Page images
PDF
EPUB

contains a Latin version of the Saxon, which, however, in some particulars appears to be rather an independent narrative than a mere translation.

§ 11. G. The Cottonian MS. Otho B. xi., written upon vellum, in small folio, but now a mere fragment, only three damaged leaves remaining. A fac-simile of two of these pages, in their present mutilated condition, may be seen in Petrie and Hardy's volume, plates xviii. and xix. These extend from 837 to 871. We have the less cause, however, to regret the loss of this manuscript, since it is accurately represented in the edition of Whelock (concerning which see § 17), of which it forms the basis; and a comparison of his text with the remaining fragments proves that his transcript from it, made when it was perfect, was executed with care and fidelity. Another transcript, by Lambard, is preserved among Ussher's manuscripts at Dublin. This MS. extends from the invasion of Julius Cæsar to 1001. Several peculiarities seem to point at a West-Saxon influence; but upon this head it is necessary to speak with considerable hesitation.

§ 12. Such, then, being the condition in which the Saxon Chronicle has come down to us, as exhibited in existing copies, three questions now appear to arise for our consideration.

i. The first is, "What light does history throw upon this difficulty?"

ii. Does it ascribe the authorship of the Chronicle to any locality, or to any period of time, or to any individual?”

iii.To what results are we led by a comparison of this external evidence, when taken in connexion with the inferences furnished by the manuscript copies themselves?"

§ 13. To each of these questions the attention of the reader is now invited.

"

i. That our early historians were acquainted with a book of annals written in the vernacular tongue, which was substantially the same as the Saxon Chronicle, admits of no doubt. It is referred to by Florence of Worcester (A.D. 672, 674, 734) and William of Malmesbury (Prol. in Gesta Regum), besides having been translated, to a large extent, by Ethelward, Asser, and others. In some places the translation is so servile that the Saxon idioms are preserved, and even the errors of the original are retained. We are justified, therefore, in believing that when these Latin historians speak of a Saxon Chronicle, they mean that Saxon Chronicle with which we are acquainted, and no other.

§ 14. ii. The authorship of this Chronicle is ascribed to king Alfred, but upon evidence to which the greatest weight cannot be awarded. The earliest writer who can be adduced for this statement is Gaimar, who wrote in the middle of the twelfth century. Speaking of this monarch, he says,—

"Il fist escrivere un livre Engleis,

Des aventures, e des leis,

E de batailles de la terre,

E des reis ki firent la guere."-line 3451.

§ 15. iii. Let us see if the hint thus furnished us by Gaimar can be made to coincide with the internal evidence supplied by the Saxon Chronicle itself.

It is by no means improbable that Alfred, a prince earnestly devoted to literature, should write, or cause to be written, a chronicle narrating the leading events of the history of his own country. That he should do this in the Saxon language, if he did it at all, is no less probable, when we remember that for the sake of extending our national literature he translated some of the writings of Gregory, Beda, Orosius, and Boethius into his mother tongue. The structure of the existing copies of the Chronicle favours the presumption thus raised. From the commencement of that document until the year 851, it exhibits all the appearances of a compilation; but from that period to 891 it assumes a more regular form, the narrative is more detailed, and it has every mark of a contemporaneous history. Again, from the year 891 onwards, the character of the document changes for the worse; its entries are less frequent and its information less valuable. These extreme dates of 851 and 891 limit, with tolerable accuracy, the period of Alfred's life.

§ 16. These considerations lead to the probable conclusion that the Saxon Chronicle-in its conception, if not in its executionoriginated with king Alfred. We may further conjecture that, about the year 891, he sent a copy of it to each of the cathedral churches, or larger monasteries; a supposition which will not be considered extravagant, when we remember that he assuredly did so in the case of his translation of the Pastorale of Pope Gregory, the copies of which, transmitted by him to Canterbury, Worcester, and Sherborne, are yet extant. In these several monasteries, in which Alfred placed copies of our annals, we conjecture that the narrative was continued; and that the existing copies are framed from various combinations of these several manuscripts. The Editor is not aware that any more probable solution of the question as to the origin of the Saxon Chronicle has been offered; and he believes that this meets all the requirements of the case, leaving no essential feature in the inquiry without a probable solution.

§ 17. Four editions of the Saxon Chronicle have been published. The first is due to Abraham Whelock, the professor of Arabic and Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge. It forms a portion of the supplemental matter appended to his edition of Beda, which appeared in folio at Cambridge in 1644. This edition is not without its value, even at the present time, since it is based upon the destroyed Cottonian MS., Ôtho B. xi. (see § 11), which we have reason to believe it represents, with a commendable degree of accuracy. Whelock also used our MS. A, of the value of which he does not appear to have been fully sensible.

§ 18. In 1692, Edmund Gibson, afterwards bishop of London, gave an improved edition of the Chronicle, having corrected Whelock's text by the aid of three important manuscripts, none of which had been employed by that editor. These are the copies B, E, and F of our list.

19. Gibson's edition, in its turn, was superseded by that published in 1823, by the late Dr. Ingram, at that time President of Trinity College, Oxford. Ingram used all the existing manuscripts. This edition (though now valueless as far as the year 1066) still maintains its place in public estimation, since, from the date of the Norman Conquest to the year 1154, at which the Chronicle ends, we have no more satisfactory text than that which is here afforded.

§ 20. In 1848 appeared the first volume of the "Materials for the History of Britain," prepared by the late Mr. Petrie, and edited by Mr. Hardy. In accordance with Mr. Petrie's plan, this volume contains the Saxon Chronicle no further than the Norman Conquest. The text is entirely reconstructed, being based upon the earliest existing MS., that, namely, which we have designated as A, interwoven with which, however, are the additions furnished by the other copies. From the year 891, at which the text of MS. A ends, the narrative is framed from a comparison of all the surviving transcripts. It is accompanied by an English translation, which adheres, as closely as our modern language will admit, to the structure and idiom of the original.

§ 21. With the exception of a few unimportant corrections, the English version of the earlier portion of the Saxon Chronicle which is contained in this present volume, is a reprint of that which was published in 1848 by Mr. Petrie. The proprietors of the present series of English Historians are indebted to the Lords of Her Majesty's Treasury for permission to avail themselves of the result of Mr. Petrie's labours, as far as this document is concerned. It will be remembered, however, [§ 20,] that this translation extends no further than the year 1066. From that date, to the end of the work in 1154, a new translation has been prepared, and for this the Editor is responsible. It will be found to differ, in many instances, from the version furnished by Dr. Ingram. The text, moreover, has occasionally been corrected by a collation with the Laud MS. E. [§ 8.]

The Editor cannot conclude his observations upon the Saxon Chronicle without expressing his regret that we are still unprovided with a satisfactory critical edition of the whole of these Annals, forming, as they assuredly do, one of the most interesting and valuable remnants of our early national literature.

LEIGHTON BUZZARD,

17th November, 1853.

The

Church Historians of England.

THE first Part of Vol. I., consisting chiefly of Prefaces and other introductory matter, and the History of the Early British Church, is deferred till a later period.

The Proprietors trust that the Subscribers will bear in mind that this series of works is not intended-like the publications of the Parker Society, the Library of AngloCatholic Theology, and some others-to give the opinions or doctrines of any particular School or period of the English Church. Each writer will be selected, not with any reference to his theological opinions, but simply as a Chronicler of the ecclesiastical events of his own day. It will thus necessarily happen that the first series of writers will be more or less tinctured with Roman Theology—it being the only Theology current in their day: while, in like manner, the Historian of the Elizabethan period is warmly opposed to those views, and reflects the Theology of his own time. In both cases, however, we have little choice. We must either gain what knowledge we can of the successive periods of the English Church, by consulting the existing Records of each Age, or we must remain in ignorance of this most interesting portion of past History.

« PreviousContinue »