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A True Relation of the Apparition of one Mrs Veal, the
CYCLOPÆDIA OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.
FROM THE EARLIEST TIMES TO 1400.
| age presents us with historical chronicles, theologiANGLO-SAXON WRITERS.
cal treatises, religious, political, and narrative poetry,
in great abundance, written both in Latin and in the HE ENGLISH native tongue.* LANGUAGE is The earliest name in the list of Anglo-Saxon essentially a writers is that of Gildas, generally described as a branch of the missionary of British parentage, living in the first Teutonic, the half of the sixth century, and the author of a Latin language spo-tract on early British history. Owing to the ob
ken by the scurity of this portion of our annals, it has been the inhabitants of somewhat extraordinary fate of Gildas to be reprecentral Eu- sented, first as flourishing at two periods more than a rope immedi- century distant from each other; then as two differately before ent men of the same name, living at different times ; the dawn of and finally as no man at all, for his very existence
history, and is now doubted. Nennius is another name of this which constitutes the foun- age, which, after being long connected with a small dation of the modern Ger- historical work, written, like that of Gildas, in Latin, man, Danish, and Dutch. has latterly been pronounced supposititious. The Introduced by the Anglo- first unquestionably real author of distinction is Saxons in the fifth century, ST COLUMBANUs, à native of Ireland, and a man it gradually spread, with the of vigorous ability, who contributed greatly to people who spoke it, over the advancement of Christianity in various parts of nearly the whole of England; Western Europe, and died in 615. He wrote reli
the Celtic, which had been gious treatises and Latin poetry. As yet, no eduthe language of the aboriginal people, shrinking cated writer composed in his vernacular tongue: it before it into Wales, Cornwall, and other remote was generally despised by the literary class, as was parts of the island, as the Indian tongues are now the case at some later periods of our history, and retiring before the advance of the British settlers Latin was held to be the only language fit for reguin North America.*
lar composition. From its first establishment, the Anglo-Saxon The first Anglo-Saxon writer of note, who comtongue experienced little change for five centuries, posed in his own language, and of whom there are the chief accessions which it received being Latin any remains, is CÆDMON, a monk of Whitby, who terms introduced by Christian missionaries. Dur- died about 680. Cædmon was a genius of the class ing this period, literature flourished to a much headed by Burns, a poet of nature's making, sprung greater extent than might be expected, when we from the bosom of the common people, and little consider the generally rude condition of the people. indebted to education. It appears that he at one It was chiefly cultivated by individuals of the reli- time acted in the capacity of a cow-herd. The cirgious orders, a few of whom can easily be discerned, cumstances under which his talents were first dethrough their obscure biography, to have been men veloped, are narrated by Bede with a strong cast of of no mean genius. During the eighth century, the marvellous, under which it is possible, however, books were multiplied immensely by the labours of to trace a basis of natural truth. We are told that these men, and through their efforts learning de- he was so much less instructed than most of his scended into the upper classes of lay society. This equals, that he had not even learnt any poetry : 80
that he was frequently obliged to retire, in order to * It is now believed that the British language was not so hide his shame, when the harp was moved towards immediately or entirely extinguished by the Saxons as was him in the hall, where at supper it was customary generally stated by our historians down to the last age. But certainly it is true in the main, that the Saxon succeeded the for each person to sing in turn. On one of these British language in all parts of England, except Wales, Corn- * Biographia Britannica Literaria : Anglo-Saxon Period. By wall, and some other districts of less note.
Thomas Wright, M.A.
occasions, it happened to be Cædmon's turn to keep Then spake he words :
of the hot hell, was the reply, and thereupon Cadmon began to sing
bereft us of hearen's kingdom, verses “which he had never heard before," and
hath decreed which are said to have been as follows:
to people it
with mankind. Nu we sceolan herian* Now we shall praise
That is to me of sorrows the greatest, heofon-ríces weard, the guardian of heaven,
that Adam, metodes mihte, the might of the creator,
who was wrought of earth, and his mod-ge-thonc,
and his counsel, wera wuldor fæder ! the glory-father of men !
my strong seat; swa he wundra ge-hwæs, how he of all wonders,
that it shall be to him in delight, ece dryhten, the eternal lord,
and we endure this torment, oord onstealde. formed the beginning.
misery in this hell. He ærest ge-scéop He first created
Oh ! had I the power of my hands * * ylda bearnum for the children of men
then with this host Iheofon to hrófe, heaven as a roof,
But around me lie halig scyppend ! the holy creator !
iron bonds ; tha iniddan-geard then the world
presseth this cord of chain; mon-cynnes weard, the guardian of mankind,
I am powerless! ece dryhten, the eternal lord,
me have so hard æfier teode, produced afterwards,
the clasps of hell firum foldan,
so firmly grasped !
Here is a vast fire Cadmon then awoke ; and he was not only able to
above and underneath ;
never did I see repeat the lines which he had made in his sleep, but he continued them in a strain of admirable versifica
a loathlier landskip; tion. In the morning, he hastened to the town.
the flame abateth not,
hot over hell. reeve, or bailiff, of Whitby, who carried him before the Abbess Hilda ; and there, in the presence of
Me hath the clasping of these rings,
this hard polished band, some of the learned men of the place, he told his story, and they were all of opinion that he had re
impeded in my course,
debarred me from my way. ceived the gift of song from heaven. They then
My feet are bound, expounded to him in his mother tongue a portion of Scripture, which he was required to repeat in
my hands manacled ;
of these hell doors are Cædmon went home with his task, and the next morning he produced a poem which excelled
the ways obstructed ;
so that with aught I cannot in beauty all that they were accustomed to hear.
from these limb-bonds escape. He afterwards yielded to the earnest solicitations of
About me lie the Abbess Hilda, and became a monk of her house;
huge gratings and she ordered him to transfer into verse the whole
of hard iron, of the sacred history. We are told that he was con
forged with heat, tinually occupied in repeating to himself what he
with which me God heard, and, " like a clean animal, ruminating it, he
hath fastened by the neck. turned it into most sweet verse."' Cædmon thus
Thus perceive 1 that he knoweth my mind, composed many poems on the Bible histories, and
and that he knew also, on miscellaneous religious subjects, and some of
the Lord of hosts, these have been preserved. His account of the Fall
that should us through Adam of Man is somewhat like that given in Paradise Lost,
evil befall, and one passage in it might almost be supposed to
about the realm of heaven, have been the foundation of a corresponding one in
where I had power of my hands.'* Milton's sublime epic. It is that in which Satan is described as reviving from the consternation of his The specimen of Cædmon above given in the overthrow. A modern translation into English fol- original language may serve as a general one of lows:
Anglo-Saxon poetry. It will be observed that it is
neither in measured feet, like Latin verse, nor [Satan's Speech.]
rhymed, but that the sole peculiarity which distinBoiled within him
guishes it from prose is what Mr Wright calls a very his thought about his heart;
regular alliteration, so arranged, that in every couplet Hot was without him
there should be two principal words in the line behis dire punishment.
ginning with the same letter, which letter must also
be the initial of the first word on which the stress * In our specimens of the Anglo-Saxon, modern letters are
of the voice falls in the second line. substituted for those peculiar characters employed in that lan.
A few names of inferior note-Aldhelm, abbot of guage to express th, dh, and so. | Wright.
* Thorpe's edition of Cædmon, 1839.
Malmsbury, Ceolfrid, abbot of Wearmouth, and Felix fram eallum synnum with-innan, dheah dhe hit withof Croyland-bring down the list of Anglo-Saxon from all sins inwardly, thouyh he outwriters to BEDE, usually called the Venerable Bede, utan his hiw ne awende. Eac swylce tha halige who may be allowed to stand at the head of the class. wardly his shape not change. Eren the holy He seems to have spent a modest studious life, unche- fant wæter, dhe is ge-haten lifes wyl-spring, is ge-lic quered by incident of any kind, at the monastery of font water, which is called life's fountain, is like
Wearmouth, where on hiwe odhrum wæterum, & is under dheod bros-
dhæs halgan gastes
mint ing of Scriptural ruption; but the Holy Ghost's might translations and ge-ncalæcth tham brosnigendlicum wætere, dhurh commentaries, reli
comes (to) the corruptible water through gious treatises, bio- sacerda bletsunge, & hit mæg sythan graphies, and an (the) priests' blessing, and it may afterwards ecclesiastical his- lichaman & sawle athwean fram eallum synnum, tory of the Anglo- body and soul wash from all sin, Saxons, which is dhurh gastlice mihte, the only one useful through ghostly might. in the present age, were forty-four in Cynewulf, bishop of Winchester, Wulfstan, archnumber; and it is bishop of York, and some others, bring down the list related that he dic- of Anglo-Saxon authors to the Conquest, giving to tated to his amanu- this portion of our literature a duration of nearly five ensis, and com- hundred years, or about the space between Chaucer
pleted a book, on and our own day. During this time, there were many Chair of Bede.
the very day of his seats of learning in England, many writers, and many death. Almost all the writings of these men were in books; although, in the main, these have now become Latin, which renders it less necessary to speak parti- matter of curiosity to the antiquary only. The literacularly of them in this place. Our subsequent lite- ture may be said to have had a kind of protracted rary history is formed of comparatively obscure existence till the breaking up of the language in the names, until it presents to us tlie enlightened and latter part of the twelfth century; but it was graced amiable King ALFRED (848-901).* in whom learning by no names of distinction. We are here called upon and authorship graced the royal state, without in- to advert to the historical production usually called terfering with its proper duties. He translated the the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which consists of a view historical works of Orosius and Bede, and some reli- of early English history, written, it is believed, by a gious and moral treatises, perhaps also Æsop's Fables series of authors, commencing soon after the time of and the Psalms of David, into the Anglo-Saxon tongue, Alfred, and continued till the reign of Henry II. designing thereby to extend their utility among his Altogether, considering the general state of Western people. No original compositions certainly his bave Europe in the middle ages, the literature of our been preserved, excepting the reflections of his own, Anglo-Saxon forefathers may be regarded as a which he takes leave here and there to introduce creditable feature of our national history, and as into his translations. The character of this monarch, something of which we might justly be proud, if we embracing so much gentleness, along with manly did not allow ourselves to remain in such ignorance vigour and dignity, and displaying pure tastes, cal- of it. culated to be beneficial to others as well as himself, seems as if it would have graced the most civilised
INTRODUCTION OF NORMAN FRENCH. age nearly as much as it did one of the rudest. The Conquest, by which a Norman government and
After Alfred, the next important name is that of nobility were imposed upon Saxon England, led to a ALFRic, archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 1006. great change in the language. Norman French, one This learned prelate was a volumineus writer, and, of the modifications of Latin which arose in the like Alfred, entertained a strong wish to enlighten the middle ages, was now the language of education, of people ; he wrote much in his native tongue, particu- the law courts, and of the upper classes generally, larly a collection of homilies, a translation of the first while Saxon shared the degradation which the seven books of the Bible, and some religious treatises. people at large experienced under their conquerors.. He was also the author of a grammar of the Latin Though depressed, yet, as the speech of the great tongue, which has given him the sub-name of the body of the people, it could not be extinguished. Grammarian.' Alfric himself declares that he wrote Having numbers on its side, it maintained its ground in Anglo-Saxon, and in that avoided the use of all as the substance of the popular language, the Norman obscure words, in order that he might be understood infusing only about one word for every three of the by unlettered people. As he was really successful in more vulgar tongue. But it was destined, in the writing simply, we select a specimen of Anglo-Saxon course of the twelfth century, to undergo great prose from his Paschal homily, adding an interlinear grammatical changes. Its sounds were greatly translation:
altered, syllables were cut short in the pronunciation, Hæthen cild bith ge-fullod, ac hit ne bræt na and the terminations and inflections of words were
(4) heathen child is christened, yet he altereth not softened down until they were entirely lost. Dr his hiw with-atan, dheah dhe hit beo with-innan Johnson expresses his opinion, that the Normans his shape without, though
he be within affected the Anglo-Saxon more in this manner than awend. Hit bith ge-broht synfull dhurh Adames by the introduction of new words. So great was changed. He is brought sinful through Adam's the change, that the original Anglo-Saxon must. forgægednysse to tham fant fate. Ac hit bith athwogen have become, in the first half of the thirteenth disobedience to the font-vessel. But he is washed
century, more difficult to be understood: than the
diction of Chaucer is to us. The language which * Where double dates are thus given, it will be understood resulted was the commencement of the present Engthat the first is the year of the birth, and the second the year lish. Its origin will afterwards be traced more of the death, of the individual mentioned.