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of society making travelling difficult and dangerous, could not otherwise have taken place.
6. Thus, though our nation lost some of her best and ablest sons, through the frequent disturbances which chequered her history, she gained other instructors, whose services counterbalanced the loss.
Many of our native churchmen, it is true, lived chiefly abroad; but our churches and schools received very many foreigners. Thus, in the seventh century, the most active promoters of erudition
among the Anglo-Saxons were the Abbot Adrian, an African sent from Naples, and the Archbishop Theodore, a native of Tarsus, who had been a monk at Rome. So, on the other hand, two of the four men, whose names hold decisively the highest places in the literary roll of our ancient ancestry, gave the benefit of their talents to foreign lands. England retained Bede and Alfred; but she lost Alcuin and Erigena. Alcuin, perhaps an Irishman, though educated at York, taught and wrote in the dominions of Charlemagne. Joannes Scotus Erigena, again, remarkable alike as almost the only learned layman of the Dark Ages, and as the only one who attained original views in speculative philosophy, was almost certainly a native of Ireland. But France was the principal scene of his labours; and neither his invitation to England by Alfred, nor his tragical death, can be held as any thing more than doubtful traditions.
Among those native ecclesiastics who remained in England, three men only can here be named as eminent for success in Latin studies. The oldest of these was Bishop Aldhelm, a southern Saxon, whose zeal for the enlightenment of the people gives him a better title to fame, than the specimens which have been produced from his Latin prose and verse; another was Asser, a Welsh monk of St. David's, the friend, and teacher, and affectionate biographer of the illustrious Alfred ; and greater than any
of these was the Northumbrian Beda, whose name receives by immemorial custom an epithet expressing well-merited revb. 672.
The Venerable Bede, entering in boyhood the d. 735. / monastery of Wearmouth, in his native district, spent his whole manhood in the neighbouring cells of Jarrow, zealously occupied in ecclesiastical and historical research. His extant writings are allowed to exhibit an extent of classical scholarship, and a correctness of taste, surprising for his time: and his investigations into the antiquities of his country gave birth to his Ecclesiastical History of England, which is to this day a leading authority, not for the annals of the church only, but for all the public cvents that occurred in the earlier part of the Anglo-Saxon period.
The Anglo-Saxon names which have thus been set down are very few: and the nation really did not possess, in any period, many men who at all deserved to be described as learned. From the age of Bede to that of Alfred we encounter hardly any evidence of so much as moderate erudition; and this great man had to undertake a task, which really amounted to something very like the instruction of a people altogether ignorant. We shall learn immediately that the method which he and his assistants adopted for enlightening their countrymen led them to promote Latin learning to no further extent, than that which was abso lutely required for enabling them to master some of the most important items of the knowledge recorded in the dead language. Their leading aim was the cultivation of their mother-tongue, and the diffusion of practical information through its means.
It is also to be remembered, that the classical learning of Alfred's age, such as it was, did not long survive its founder. In this respect, not less than in others, the last few generations of the Anglo-Saxon period exhibit unequivocal symptoms of decay.
THE ANGLO-SAXON TIMES.
A. D. 449—A. D. 1066.
SECTION SECOND: LITERATURE IN THE ANGLO-SAXON TONGUE,
1. Usual Course of Early National Literature.-2. Peculiar Character of Anglo-Saxon
Literature-Its Causes. POETRY.-3. National and Historical Poems-The Tale of Beowulf-Other Specimens.-4. Poems Didactic and Religious—Extant Specimens -Cædmon's Life and Poems.-5. Versification and Style of Anglo-Saxon Poetry. PROSE.-6. The Living Language freely used-Translations from the Scriptures.7. Original Composition-Homilies-Miscellaneous Works—The Saxon Chronicle8. King Alfred-His Works-His Character.
1. The Literature of the Anglo-Saxons has a very peculiar character; and that because it was formed by a process which was unusual, and in certain respects artificial.
The natural development of literary cultivation among a people commonly takes place in some such manner as this.
The earliest effusions that appear are metrical in form, and almost always historical in matter. The effects, too, which they are designed to produce on those to whom they are addressed are complex : for, besides striving to cause the imaginative pleasure, which is characteristic of poetry, they aim also at that communication of instruction, and that passionate excitement, which in more refined times are sought chiefly through the medium of prose. The artless verses which constitute this infant literature, have, in most countries, been composed without being written down. Further progress is difficult, if not impossible, until the preservation of literary works by writing has long given opportunity for the attentive and critical study of them. Such study leads to the next great step in improvement, which is the use of prose, that is, language not metrically modulated. It is adopted in those literary efforts, which aim principally at the imparting or preserving of knowledge, or at such other practical purposes as are least akin to the poetical; and it is only when prose has come into free use, that the several kinds of composition begin to be separated according to their diversity of purpose. So long. indeed, as prose writing is unknown, history itself' is not faithful to its distinctive function of truly recording acts and events: and every thing like philosophy, or the systematic inferring of principles from facts, is of course unattainable. But the setting forth of abstract truths is hardly ever recognised as the proper duty of any literary work, until enlightenment has proceeded very far: histories long continue to be the principal works composed in prose: and poems, whether they are in form narrative, dramatic, or lyrical, are imaginative and impassioned in tone, for ages before they become essentially meditative or didactic.
Such has been, in substance, the early progress of literature in almost all the nations of Christendom. But such was not its early progress among our Germanic ancestors.
2. The Anglo-Saxons neglected almost utterly those ancestral legends, which were at once the poetry and the history of their contemporaries. They avoided, indeed, almost always (at least in such relics as survive to us), the choice of national themes for poetry, preferring to poetize ethical reflections, and religious doctrines or narratives. Their instructed men wrote easily in prose, at a time when other living languages were still entangled in the trammels of verse: they embodied, in rough but lucid phrases, practical information and every-day shrewdness, while the continental Teutons were treating literature merely as an instrument for the expression of impassioned fancy : and many of them deliberately renounced the ambition of originality, to execute, for the good of their people, industrious translations from the classics, the fathers of the church, and the Holy Scriptures.
Our progenitors thus constructed, in their native tongue, a series of literary monuments, to which a parallel is altogether wanting, not only among the nations of the same period, but among all others in the same stage of social advancement.
Their poetical relics, it must be allowed, are not the most attractive we can find. They want alike the pathos which inspires the bardic songs of the vanquished Cymrians, the exulting imagination which reigns in the sagas of the North, and the dramatic life which animates, everywhere, the legendary tales that light up the dim beginnings of a people's history. Their prose works, too, when they are in substance original, are plainly no more than strainings at a task, which could not be adequately performed with the language or the knowledge they possessed. But the literature which thus neither excites by images of barbarism, nor soothes by the refinements of art, possesses legitimate claims to respect and admiration, in the elevation and far-sightedness of the aims which determined its character, and in the calm strength, and the moral and religious purity, which, singly or united, breathe through its principal relics.
The truth is, that both the verse and the prose of almost all our Anglo-Saxon remains differed, both in origin and in purpose, from the specimens of a similar age, that have come down to us from other nations. They were produced by the best-instructed men of the times, who desired, by means of their works, to improve the social condition of their country, and to ennoble the character and sentiments of their countrymen.
The vernacular poetry, with very little exception, was not framed either by genealogical bards, or by wandering minstrels; it was not designed either to cherish national pride, or to excite the fancy, or to whet the barbaric thirst for blood. Some such poetry, the only kind that was known among their neighbours, they unquestionably had. Specimens of it have reached us; but they are so few, and wear so little of a national air, that the stock to which they belonged must have been very small, and calculated to produce very trifling effects.
The prose, again, communicated, to the people at large, knowledge which elsewhere its possessors would have sealed up in a dead language, to be transmitted only from convent to convent, or from the ecclesiastical pupils of one school to those of another.
Altogether, the Anglo-Saxon literature is strongly and interestingly symptomatic of that practical coolness of temper, and that inclination to look exclusively towards the present and the future, which marked the whole history of the race, and which one is half-tempted to consider as foreshowing the spirit that was to bear rule among their modern offspring.
3. The general idea which we have thus gained of the literature of our mother-tongue, will be made more distinct by a few examples, the metrical monuments being studied first, and the prose afterwards.
We possess three Historical Poems, all of which record Teutonic recollections of the continent, and must have been composed before the beginning of the emigrations to England. The Gleeman's Song, a piece very valuable to the antiquary, proves its remote origin both by the character of its geographical traditions, and by its bare and prosaic rudeness. The poem on the Battle of Finsburgh relates, with great animation, a story of exterminating slaughter, the place of which is doubtful, but certainly must be sought somewhere among the continental seats of the AngloSaxops. The Tale of Beowulf, a legend containing more than six thousand lines, is not only the most bulky, but by far the most