanderings under darkened skies and amid pitiless climates it had preserved an innocence and simplicity elsewhere lost. Enriched by the union of the new element, thus introduced, with what it had previously derived from Greek thought and Roman law, that authentic Religion which had been prospectively sown within the narrow precinct of Judea extended its branches over the world. Had the Barbaric race shared in the Greek sciences and arts, and clothed itself in the Roman civilisation, it must have learned their corruptions. The larger destiny of man could thus, humanly speaking, never have been accomplished, and neither the mediaeval world, the modern world, nor that yet higher order of human society which doubtless lies beyond both, could have existed. It was necessary that in some region, exacting, yet beneficent, civilisation should be retarded, that a remedy might be found for the abuses of civilisation; and races whose present backward condition we are accustomed to deplore may likewise be intended for a similar purpose. Plants are thus kept in the dark in order to reserve their fruitage for a fitter season.
But what had been the earlier history of a race before which such destinies lay? What training had prepared it for its work—the last that might have been expected from it? On this subject there remains a tradition, the profoundly significant character of which ought to have made it more widely known. Mallet, in his 'Northern Antiquities,' translated by Bishop Percy, to whom our ballad literature is so deeply indebted, records it thus:—'A celebrated tradition, confirmed by the poems of all the northern nations, by their chronicles, by institutions and customs, some of which subsist to this day, informs us that an extraordinary person named Odin formerly reigned in the north.... All their testimonies are comprised in that of Snorri, the ancient historian of Norway, and in the commentaries and explications which Torphaeus added to his narrative. The Roman Commonwealth was arrived at the highest pitch of power, and saw all the then known world subject to its laws, when an unforeseen event raised up enemies against it from the very bosom of the forests of Scythia and on the banks of the Tanais. Mithridates by flying had drawn Pompey after him into those deserts. The King of Pontus sought there for refuge and new means of vengeance. He hoped to arm against the ambition of Rome all the barbarous nations his neighbours, whose liberty she threatened. He succeeded in this at first, but all those peoples, ill united as allies, ill armed as soldiers, and still worse disciplined, were forced to yield to the superior genius of Pompey. Odin is said to have been of their number.... Odin commanded the AEsir, whose country must have been situated between the Pontus Euxinus and the Caspian Sea. Their principal city was Asgard. The worship there paid to their supreme God was famous throughout the circumjacent countries. Odin, having united under his banners the youth of the neighbouring nations, marched towards the north and west of Europe, subduing, as we are told, all the people he found in his passage, and giving them to one or other of his sons for subjects. Many sovereign families of the North are said to be descended from these princes. Thus Horsa and Hengist, the chiefs of those Saxons who conquered Britain in the fifth century, counted Odin or Wodin in the number of their ancestors; it was the same with the other Anglo-Saxon princes as well as the greatest part of those of lower Germany and the North.'
Gibbon refers to this ancient tradition, though not as accepting it for a part of ascertained history, yet in a spirit less sceptical than was usual to him. He writes thus: 'It is supposed that Odin was chief of a tribe of barbarians which dwelt on the banks of the lake Moeotis, till the fall of Mithridates and the arms of Pompey menaced the north with servitude. That Odin, yielding with indignant fury to a power which he was unable to resist, conducted his tribe from the frontiers of the Asiatic Sarmatia into Sweden, with the great design of forming, in that inaccessible retreat of freedom, a religion and a people which, in some remote age, might be subservient to his immortal revenge; when his invincible Goths, armed with martial fanaticism, should issue in numerous swarms from the neighbourhood of the Polar circle to chastise the oppressors of mankind.... Notwithstanding the mysterious obscurity of the Edda, we can easily distinguish two persons confounded under the name of Odin; the god of war, and the great legislator of Scandinavia. The latter, the Mahomet of the north, instituted a religion adapted to the climate and to the people. Numerous tribes on either side of the Baltic were subdued by the invincible valour of Odin, by his persuasive eloquence, and by the fame which he acquired of a most skilful magician. The faith that he had propagated during a long and prosperous life he confirmed by a voluntary death. Apprehensive of the ignominious approach of disease and infirmity, he resolved to expire as became a warrior. In a solemn assembly of the Swedes and Goths he wounded himself in nine mortal places, hastening away (as he asserted with his dying voice) to prepare the feast of heroes in the palace of the great god of war.'
In a note Gibbon adds, referring to the Roman and Oriental part of the legend: 'This wonderful expedition of Odin, which, by deducing the enmity of the Goths and Romans from so memorable a cause, might supply the noble groundwork of an epic poem, cannot safely be received as authentic history. According to the obvious sense of the Edda, and the interpretation of the most skilful critics, Asgard, instead of denoting a real city of the Asiatic Sarmatia, is the fictitious appellation of the mystic abode of the gods, the Olympus of Scandinavia.' Whether the emigration of the Barbaric race from the East be or be not historical, certainly the grounds upon which Gibbon bases his distrust of it are slender. He forgot that there might well have been both an earthly Asgard and also, according to the religion of the north, an Asgard in heaven, the destined abode of warriors faithful to Odin. Those who after his death changed their king into a god would, by necessity, have provided him with a celestial mansion; nor could they have assigned to it a name more acceptable to a race which blended so closely their religion with their patriotic love than that of their ancient capital, from which their great deliverer and prophet had led them forth in pilgrimage. Let us hope that Gibbon's remark as to the fitness of this grand legend for the purposes of epic poetry may yet prove prophecy. It has had one chance already: for we learn from the first book of The Prelude that the theme was one of those on which the imagination of Wordsworth rested in youth, when he was seeking a fit subject for epic song.
It is difficult to imagine a historical legend invested with a greater moral weight or dignity than belongs to this one. The mighty Republic was soon to pass into an Empire mightier and more ruthless still, the heir of all those ancient empires which from the earliest had represented a dominion founded on the pride of this world, and had trampled upon human right. A race is selected to work the retribution. It is qualified for its work by centuries of adversity, only to be paralleled by the prosperity of its rival. Yet when at last that retribution comes, it descends more in mercy than in judgment! Great changes had prepared the world for a new order of things. The centre of empire had moved eastward from Rome to Constantinople: the spiritual centre had moved westward from Jerusalem to Rome. The empire had herself become Christian, and was allowed after that event nearly a century more of gradual decline. The judgment was not thus averted; but it was ennobled. Her children were enabled to become the spiritual instructors of those wild races by which the 'State Universal' had been overwhelmed. That empire indeed, was not so much destroyed as transformed and extended, a grace rendered possible by her having submitted to the yoke of Christ; the new kingdoms which constituted the Christian 'Orbis Terrarum' being, for the most part, fragments of it, while its laws made way into regions wider far, and exercised over them a vast though modified authority not yet extinct. Here, if anywhere, we catch glimpses of a hand flashing forth between the clouds, pointing their way to the nations, and conducting Humanity forward along its arduous and ascending road. There is a Providence or there could be no Progress.
For the fulfilment of that part assigned to the 'Barbarians' in this marvellous drama of the ages, it was necessary that many things should combine; an exemption from the temptations which had materialised the races of the south; the severe life that perfects strength; a race endowed with the physical strength needed to render such sufferings endurable; and lastly, an original spiritual elevation inherent in that race, and capable of making them understand the lesson, and accept their high destiny. The last and greatest of these qualifications had not been wanting. Much as the religion of the Barbaric race had degenerated by the time when it deified its great deliverer, it had inherited the highest traditions of the early world. Mallet thus describes their religion in its purity: 'It taught the being of a "Supreme God, master of the universe, to whom all things are submissive and obedient." Such, according to Tacitus, was the supreme God of the Germans. The ancient Icelandic mythology calls him "the Author of everything that existeth; the eternal, the ancient, the living and awful Being, the searcher into concealed things, the Being that never changeth." This religion attributed to the Supreme Deity "an infinite power, a boundless knowledge, an incorruptible justice," and forbade its followers to represent Him under any corporeal form. They were not even to think of confining Him within the enclosure of walls, but were taught that it was within woods and consecrated forests that they could serve Him properly. There He seemed to reign in silence, and to make Himself felt by the respect which He inspired. ... From this Supreme God were sprung (as it were emanations from His divinity) an infinite number of subaltern deities and genii, of which every part of the visible world was the seat and the temple.... To serve this divinity with sacrifices and prayers, to do no wrong to others, and to be brave and intrepid in themselves, were all the moral consequences they derived from these doctrines. Lastly, the belief of a future state cemented and completed the whole building. ... Perhaps no religion ever attributed so much to a Divine Providence as that of the northern nations.'
It was not among the Scandinavians only that the religion of the North retained long these vestiges of its original purity, and elevation. 'All the Teutonic nations held the same opinions, and it was upon these that they founded the obligation of serving the gods, and of being valiant in battle.... One ought to regard in this respect the Icelandic mythology as a precious monument, without which we can know but very imperfectly this important part of the religion of our fathers.'
The earlier and purer doctrine seems to have long survived the incrustations of later times in the case of a select few. Harold Harfraga, the first king of all Norway, thus addressed an assembly of his people: 'I swear and protest in the most sacred manner that I will never offer sacrifice to any of the gods adored by the people, but to Him only who hath formed this world, and everything we behold in it.' A belief in the divine Love, as well as the divine power, knowledge and justice, though probably not held by the many at a later day, is yet distinctly expressed, as well as the kindred belief in an endless reign of peace, by the earliest and most sacred document of the Northern religion, viz. the 'Voeluspa Prophecy.' That prophecy, after foretelling the destruction of all things, including the Odin gods themselves, by the Supreme God and His ministers, proceeds: 'There will arise out of the sea, another earth most lovely and verdant with pleasant fields where the grain shall grow unsown. Vidar and Vali, shall survive; neither the flood nor Surtur's fire shall harm them. They shall dwell on the plain of Ida where Asgard formerly stood.... Baldur and Hoedur shall also repair thither from the abode of death. There they shall sit and converse together, and call to mind their former knowledge and the perils they underwent.'
The similarity between the higher doctrines of the northern faith and the religion of ancient Persia is at once accounted for by the tradition of the Odin migration from the East. A writer the reverse of credulous expresses himself thus on that subject: 'We know that the Scandinavians came from some country of Asia.... This doctrine was in many respects the same with that of the Magi. Zoroaster had taught that the conflict between Ormuzd and Ahriman (i.e. light and darkness, the Good and Evil Principle) should continue to the last day; and that then the Good Principle should be reunited to the Supreme God, from whom it had first issued; the Evil should be overcome and subdued; darkness should be destroyed; and the world, purified by a universal conflagration, should become a luminous and shining abode, into which evil should never be permitted to enter.' The same writer continues thus: 'Odin and the AEsir may be compared to Ormuzd and the Amshaspands; Loki and his evil progeny, the Wolf Fenrir and the Midgard Serpent, together with the giants and monsters of Joetunheim and Hvergelmir, to Ahriman and the Devs. ... We will not deny that some of these doctrines may have been handed down by oral tradition to the pontiff-chieftains of the Scandinavian tribes, and that the Skalds who composed the mythic poems of the elder Edda may have had an obscure and imperfect knowledge of them. Be this as it may, we must not forget that the higher doctrines of the Scandinavian system were confined to the few, whereas those of the Zendavesta were the religious belief of the whole nation. ... The Persian system was calculated to form an energetic, intellectual and highly moral people; the Scandinavian a semi-barbarous troop of crafty and remorseless warriors.... Yet, such as they were, these Scandinavians seemed to have been destined by the inscrutable designs of Providence to invigorate at least one of the nations of which they were for centuries the scourge, in order, as we previously had occasion to observe, that the genial blending of cognate tribes might form a people the most capable of carrying on the great work of civilisation, which in some far distant age may finally render this world that abode of peace and intellectual enjoyment dimly shadowed forth in ancient myths as only to be found in a renovated and fresh emerging universe.'
The inferiority of the later Scandinavian to the earlier Persian religion may be sufficiently accounted for by the common process of gradual degeneration. That degeneration was not confined to the great emigrant race. Centuries before Odin had left the East, the Persian religion had degenerated upon its native soil. Its Magi retained a pure doctrine, which led them later to the Bethlehem crib; but its vulgar had in part yielded to the seduction of Greek poets, and worshipped in temples like theirs. It is remarkable that that 'one of the nations' with which the hopes of the future are so singularly connected is that one upon which the discipline of adversity had fallen with double force. When the ancient enemy of the 'Barbaric races,' Rome, had passed away, a new enemy, and one to it more formidable, rose up against England in her own kinsfolk, the Scandinavian branch of the same stock. The Danish invaders expected to set kingdom against kingdom throughout the Heptarchy, and subject them all to the sceptre of Odin. On the contrary, it united them in one; and that union was facilitated by the bond of a common Christianity.
That the belief of the Anglo-Saxons, though less developed by poetry and romance, was substantially the same as that recorded in the Scandinavian Edda, appears to be certain. It is thus that Mr. Kemble speaks:
'On the Continent as well as in England, it is only by the collection of minute and isolated facts—often preserved to us in popular superstitions, legends, and even nursery tales—that we can render probable the prevalence of a religious belief identical in its most characteristic features with that which we know to have been entertained in Scandinavia. Yet whatsoever we can thus recover proves that, in all main points, the faith of the Island Saxons was that of their Continental brethren.' 'The early period at which Christianity triumphed in England, adds to the difficulties which naturally beset the subject. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, had entered into public relations with the rest of Europe long before the downfall of their ancient creed; here the fall of heathendom, and the commencement of history were contemporaneous. We too had no Iceland to offer a refuge to those who fled from the violent course of a conversion.'
Among the proofs of identity between the Anglo-Saxon and the Scandinavian religion, Mr. Kemble refers to the fact that 'genealogies of the Anglo-Saxon kings contain a multitude of the ancient gods, reduced indeed into the family relations, but still capable of identification with the deities of the North, and of Germany. In this relation we find Odin, Boeldoeg, Geat, Wig, and Frea. The days of the week, also dedicated to gods, supply us further with the names of Tiw, Dunor, Friege, and Soetere; and the names of places in all parts of England attest the wide dispersion of the worship.
Mr. Kemble shows also that among the Anglo-Saxons and the Scandinavians there existed a common belief respecting monsters, especially the wolf Fenrir, the Midgard snake, evil spirits and giants; respecting Loki, the accursed spirit, and Hela, the queen of Hades. To the same effect Mr. Sharon Turner speaks: 'The Voluspa and the Edda are the two great repositories of the oldest and most venerated traditions of pagan Scandinavia. The Voluspa opens abruptly, and most probably represents many of the ancient Saxon traditions or imaginations.' The authority of these eminent writers accounts for and justifies the frequent references to the Scandinavian mythology in the following 'Saxon Legends.'
We have thus seen that in the religion of the 'Barbaric' race there were blended two different elements: a higher one derived from its eastern origin, and a lower one the result of gradual degeneration. We had previously seen that a remarkable duality was to be found in the character of that race; and without understanding this duality and its root in their religion, no just conception can be formed of the relations of that race with Christianity. Had the 'Barbarians' possessed nothing deeper than is indicated by their fiercer traits, the history of the seventh century in England must have been very different. It was characterised by rapid conversions to Christianity on a large scale, and often, after the lapse of a few years, by sanguinary revolts against the Faith. The chief reason of such fluctuation seems to have been this, viz. because all that was profound, and of venerable antiquity in the Northern religion, was in sympathy with Christianity, as the religion of sanctity and self-sacrifice; while all that was savage in it opposed itself to a religion of humility and of charity. The Northern religion was an endless warfare, and so was that early Persian religion from which its higher element was derived; but by degrees that warfare had, for the many, ceased to be the warfare between light and darkness, between Good and Evil. To the speculative it had become a conflict between all the wild and illimitable forces of Nature and some unknown higher Law; but to the common herd it meant only an endless feud between race and race. Thus understood it could have no affinities with Christianity, either in her militant character, or as the religion of peace.
In explanation of the frequent outbreaks against Christianity on the part of the Anglo-Saxons, after their conversion, Montalembert assigns another cause, viz. that the Roman missionaries had sometimes relied too much upon the converted kings, and their authority over their subjects. The work had in such cases to be done again; and it was largely done by Irish missionaries, who had left Iona only to seek as lonely a retreat in Lindisfarne. They shunned cities, drew the people to them, and worked upwards through that people to the great.
The Irish mission in England during the seventh century was one among the great things of history, and has met with an inadequate appreciation. The ancient name of the Irish, 'Scoti,' commemorative of their supposed Scythian origin, the name by which Bede always designates them, had been frequently translated 'Scottish' by modern historians; and those who did not know that an Irish immigrant body had entered Scotland, then called Alba, about the close of the second century, had conquered its earlier inhabitants, the Picts, after a war of centuries, and had eventually given to that heroic land, never since subdued, its own name and its royal house, naturally remained ignorant that those 'Scottish' missionaries were Irish. A glance at Bede, or such well known recent works as Sir W. Scott's 'History of Scotland,' makes this matter plain; yet the amount of work done in England by those Irish missionaries is still known to few.
They came from a country the fortunes, the character, and the institutions of which were singularly unlike those of England; one in which ancient Rome had had no part; which, in the form of clan-life, retained as its social type the patriarchal customs of its native East, all authority being an expansion of domestic authority, and the idea of a family, rather than that of a state, ruling over the hearts of men. About two centuries previously, Ireland had become Christian; and an image of its immemorial clan-system was reproduced in the vast convents which ere long covered the land, and sent forth their missionaries over a large part of Europe. It might well have been thought doubtful whether these were likely to work successfully among a race so dissimilar as the Anglo-Saxon; but the event proved that in this instance dissimilar qualities meant qualities complemental to each other, and that sympathy was attracted by unlikeness.
The Irish mission in England began at a critical time, just when the reaction against the earlier successes of the Roman mission had set in. At York, under Paulinus, Christianity had triumphed; but eight years after that event Edwin, the Christian king of Deira, perished in battle, and northern England was forced back by king Penda into paganism. Southern England, with the exception of Canterbury and a considerable part of Kent, had also lost the Gospel, after possessing it for thirty years. Nearly at the same time East Anglia and Essex, at the command of pagan-kings, had discarded it likewise. It was then that Oswald, on recovering his kingdom of Northumbria, besought the Irish monks of Iona to reconvert it, or rather to complete a conversion which had been but begun. Their work prospered; by degrees the largest kingdom of the Heptarchy became solidly and permanently Christian, its See being fixed in the Island of Lindisfarne, whence the huge diocese of the north was ruled successively by three of St. Columba's order, Aidan, Finan, and Colman. But the labours of St. Columba's sons were not confined to the north. In East Anglia an Irish monk, St. Fursey, founded on the coast of Suffolk the monastery of Burghcastle, in which King Sigebert became a monk. An Irish priest, Maidulphus, built that of Malmesbury in Wessex. Glastonbury was an older Celtic monastery inhabited partly by Irish monks, and partly by British. Peada, king of Mercia, son of the terrible Penda, was baptized by St. Finan close to the Roman Wall, as was also Sigebert, king of the East Saxons. Diama, an Irish monk, was first bishop of all Mercia, its second, Ceolach, being Irish also, and also its fourth.
Montalembert, in his Moines d'Occident, has given us the most delightful history that exists of the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, a work combining the depth of a Christian philosopher with the sagacity of a statesman, and a dramatist's appreciation of character, while in it we miss nothing of that picturesque vividness and engaging simplicity which belong to our early chroniclers; thus conferring upon England a boon if possible greater than that bestowed upon Ireland in his lives of St. Columba, St. Columbanus and other saints. It is thus that he apportions the share which the Irish missionaries and the Roman had in that great enterprise.
'En resumant l'histoire des efforts tentes pendant les soixante ans ecoules depuis le debarquement d'Augustin jusqu'a la mort de Penda, pour introduire le Christianisme en Angleterre, on constate les resultats que voici. Des huit royaumes de la confederation Anglo-Saxonne, celui de Kent fut seul exclusivement conquis et conserve par les moines romains, dont les premieres tentatives, chez les Est-Saxons et les Northumbriens, se terminerent par un echec. En Wessex et en Est-Anglie les Saxons a l'ouest et les Angles a l'est furent convertis par l'action combinee de missionnaires continentaux et de moines celtiques. Quant aux deux royaumes Northumbriens' (Deira and Bernicia), 'a l'Essex et a la Mercie, comprenant a eux seuls plus de deux tiers du territoire occupe par les conquerants germains, ces quatre pays durent leur conversion definitive exclusivement a l'invasion pacifique des moines celtiques, qui n'avaient pas seulement rivalise de zele avec les moines romains, mais qui, une fois les premiers obstacles surmontes, avaient montre bien plus de perseverance et obtenu bien plus de succes.' The only effort made at that early period to introduce Christianity into the kingdom of the South-Saxons was that of an Irish monk, Dicul, who founded a small monastery at Bosham. It did not however prove successful.
There is something profoundly touching in the religious ties which subsisted between England and Ireland during the seventh century, when compared with the troubled relations of those two countries during many a later age. If the memory of benefits received produces a kindly feeling on the part of the recipient, that of benefits conferred should exert the same influence on the heart of the bestower. To remember the past, however disastrous or convulsed, is a nation's instinct, and its duty no less, since a tribute justly due is thus paid to great actions and to great sufferings in times gone by; nor among the wise and the generous can the discharge of that patriotic duty ever engender an enmity against the living: but there is a special satisfaction in turning to those recollections with which no human infirmity can connect any feeling save that of good will; and it is scarcely possible to recall them in this instance without a hope that the sacred bonds which united those two countries at that remote period may be a pledge for reciprocated benefits in the ages yet before us. For both countries that early time was a time of wonderful spiritual greatness. In noble rivalry with Ireland England also sent her missionaries to far lands; and a child of Wessex, St. Boniface, brought the Faith to Germany, by which it was eventually diffused over Scandinavia, thus, by anticipation, bestowing the highest of all gifts on that terrible race the Northmen, in later centuries the scourge of his native land.
At home both islands were filled with saints whose names have ever since resounded throughout Christendom. Both islands, as a great writer has told us, 'had been the refuge of Christianity, for a time almost exterminated in Christendom, and the centres of its propagation in countries still heathen. Secluded from the rest of Europe by the stormy waters in which they lay, they were converted just in time to be put in charge with the sacred treasures of Revelation, and with the learning of the old world, in that dreary time which intervened between Gregory and Charlemagne. They formed schools, collected libraries, and supplied the Continent with preachers and teachers.' He remarks also that 'There was a fitness in the course of things that the two peoples who had rejoiced in one prosperity should drink together the same cup of suffering: Amabiles, et decori in vita sua, in morte non divisi;' and he proceeds to remind us that, immediately after their participation in that common religious greatness, they partook also a tragic inheritance. In England for two centuries and a half, in Ireland for a longer period, the Northmen were repulsed but to reappear. Again and again the sons of Odin blackened the river-mouths of each land with their fleets; wherever they marched they left behind them the ashes of burned churches and monasteries, till, in large parts of both, Christianity and learning had well nigh perished, and barbarism had all but returned. In both countries domestic dissensions had favoured the invader; eventually in both the Danish power broke down; but in both and in each case claiming a spiritual sanction—another branch of the same Scandinavian stock succeeded to the Dane, viz. the only one then Christianised, the Norman. In that seventh century how little could Saxon convert or Irish missionary have foreseen that the destinies of their respective countries should be at once so unlike yet so like, so antagonistic yet so interwoven!
The aim of the 'Legends of Saxon Saints,' as the reader will perhaps have inferred from the preceding remarks, is to illustrate England, her different races and predominant characteristics, during the century of her conversion to Christianity, and in doing this to indicate what circumstances had proved favourable or unfavourable to the reception of the Faith. It became desirable thus to revert to the early emigration of that 'Barbaric' race of which the Anglo-Saxon was a scion, making the shadow of Odin pass in succession over the background of the several pictures presented (the Heroic being thus the unconscious precursor of the Spiritual), and to show how the religion which bore his name was fitted at once to predispose its nobler votaries to Christianity and to infuriate against it those who but valued their faith for what it contained of degenerate. It seemed also expedient to select for treatment not only those records most abounding in the picturesque and poetic, but likewise others useful as illustrating the chief representatives of a many-sided society; the pagan king and the British warrior, the bard of Odin and the prophetess of Odin, the Gaelic missionary and the Roman missionary, the poet and the historian of Anglo-Saxon Christianity. In a few instances, as in the tales of Oswald and of Oswy, where the early chronicle was copious in detail, it has been followed somewhat closely; but more often, where the original record was brief, all except the fundamental facts had to be supplied. On these occasions I found encouragement in the remark of a writer at once deep and refined. 'Stories to be versified should not be already nearly complete, having the beauty in themselves, and gaining from the poet but a garb. They should be rough, and with but a latent beauty. The poet should have to supply the features and limbs as well as the dress.'
Bede has been my guide. His records are, indeed, often 'rough,' as rough as the crab-tree, but, at the same time, as fresh as its blossom. Their brief touches reveal all the passions of the Barbaric races; but the chief human affections, things far deeper than the passions, are yet more abundantly illustrated by them. It was a time when those affections were not frozen by conventionalities and forced to conceal themselves until they forgot to exist. In the narrative of Bede we find also invaluable illustrations of a higher but not less real range of human affections, viz. the affections of 'Christianised Humanity,' affections grounded on divine truths and heavenly hopes, and yet in entire harmony with affections of a merely human order, which lie beneath them in a parallel plane. Occasionally the two classes enter into conflict, as in the case of the monks of Bardeney who found it so difficult to reconcile their reverence for a Saint with their patriotic hatred of a foreign invader; but almost invariably the earthly and the heavenly emotions are mutually supplemental, as in those tender friendships of monk with monk, of king and bishop, grounded upon religious sympathy and co-operation; so that the lower sentiment without the higher would present, compared with the pictures now bequeathed to us, but an unfinished and truncated image of Humanity. Here, again, the semi-barbaric age described by Bede rendered the delineation more vivid. In ages of effeminate civilisation the Christian emotions, even more than those inherent in unassisted human nature, lose that ardour which belongs to them when in a healthy condition—an ardour which especially reveals itself during that great crisis, a nation's conversion, when, beside a throng of new feelings and new hopes, a host of new Truths has descended upon the intelligence of a whole people, and when a sense of new knowledge and endless progress is thus communicated to it, far exceeding that which is the boast of nations devoted chiefly to physical science. The sense of progress, indeed, when such a period reaches its highest, is a rapture. It is as though the motion of the planet which carries us through space, a motion of which we are cognisant but which we yet cannot feel, could suddenly become, like the speed of a racehorse, a thing brought home to our consciousness.
Such ardours are scarcely imaginable in the later ages of a nation; but in Bede's day a people accepting the 'glad tidings' was glad; and, unambitious as his style is of the ornamental or the figurative, it is brightened by that which it so faithfully describes. His chronicle is often poetry, little as he intended it to be such; nay, it is poetry in her 'humanities' yet more than in her distinctively spiritual province, and better poetry than is to be found in the professed poetry of a materialistic age, when the poet is tempted to take refuge from the monotony of routine life, either amid the sensational accidents to be found on the byeways, not the highways, of life, or in some sickly dreamland that does not dare to deal with life, and belongs neither to the real nor to the ideal. In nothing is Bede's history of that great age, to which our own owes all that it possesses of real greatness, more striking than in that spirit of unconscious elevation and joyousness which belongs to the Christian life it records, a joyousness often so strikingly contrasted with the sadness—sometimes a heroic sadness—to be found in portions of his work describing pagan manners. With all its violences and inconsistencies, the seventh century was a noble age—an age of strong hearts which were gentle as well as strong, of a childhood that survived in manhood, of natures that had not lost their moral unity, of holy lives and of happy deaths. Bede's picture of it is a true one; and for that reason it comes home to us.
To some it may seem a profaneness to turn those old legends into verse. I should not have attempted the enterprise if they were much read in prose. The verse may at least help to direct the attention of a few readers to them. From them the thoughtful will learn how to complete a 'half-truth' often reiterated. Those who have declared that 'the wars of the Heptarchy are as dull as the battles of kites and crows,' have not always known that the true interest of her turbulent days belonged to peace, not to war, and is to be found in the spiritual development of the Anglo-Saxon race.
ODIN THE MAN 1
KING ETHELBERT OF KENT AND ST. AUGUSTINE 13
THE CONSECRATION OF WESTMINSTER ABBEY 32
THE PENANCE OF ST. LAURENCE 47
KING SIGEBERT OF EAST ANGLIA, AND HEIDA THE PROPHETESS 66
KING SIGEBERT OF ESSEX, OR A FRIEND AT NEED 84
KING OSWALD OF NORTHUMBRIA, OR THE BRITON'S REVENGE 100
CEADMON THE COWHERD, THE FIRST ENGLISH POET 117
KING OSWY OF NORTHUMBRIA, OR THE WIFE'S VICTORY 142
THE VENGEANCE OF THE MONKS OF BARDENEY 162
HOW SAINT CUTHBERT KEPT HIS PENTECOST AT CARLISLE 176
SAINT FRIDESWIDA, OR THE FOUNDATIONS OF OXFORD 208
THE BANQUET HALL OF WESSEX, OR THE KING WHO COULD SEE 223
EPILOGUE: BEDE'S LAST MAY 259
ODIN, THE MAN.
Odin, a Prince who reigned near the Caspian Sea, after a vain resistance to the Roman arms, leads forth his people to the forests north of the Danube, that, serving God in freedom on the limits of the Roman Empire, and being strengthened by an adverse climate, they may one day descend upon that empire in just revenge; which destiny was fulfilled by the sack of Rome, under Alaric, Christian King of the Goths, a race derived, like the Saxon, from that Eastern people.
Forth with those missives, Chiron, to the Invader! Hence, and make speed: they scathe mine eyes like fire: Pompeius, thou hast conquered! What remains? Vengeance! Man's race has never dreamed of such; So slow, so sure. Pompeius, I depart: I might have held these mountains yet four days: The fifth had seen them thine— I look beyond the limit of this night: Four centuries I need; then comes mine hour.
What saith the Accursed One of the Western World? I hear even now her trumpet! Thus she saith: 'I have enlarged my borders: iron reaped Earth's field all golden. Strenuous fight we fought: I left some sweat-drops on that Carthage shore, Some blood on Gallic javelins. That is past! My pleasant days are come: my couch is spread Beside all waters of the Midland Sea; By whispers lulled of nations kneeling round; Illumed by light of balmiest climes; refreshed By winds from Atlas and the Olympian snows: Henceforth my foot is in delicious ways; Bathe it, ye Persian fountains! Syrian vales, All roses, make me sleepy with perfumes! Caucasian cliffs, with martial echoes faint Flatter light slumbers; charm a Roman dream! I send you my Pompeius; let him lead Odin in chains to Rome!' Odin in chains! Were Odin chained, or dead, that God he serves Could raise a thousand Odins— Rome's Founder-King beside his Augur standing Noted twelve ravens borne in sequent flight O'er Alba's crags. They emblem'd centuries twelve, The term to Rome conceded. Eight are flown; Remain but four. Hail, sacred brood of night! Hencefore my standards bear the Raven Sign, The bird that hoarsely haunts the ruined tower; The bird sagacious of the field of blood Albeit far off. Four centuries I need: Then comes my day. My race and I are one. O Race beloved and holy! From my youth Where'er a hungry heart impelled my feet, Whate'er I found of glorious, have I not Claimed it for thee, deep-musing? Ignorant, first, For thee I wished the golden ingots piled In Susa and Ecbatana:—ah fool! At Athens next, treading where Plato trod, For thee all triumphs of the mind of man, And Phidian hand inspired! Ah fool, that hour Athens lay bound, a slave! Later to Rome In secrecy by Mithridates sent To search the inmost of his hated foe, For thee I claimed that discipline of Law Which made her State one camp. Fool, fool once more! Soon learned I what a heart-pollution lurked Beneath that mask of Law. As Persia fell, By softness sapped, so Rome. Behold, this day, Following the Pole Star of my just revenge, I lead my people forth to clearer fates Through cloudier fortunes. They are brave and strong: 'Tis but the rose-breath of their vale that rots Their destiny's bud unblown. I lead them forth, A race war-vanquished, not a race of slaves; Lead them, not southward to Euphrates' bank, Not Eastward to the realms of rising suns, Not West to Rome and bondage. Hail, thou North! Hail, boundless woods, by nameless oceans girt, And snow-robed mountain islets, founts of fire! Four hundred years! I know that awful North: I sought it when the one flower of my life Fell to my foot. That anguish set me free: It dashed me on the iron side of life: I woke, a man. My people too shall wake: They shall have icy crags for myrtle banks, Sharp rocks for couches. Strength! I must have strength; Not splenetic sallies of a woman's courage, But hearts to which self-pity is unknown: Hard life to them must be as mighty wine Gladdening the strong: the death on battle fields Must seem the natural, honest close of life; Their fear must be to die without a wound And miss Life's after-banquet. Wooden shield Whole winter nights shall lie their covering sole: Thereon the boy shall stem the ocean wave; Thereon the youth shall slide with speed of winds Loud-laughing down the snowy mountain-slope: To him the Sire shall whisper as he bleeds, 'Remember the revenge? Thy son must prove More strong, more hard than thou!' Four hundred years! Increase is tardy in that icy clime, For Death is there the awful nurse of Life: Death rocks the cot. Why meet we there no wolf Save those huge-limbed? Because weak wolf-cubs die. 'Tis thus with man; 'tis thus with all things strong:— Rise higher on thy northern hills, my Pine! That Southern Palm shall dwindle. House stone-walled— Ye shall not have it! Temples cedar-roofed— Ye shall not build them! Where the Temple stands The City gathers. Cities ye shall spurn: Live in the woods; live singly, winning each, Hunter or fisher by blue lakes, his prey: Abhor the gilded shrine: the God Unknown In such abides not. On the mountain's top Great Persia sought Him in her day of strength: With her ye share the kingly breed of Truths, The noblest inspirations man hath known, Or can know—ay, unless the Lord of all Should come, Man's Teacher. Pray as Persia prayed; And see ye pray for Vengeance! Leave till then To Rome her Idol fanes and pilfered Gods.
I see you, O my People, year by year Strengthened by sufferings; pains that crush the weak, Your helpers. Men have been that, poison-fed, Grew poison-proof: on pain and wrong feed ye! The wild-beast rage against you! frost and fire Rack you in turn! I'll have no gold among you; With gold come wants; and wants mean servitude. Edge, each, his spear with fish-bone or with flint, Leaning for prop on none. I want no Nations! A Race I fashion, playing not at States: I take the race of Man, the breed that lifts Alone its brow to heaven: I change that race From clay to stone, from stone to adamant Through slow abrasion, such as leaves sea-shelves Lustrous at last and smooth. To be, not have, A man to be; no heritage to clasp Save that which simple manhood, at its will, Or conquers or re-conquers, held meanwhile In trust for Virtue; this alone is greatness. Remain ye Tribes, not Nations; led by Kings, Great onward-striding Kings, above the rest High towering, like the keel-compelling sail That takes the topmost tempest. Let them die, Each for his people! I will die for mine Then when my work is finished; not before. That Bandit King who founded Rome, the Accursed, Vanished in storm. My sons shall see me die, Die, strong to lead them till my latest breath, Which shall not be a sigh; shall see and say, 'This Man far-marching through the mountainous world, No God, but yet God's Prophet of the North, Gave many crowns to others: for himself His people were his crown.' Four hundred years— Ye shall find savage races in your path: Be ye barbaric, ay, but savage not: Hew down the baser lest they drag you down; Ye cannot raise them: they fulfil their fates: Be terrible to foes, be kind to friend: Be just; be true. Revere the Household Hearth; This knowing, that beside it dwells a God: Revere the Priest, the King, the Bard, the Maid, The Mother of the heroic race—five strings Sounding God's Lyre. Drive out with lance for goad That idiot God by Rome called Terminus, Who standing sleeps, and holds his reign o'er fools. The earth is God's, not Man's: that Man from Him Holds it whose valour earns it. Time shall come, It may be, when the warfare shall be past, The reign triumphant of the brave and just In peace consolidated. Time may come When that long winter of the Northern Land Shall find its spring. Where spreads the black morass Harvest all gold may glitter; cities rise Where roamed the elk; and nations set their thrones; Nations not like those empires known till now, But wise and pure. Let such their temples build And worship Truth, if Truth should e'er to Man Show her full face. Let such ordain them laws If Justice e'er should mate with laws of men. Above the mountain summits of Man's hope There spreads, I know, a land illimitable, The table land of Virtue trial-proved, Whereon one day the nations of the world Shall race like emulous Gods. A greater God Served by our sires, a God unknown to Rome, Above that shining level sits, high-towered: Millions of Spirits wing His flaming light, And fiery winds among His tresses play: When comes that hour which judges Gods and men, That God shall plague the Gods that filched His name, And cleanse the Peoples. When ye hear, my sons, That God uprising in His judgment robes And see their dreadful crimson in the West, Then know ye that the knell of Rome is nigh; Then stand, and listen! When His Trumpet sounds Forth from your forests and your snows, my sons, Forth over Ister, Rhenus, Rhodonus, To Moesia forth, to Thrace, Illyricum, Iberia, Gaul; but, most of all, to Rome! Who leads you thither leads you not for spoil: A mission hath he, fair though terrible;— He makes a pure hand purer, washed in blood: On, Scourge of God! the Vengeance Hour is come. I know that hour, and wait it. Odin's work Stands then consummate. Odin's name thenceforth Goes down to darkness. Farewell, Ararat! How many an evening, still and bright as this, In childhood, youth, or manhood's sorrowing years, Have I not watched the sunset hanging red Upon thy hoary brow! Farewell for ever! A legend haunts thee that the race of man In earliest days, a sad and storm-tossed few, From thy wan heights descended, making way Into a ruined world. A storm-tossed race, But not self-pitying, once again thou seest Into a world all ruin making way Whither they know not, yet without a fear. This hour—lo, there, they pass yon valley's verge!— In sable weeds that pilgrimage moves on, Moves slowly like thy shadow, Ararat, That eastward creeps. Phantom of glory dead! Image of greatness that disdains to die! Move Northward thou! Whate'er thy fates decreed, At least that shadow shall be shadow of man, And not of beast gold-weighted! On, thou Night Cast by my heart! Thou too shalt meet thy morn!
KING ETHELBERT OF KENT AND SAINT AUGUSTINE.
Ethelbert, King of Kent, converses first with his Pagan Thanes, and next with Saint Augustine, newly landed on the shores of Thanet Island. The Saint, coming in sight of Canterbury, rejoices greatly, and predicts the future greatness of that city.
Far through the forest depths of Thanet Isle, That never yet had heard the woodman's axe, Rang the glad clarion on the May-day morn, Blent with the cry of hounds. The rising sun Flamed on the forests' dewy jewelry, While, under rising mists, a host with plumes Rode down a broad oak alley t'wards the sea.
King Ethelbert rode first: he reigned in Kent, Least kingdom of the Seven yet Head of all Through his desert. That morn the royal train, While sang the invisible lark her song in heaven, Pursued the flying stag. At times the creature, As though he too had pleasure in the sport, Vaulted at ease through sunshine and through shade, Then changed his mood, and left the best behind him. Five hours they chased him; last, upon a rock High up in scorn he held his antlered front, Then took the wave and vanished. Many a frown Darkened that hour on many a heated brow; And many a spur afflicted that poor flank Which panted hard and smoked. The King alone Laughed at mischance. 'The stag, with God to aid, Has left our labour fruitless! Give him joy! He lives to yield us sport some later morn: So be it! Waits our feast, and not far off: On to the left, 'twixt yonder ash and birch!'
He spake, and anger passed: they praised their sport; And many an outblown nostril seemed to snuff That promised feast. They rode through golden furze So high the horsemen only were descried; And glades whose centuried oaks their branches laid O'er violet banks; and fruit trees, some snow-veiled Like bridesmaid, others like the bride herself Behind her white veil blushing. Glad, the thrush Carolled; more glad, the wood-dove moaned; close by A warbling runnel led them to the bay: Two chestnuts stood beside it snowy-coned: The banquet lay beneath them. Feasting o'er, The song succeeded. Boastful was the strain, Each Thane his deeds extolling, or his sire's; But one, an aged man, among them scoffed: 'When I was young; when Sigbert on my right To battle rode, and Sefred on my left; That time men stood not worsted by a stag! Not then our horses swerved from azure strait Scared by the ridged sea-wave!' Next spake a chief, Pirate from Denmark late returned: 'Our skies, Good friends, are all too soft to build the man! We fight for fame: the Northman fights for sport; Their annals boast they fled but once:—'twas thus: In days of old, when Rome was in her pride, Huge hosts of hers had fallen on theirs, surprised, And way-worn: long they fought: a remnant spent, Fled to their camp. Upon its walls their wives Stood up, black-garbed, with axes heaved aloft, And fell upon the fugitives, and slew them; Slew next their little ones; slew last themselves, Cheating the Roman Triumph. Never since then Hath Northman fled the foemen.' Egfrid rose: 'Who saith our kinsfolk of the frozen North One stock with us, one faith, one ancient tongue, Pass us in valour? Three days since I saw Crossing the East Saxon's border and our own Two boys that strove. The Kentish wounded fell; The East Saxon on him knelt; then made demand: "My victim art thou by the laws of war! Yonder my dagger lies;—till I return Wilt thou abide?" The vanquished answered, "Yea!" A minute more, and o'er that dagger's edge His life-blood rushed.' The pirate chief demurred; 'A gallant boy! Not less I wager this, The glitter of that dagger ere it smote Made his eye blink. Attend! Three years gone by, Sailing with Hakon on Norwegian fiords We fought the Jomsburg Rovers, at their head Sidroc, oath-pledged to marry Hakon's child Despite her father's best. In mist we met: Instant each navy at the other dashed Like wild beast, instinct-taught, that knows its foe; Chained ship to ship, and clashed their clubs all day, Till sank the sun: then laughed the white peaks forth, And reeled, methought, above the reeling waves! The victory was with us. Hakon, next morn, Bade slay his prisoners. Thirty on one bench Waited their doom: their leader died the first; He winked not as the sword upon him closed! No, nor the second! Hakon asked the third, "What think'st thou, friend, of Death?" He tossed his head: "My Father perished; I fulfil my turn." The fourth, "Strike quickly, Chief! An hour this morn We held contention if, when heads are off, The hand can hold its dagger: I would learn." The dagger and the head together fell. The fifth, "One fear is mine—lest yonder slave Finger a Prince's hair! Command some chief, Thy best beloved, to lift it in his hands; Then strike and spare not!" Hakon struck. That youth, Sigurd by name, his forehead forward twitched, Laughing, so deftly that the downward sword Shore off those luckless hands that raised his hair. All laughed; and Hakon's son besought his sire To loosen Sigurd's bonds: but Sigurd cried, "Unless the rest be loosed I will not live!" Thus all escaped save four.' In graver mood That chief resumed: 'A Norland King dies well! His bier is raised upon his stateliest ship; Piled with his arms; his lovers and his friends Rush to their monarch's pyre, resolved with him To share in death, and with becoming pomp Attend his footsteps to Valhalla's Hall. The torch is lit: forth sails the ship, black-winged, Facing the midnight seas. From beach and cliff Men watch all night that slowly lessening flame: Yet no man sheds a tear.' Earconwald, An aged chief, made answer, 'Tears there be Of divers sorts: a wise and valiant king Deserves that tear which praises, not bewails, Greatness gone by.' The pirate shouted loud, 'A land it is of laughter, not of tears!' Know ye the tale of Harald? He had sailed Round southern coasts and eastern—sacked or burned A hundred Christian cities. One he found So girt with giant walls and brazen gates His sea-kings vainly dashed themselves thereon, And died beneath them, frustrate. Harald sent A herald to that city proffering terms: "Harald is dead: Christian was he in youth: He sends you spoils from many a city burnt, And craves interment in your chiefest church." Next day the masked procession wound in black Through streets defenceless. When the church was reached They laid their chief before the altar-lights: Anon to heaven rang out the priestly dirge, And incense-smoke upcurled. Forth from its cloud Sudden upleaped the dead man, club in hand, Spurning his coffin's gilded walls, and smote The hoary pontiff down, and brake his neck; And all those maskers doffed their weeds of woe And showed the mail beneath, and raised their swords, And drowned that pavement in a sea of blood, While raging rushed their mates through portals wide, And, since that city seemed but scant of spoil, Fired it and sailed. Ofttimes old Harald laughed That tale recounting,' Many a Kentish chief Re-echoed Harald's laugh;—not Ethelbert: The war-scar reddening on his brow he rose And spake: 'My Thanes, ye laugh at deeds accurst! An old King I, and make my prophecy One day that northern race which smites and laughs, Our kith and kin albeit, shall smite our coasts: That day ye will not laugh!' Earconwald, Not rising, likewise answer made, heart-grieved: 'Six sons had I: all these are slain in war; Yet I, an unrejoicing man forlorn, Find solace ofttimes thinking of their deeds: They laughed not when they smote. No God, be sure, Smiles on the jest red-handed.' Egfrid rose, And three times cried with lifted sword unsheathed, 'Behold my God! No God save him I serve!' While thus they held discourse, where blue waves danced Not far from land, behold, there hove in sight, Seen 'twixt a great beech silky yet with Spring And pine broad-crested, round whose head old storms Had wov'n a garland of his own green boughs, A bark both fair and large; and hymn was heard. Then laughed the King, 'The stag-hunt and our songs So drugged my memory, I had nigh forgotten Why for our feast I chose this heaven-roofed hall: Missives I late received from friends in France; They make report of strangers from the South Who, tarrying in their coasts have learned our tongue, And northward wend with tidings strange and new Of some celestial Kingdom by their God Founded for men of Faith. Nor churl am I To frown on kind intent, nor child to trust This sceptre of Seven Realms to magic snare That puissance hath—who knows not?—greater thrice In house than open field. I therefore chose For audience hall this precinct.' Muttered low Murdark, the scoffer with the cave-like mouth And sidelong eyes, 'Queen Bertha's voice was that! A woman's man! Since first from Gallic shores That dainty daughter of King Charibert Pressed her small foot on England's honest shore The whole land dwindles!' In seraphic hymns Ere long that serpent hiss was lost: for soon, In raiment white, circling a rocky point, O'er sands still glistening with a tide far-ebbed, On drew, preceded by a silver Cross, A long procession. Music, as it moved, Floated on sea-winds inland, deadened now By thickets, echoed now from cliff or cave: Ere long before them that procession stood. The King addressed them: 'Welcome, Heralds sage! And if from God I welcome you the more, Since great is God, and therefore great His gifts: God grant He send them daily, heaped and huge! Speak without fear, for him alone I hate Who brings ill news, or makes inept demand Unmeet for Kings. I know that Cross ye bear; And in my palace sits a Christian wife, Bertha, the sweetest lady in this land; Most gracious in her ways, in heart most leal. I knew her yet a child: she knelt whene'er The Queen, her mother, entered: then I said, A maid so reverent will be reverent wife, And wedded her betimes. Morning and eve She in her wood-girt chapel sings her prayer, Which wins us kindlier harvest, and, some think, Success in war. She strives not with our Gods: Confusion never wrought she in my house, Nor minished Hengist's glory. Had her voice, Clangorous or strident, drawn upon my throne Deserved opprobrium'—here the monarch's brows Flushed at the thought, and fire was in his eyes— 'The hand that clasps this sceptre had not spared To hunt her forth, an outcast in the woods, Thenceforth with beasts to herd! More lief were I To take the lioness to my bed and board Than house a rebel wife.' Remembering then The mildness of his Queen, King Ethelbert Resumed, appeased, for placable his heart; 'But she no rebel is, and this I deem Fair auspice for her Faith.' A little breeze Warm from the sea that moment softly waved The standard from its staff, and showed thereon The Child Divine. Upon His mother's knee Sublime He stood. His left hand clasped a globe Crowned with a golden Cross; and with His right, Two fingers heavenward raised, o'er all the earth He sent His Blessing. Of that band snow-stoled One taller by the head than all the rest Obeisance made; then, pointing to the Cross, And forward moving t'ward the monarch's seat, Opened the great commission of the Faith:— 'Behold the Eternal Maker of the worlds! That Hand which shaped the earth and blesses earth Must rule the race of man!' Majestic then As when, far winding from its mountain springs, City and palm-grove far behind it left, Some Indian river rolls, while mists dissolved Leave it in native brightness unobscured, And kingly navies share its sea-ward sweep, Forward on-flowed in Apostolic might Augustine's strong discourse. With God beginning, He showed the Almighty All-compassionate, Down drawn from distance infinite to man By the Infinite of Love. Lo, Bethlehem's crib! There lay the Illimitable in narrow bound: Thence rose that triumph of a world redeemed! Last, to the standard pointing, thus he spake: 'Yon Standard tells the tale! Six hundred years Westward it speeds from subject realm to realm: First from the bosom of God's Race Elect, His People, till they slew Him, mild it soared: Rejected, it returned. Above their walls While ruin rocked them, and the Roman fire, Dreadful it hung. When Rome had shared that guilt, Mocking that Saviour's Brethren, and His Bride, Above the conquered conqueror of all lands In turn this Standard flew. Who raised it high? A son of this your island, Constantine! In these, thine English oakwoods, Helena, 'Twas thine to nurse thy warrior. He had seen Star-writ in heaven the words this Standard bears, "Through Me is victory." Victory won, he raised High as his empire's queenly head, and higher, This Standard of the Eternal Dove thenceforth To fly where eagle standard never flew, God's glory in its track, goodwill to man. Advance for aye, great Emblem! Light as now Famed Asian headlands, and Hellenic isles! O'er snow-crowned Alp and citied Apennine Send forth a breeze of healing! Keep thy throne For ever on those western peaks that watch The setting sun descend the Hesperean wave, Atlas and Calpe! These, the old Roman bound, Build but the gateway of the Rome to be; Till Christ returns, thou Standard, hold them fast: But never till the North, that, age by age, Dashed back the Pagan Rome, with Christian Rome Partakes the spiritual crown of man restored, From thy strong flight above the world surcease, And fold thy wings in rest!' Upon the sod He knelt, and on that Standard gazed, and spake, Calm-voiced, with hand to heaven: 'I promise thee, Thou Sign, another victory, and thy best— This island shall be thine!' Augustine rose And took the right hand of King Ethelbert, And placed therein the Standard's staff, and laid His own above the monarch's, speaking thus: 'King of this land, I bid thee know from God That kings have higher privilege than they know, The standard-bearers of the King of kings.' Long time he clasped that royal hand; long time The King, that patriarch's hand at last withdrawn, His own withdrew not from that Standard's staff Committed to his charge. His hand he deemed Thenceforth its servant vowed. With large, meek eyes Fixed on that Maid and Babe, he stood as child That, gazing on some reverent stranger's face, Nor loosening from that stranger's hold his palm, Listens his words attent. The man of God Meantime as silent gazed on Thanet's shore Gold-tinged, with sunset spray to crimson turned In league-long crescent. Love was in his face, That love which rests on Faith. He spake: 'Fair land, I know thee what thou art, and what thou lack'st! The Master saith, "I give to him that hath:" Thy harvest shall be great.' Again he mused, And shadow o'er him crept. Again he spake: 'That harvest won, when centuries have gone by, What countenance wilt thou wear? How oft on brows Brightened by Baptism's splendour, sin more late Drags down its cloud! The time may come when thou This day, though darkling, yet so innocent, Barbaric, not depraved, on greater heights May'st sin in malice—sin the great offence, Changing thy light to darkness, knowing God, Yet honouring God no more; that time may come When, rich as Carthage, great in arms as Rome, Keen-eyed as Greece, this isle, to sensuous gaze A sun all gold, to angels may present Aspect no nobler than a desert waste, Some blind and blinding waste of sun-scorched sands, Trod by a race of pigmies not of men, Pigmies by passions ruled!' Once more he mused; Then o'er his countenance passed a second change; And from it flashed the light of one who sees, Some hill-top gained, beyond the incumbent night The instant foot of morn. With regal step, Martial yet measured, to the King he strode, And laid a strong hand on him, speaking thus: 'Rejoice, my son, for God hath sent thy land This day Good Tidings of exceeding joy, And planted in her breast a Tree divine Whose leaves shall heal far nations. Know besides, Should sickness blight that Tree, or tempest mar, The strong root shall survive: the winter past, Heavenward once more shall rush both branch and bough, And over-vault the stars.' He spake, and took The sacred Standard from that monarch's hand, And held it in his own, and fixed its point Deep in the earth, and by it stood. Then lo! Like one disburthened of some ponderous charge, King Ethelbert became himself again, And round him gazed well pleased. Throughout his train Sudden a movement thrilled: remembrance had Of those around, his warriors and his thanes, That ever on his wisdom waiting hung, Thus he replied discreet: 'Stranger and friend, Thou bear'st good tidings! That thou camest thus far To fool us, knave and witling may believe: I walk not with their sort; yet, guest revered, Kings are not as the common race of men; Counsel they take, lest honour heaped on one Dishonour others. Odin holds on us Prescriptive right, and special claims on me, The son of Hengist's grandson. Preach your Faith! The man who wills I suffer to believe: The man who wills not, let him moor his skiff Where anchorage likes him best. The day declines: This night with us you harbour, and our Queen Shall lovingly receive you.' Staid and slow The King rode homewards, while behind him paced Augustine and his Monks. The ebb had left 'Twixt Thanet and the mainland narrow space Marsh-land more late: beyond the ford there wound A path through flowery meads; and, as they passed, Not herdsmen only, but the broad-browed kine Fixed on them long their meditative gaze; And oft some blue-eyed boy with flaxen locks Ran, fearless, forth, and plucked them by the sleeve, Some boy clear-browed as those Saint Gregory marked, Poor slaves, new-landed on the quays of Rome, That drew from him that saying, '"Angli"—nay, Call them henceforward "Angels"!' From a wood Issuing, before them lustrous they beheld King Ethelbert's chief city, Canterbury, Strong-walled, with winding street, and airy roofs, And high o'er all the monarch's palace pile Thick-set with towers. Then fire from God there fell Upon Augustine's heart; and thus he sang Advancing; and the brethren sang 'Amen':
'Hail, City loved of God, for on thy brow Great Fates are writ. Thou cumberest not His earth For petty traffic reared, or petty sway; I see a heavenly choir descend, thy crown Henceforth to bind thy brow. Forever hail!
'I see the basis of a kingly throne In thee ascending! High it soars and higher, Like some great pyramid o'er Nilus kenned When vapours melt—the Apostolic Chair! Doctrine and Discipline thence shall hold their course, Like Tigris and Euphrates, through all lands That face the Northern Star. Forever hail!
'Where stands yon royal keep, a church shall rise Like Incorruption clothing the Corrupt On the resurrection morn! Strong House of God, To Him exalt thy walls, and nothing doubt, For lo! from thee like lions from their lair Abroad shall pace the Primates of this land:— They shall not lick the hand that gives and smites, Doglike, nor snakelike on their bellies creep In indirectness base. They shall not fear The people's madness, nor the rage of kings Reddening the temple's pavement. They shall lift The strong brow mitred, and the crosiered hand Before their presence sending Love and Fear To pave their steps with greatness. From their fronts Stubborned with marble from Saint Peter's Rock The sunrise of far centuries forth shall flame: He that hath eyes shall see it, and shall say, "Blessed who cometh in the name of God!"'
Thus sang the Saint, advancing; and, behold, At every pause the brethren sang 'Amen!' While down from window and from roof the throng Eyed them in silence. As their anthem ceased, Before them stood the palace clustered round By many a stalwart form. Midway the gate On the first step, like angel newly lit, Queen Bertha stood. Back from her forehead meek, The meeker for its crown, a veil descended, While streamed the red robe to the foot snow-white Sandalled in gold. The morn was on her face, The star of morn within those eyes upraised That flashed all dewy with the grateful light Of many a granted prayer. O'er that sweet shape Augustine signed the Venerable Sign; The lovely vision sinking, hand to breast, Received it; while, by sympathy surprised, Or taught of God, the monarch and his thanes Knelt as she knelt, and bent like her their heads, Sharing her blessing. Like a palm the Faith Thenceforth o'er England rose, those saintly men Preaching by life severe, not words alone, The doctrine of the Cross. Some Power divine, Stronger than patriot love, more sweet than Spring, Made way from heart to heart, and daily God Joined to His Church the souls that should be saved, Thousands, where Medway mingles with the Thames, Rushing to Baptism. In his palace cell High-nested on that Vaticanian Hill Which o'er the Martyr-gardens kens the world, Gregory, that news receiving, or from men, Or haply from that God with whom he walked, The Spirit's whisper ever in his ear, Rejoiced that hour, and cried aloud, 'Rejoice, Thou Earth! that North which from its cloud but flung The wild beasts' cry of anger or of pain, Redeemed from wrath, its Hallelujahs sings; Its waves by Roman galleys feared, this day Kiss the bare feet of Christ's Evangelists; That race whose oak-clubs brake our Roman swords Glories now first in bonds—the bond of Truth: At last it fears;—but fears alone to sin, Striving through faith for Virtue's heavenly crown.
THE CONSECRATION OF WESTMINSTER ABBEY.
Sebert, King of the East Saxons, having built the great church of Saint Peter at Westminster, Mellitus the Bishop prepares to consecrate it, but is warned in a vision that it has already been consecrated by one greater than he.
As morning brake, Sebert, East Saxon king, Stood on the winding shores of Thames alone, And fixed a sparkling eye upon Saint Paul's: The sun new-risen had touched its roofs that laughed Their answer back. Beyond it London spread; But all between the river and that church Was slope of grass and blossoming orchard copse Glittering with dews dawn-reddened. Bertha here, That church begun, had thus besought her Lord, 'Spare me this bank which God has made so fair! Here let the little birds have leave to sing, The bud to blossom! Here, the vespers o'er, Lovers shall sit; and here, in later days, Children shall question, "Who was he—Saint Paul? What taught, what wrought he that his name should shine Thus like the stars in heaven?"' As Sebert stood, The sweetness of the morning more and more Made way into his heart. The pale blue smoke, Rising from hearths by woodland branches fed, Dimmed not the crystal matin air; not yet From clammy couch had risen the mist sun-warmed: All things distinctly showed; the rushing tide, The barge, the trees, the long bridge many-arched, And countless huddled gables, far away, Lessening, yet still descried. A voice benign Dispersed the Prince's trance: 'I marked, my King, Your face in yonder church; you took, I saw, A blessing thence; and Nature's here you find: The same God sends them both.' The man who spake, Though silver-tressed, was countenanced like a child; Smooth-browed, clear-eyed. That still and luminous mien Predicted realms where Time shall be no more; Where gladness, like some honey-dew divine, Freshens an endless present. Mellitus, From Rome late missioned and the Coelian Hill, Made thus his greeting. Westward by the Thames The King and Bishop paced, and held discourse Of him whose name that huge Cathedral bore, Israel's great son, the man of mighty heart, The man for her redemption zealous more Than for his proper crown. Not task for her God gave him: to the Gentiles still he preached, And won them to the Cross. 'That Faith once spurned,' Thus cried the Bishop with a kindling eye, 'Lo, how it raised him as on eagle's wings, And past the starry gates! The Spirit's Sword He wielded well! Save him who bears the Keys, Save him who made confession, "Thou art Christ," Saint Paul had equal none! Hail, Brethren crowned! Hail, happy Rome, that guard'st their mingled dust!'
Next spake the Roman of those churches twain By Constantine beside the Tyber built To glorify their names. With sudden turn, Sebert, the crimson mounting to his brow, Made question, 'Is your Tyber of the South Ampler than this, our Thames?' The old man smiled; 'Tyber to Thames is as that willow-stock To yonder oak.' The Saxon cried with joy: 'How true thy judgment is! how just thy tongue! What hinders, O my Father, but that Thames, Huge river from the forests rolled by God, Should image, like that Tyber, churches twain, Honouring those Princes of the Apostles' Band? King Ethelbert, my uncle, built Saint Paul's; Saint Peter's Church be mine!' An hour's advance Left them in thickets tangled. Low the ground, Well-nigh by waters clipt, a savage haunt With briar and bramble thick, and 'Thorny Isle' For that cause named. Sebert around him gazed, A maiden blush upon him thus he spake: 'I know this spot; I stood here once, a boy: 'Twas winter then: the swoll'n and turbid flood Rustled the sallows. Far I fled from men: A youth had done me wrong, and vengeful thoughts Burned in my heart: I warred with them in vain: I prayed against them; yet they still returned: O'erspent at last, I cast me on my knees And cried, "Just God, if Thou despise my prayer, Faithless, thence weak, not less remember well How many a man in this East Saxon land Stands up this hour, in wood, or field, or farm, Like me sore tempted, but with loftier heart: To these be helpful—yea, to one of these!" And lo, the wrathful thoughts, like routed fiends, Left me, and came no more!' Discoursing thus, The friends a moment halted in a space Where stood a flowering thorn. Adown it trailed In zigzag curves erratic here and there Long lines of milky bloom, like rills of foam Furrowing the green back of some huge sea wave Refluent from cliffs. Ecstatic minstrelsy Swelled from its branches. Birds as thick as leaves Thronged them; and whether joy was theirs that hour Because the May had come, or joy of love, Or tenderer gladness for their young new-fledged, So piercing was that harmony, the place Eden to Sebert looked, while brake and bower Shone like the Tree of Life. 'What minster choir,' The Bishop cried, 'could better chant God's praise? Here shall your church ascend:—its altar rise Where yonder thorn tree stands!' The old man spake; Yet in him lived a thought unbreathed: 'How oft Have trophies risen to blazon deeds accursed! Angels this church o'er-winging, age on age Shall see that boy at prayer!' In peace, in war, Daily the work advanced. The youthful King Kneeling, himself had raised the earliest sod, Made firm the corner stone. Whate'er of gold Sun-ripened harvests of the royal lands Yielded from Thames to Stour, or tax and toll From quays mast-thronged to loud-resounding sea, Save what his realm required by famine vexed At times, or ravage of the Mercian sword, Went to the work. His Queen her jewels brought, Smiling, huge gift in slenderest hands up-piled; His thanes their store; the poor their labour free. Some clave the quarry's ledges: from its depths Some haled the blocks; from distant forests some Dragged home the oak-beam on the creaking wain: Alas, that arms in noble tasks so strong Should e'er have sunk in dust! Ere ten years passed Saint Peter's towers above the high-roofed streets Smiled on Saint Paul's. That earlier church had risen Where stood, in Roman days, Apollo's fane: Upon a site to Dian dedicate Now rose its sister. Erring Faith had reached In those twin Powers that ruled the Day and Night, To Wisdom witnessing and Chastity, Her loftiest height, and perished. Phoenix-like, From ashes of dead rites and truths abused Now soared unstained Religion. What remained? The Consecration. On its eve, the King Held revel in its honour, solemn feast, And wisely-woven dance, where beauty and youth, Through loveliest measures moving, music-winged, And winged not less by gladness, interwreathed Brightness with brightness, glance turned back on glance, And smile on smile—a courtseying graciousness Of stateliest forms that, winding, sank or rose As if on heaving seas. In groups apart Old warriors clustered. Eadbald discussed And Snorr, that truce with Wessex signed, and said, 'Fear nought: it cannot last!' A shadow sat That joyous night upon one brow alone, Redwald's, East Anglia's King. In generous youth He, guest that time with royal Ethelbert, Had gladly bowed to Christ. From shallowest soil Faith springs apace, but springs to die. Returned To plains of Ely, all that sweetness past Seemed but a dream while scornful spake his wife, Upon whose brow beauty from love divorced Made beauty's self unbeauteous: 'Lose—why not?— Thwarting your liegeful subjects, lose at will Your Kingdom; you that might have reigned ere now Bretwalda of the Seven!' In hour accursed The weak man with his Faith equivocated: Fraudful, beneath the self-same roofs he raised Altars to Christ and idols. By degrees That Truth he mocked forsook him. Year by year His face grew dark, and barbed his tongue though smooth, Manner and mind like grass-fields after thaw, Silk-soft above, yet iron-hard below: Spleenful that night at Sebert's blithe discourse He answered thus, with seeming-careless eye Wandering from wall to roof: 'I like your Church: Would it had rested upon firmer ground, Adorned some airier height: its towers are good, Though dark the stone: three quarries white have I; You might have used them gratis had you willed: At Ely, Elmham, and beside the Cam Where Felix rears even now his cloistral Schools, I trust to build three churches soon: my Queen, That seconds still my wishes, says, "Beware Lest overhaste, your people still averse, Frustrate your high intent." A woman's wit— Yet here my wife is wiser than her wont. I miss your Bishop: grandly countenanced he, Save for that mole. He shuns our revel:—ay! Monastic virtue never feels secure Save when it skulks in corners!' As he spake, Despite that varnish on his brow clear-cut, Stung by remembrance, from the tutored eye Forth flashed the fire barbaric: race and heart A moment stood confessed. Old Mellitus, That night how fared he? In a fragile tent Facing that church expectant, low he knelt On the damp ground. More late, like youthful knight In chapel small watching his arms untried, He kept his consecration vigil still, With hoary hands screening a hoary head, And thus made prayer: 'Thou God to Whom all worlds Form one vast temple: Thou Who with Thyself, Ritual eterne, dost consecrate that Church, For aye creating, hallowing it forever; Thou Who in narrowest heart of man or child Makest not less Thy dwelling, turn Thine eyes To-morrow on our rite. The work we work Work it Thyself! Thy storm shall try it well; Consummate first its strength in righteousness; So shall beginning just, whate'er befall, Or guard it, or restore.' So prayed the man, Nor ever raised his head—saw nought—heard nought— Nor knew that on the night had come a change, Ill Spirits, belike, whose empire is the air, Grudging its glories to that pile new raised, And, while they might, assailing. Through the clouds A panic-stricken moon stumbled and fled, And wildly on the waters blast on blast Ridged their dark floor. A spring-tide from the sea Breasted the flood descending. Woods of Shene And Hampton's groves had heard that flood all day, No more a whisperer soft; and meadow banks, Not yet o'er-gazed by Windsor's crested steep Or Reading's tower, had yielded to its wave Blossom and bud. More high, near Oxenford, Isis and Cherwell with precipitate stream Had swelled the current. Gathering thus its strength Far off and near, allies and tributaries, That night by London onward rolled the Thames Beauteous and threatening both. Its southern bank Fronting the church had borne a hamlet long Where fishers dwelt. Upon its verge that night Perplexed the eldest stood: his hand was laid Upon the gunwale of a stranded boat; His knee was crooked against it. Shrinking still And sad, his eye pursued that racing flood, Here black like night, dazzled with eddies there, Eddies by moonshine glazed. In doubt he mused: Sudden a Stranger by him stood and spake: 'Launch forth, and have no fear.' The fisher gazed Once on his face; and launched. Beside the helm That Stranger sat. Then lo! a watery lane Before them opening, through the billows curved, Level, like meadow-path. As when a weed Drifts with the tide, so softly o'er that lane Oarless the boat advanced, and instant reached The northern shore, dark with that minster's shade;— Before them close it frowned. 'Where now thou stand'st Abide thou:' thus the Stranger spake: anon Before the church's southern gate he stood:— Then lo! a marvel. Inward as he passed, Its threshold crossed, a splendour as of God Forth from the bosom of that dusky pile Through all its kindling windows streamed, and blazed From wave to wave, and spanned that downward tide With many a fiery bridge. The moon was quenched; But all the edges of the headlong clouds Caught up the splendour till the midnight vault Shone like the noon. The fisher knew, that hour, That with vast concourse of the Sons of God That church was thronged; for in it many a head Sun-bright, and hands lifted like hands in prayer, High up he saw: meantime harmonic strain, As though whatever moves in earth or skies, Winds, waters, stars, had joined in one their song, Above him floated like a breeze from God And heaven-born incense. Louder swelled that strain; And still the Bride of God, that church late dark, Glad of her saintly spousals, laughed and shone In radiance ever freshening. By degrees That vision waned. At last the fisher turned: The matin star shook on the umbered wave; Along the East there lay a pallid streak, That streak which preludes dawn. Beside the man Once more that Stranger stood:—'Seest thou yon tent? My Brother kneels within it. Thither speed And bid him know I sent thee, speaking thus, "He whom the Christians name 'the Rock' am I: My Master heard thy prayer: I sought thy church, And sang myself her Consecration rite: Close thou that service with thanksgiving psalm."'