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The period of six hundred years (from about A.D. 466 to 1066), during which the Anglo-Saxons were dominant in England, has always been viewed with much interest and attention by the modern English, particularly of our own day. Nor are we at a loss to discover the true explanation of this fact. A nation will always be most attached to that portion of its former history which developes a state of things, polity, and institutions, similar to their own, and adapted to become a model for their imitation. Now the tendency of the present times is to enlarge the rights and privileges of the people, that they may—all, and not merely a section of them—enjoy as much happiness in their social life and during their existence on the earth, as the constitution of their nature requires; and, moreover, that they shall, as a body, have the privilege of judging for themselves in wliat way the largest share of enjoyment may be obtained. Hence has arisen that renewal of attention which the people of England at present devote to that part of English history which preceded the Norman conquest. Then are supposed to have been planted those seeds of national liberty which, under every form of cutting and pruning to which the plant may occasionally have been subjected, have nevertheless continually germinated, until the tree, like that which sprang from the grain of mustard-seed, bids fair to overshadow all of us.
To such a spirit of inquiry must be attributed the fact that the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical History by the Venerable Bede, has already, before the appearance of this volume, been published in three separate editions in about seven years ; and to the same cause must be 'ascribed the publication of this volume, in which, at an unprecedented low price, are now for the first time presented to the public the two great
Chronicles of Anglo-Saxon History. Although of limited dimensions, they present us with a most extraordinary number of facts arranged chronologically, and form a mass of history such as no other nation of Europe possesses.
CHAP. II.-LIFE OF BEDE.
Sect. 1.-Of his birth. The year of our Lord 673, remarkable for one of the most important of our early English councils, held at Hertford, for the purpose of enforcing certain general regulations of the church, has an equal claim on our attention, as the year in which that great teacher of religion, literature, and science, the Venerable Bede, first saw the light.
The time of his birth has, however, been placed by some writers as late as A.D. 677, but this error arose from not perceiving that the last two or three pages of his Chronological Epitome, attached to the Ecclesiastical History, were added by another hand.* Bede's own words
appear decisive in fixing the date of his birth :—“ This is the present state of Britain, about 285 · years since the coming of the Saxons, and in the seven hundred and thirty-first year of our Lord's incarnation." To this he subjoins a short chronology which comes down to 731, and was continued to 734, either by another hand or by Bede himself, at a later period just before his death : he then gives a short account of the principal events of his own life, and says, that he has attained (attigisse) the fifty-ninth year of his life. Gehle, in his recent publication on the life of Bede, has not scrupled to fix the year 672, interpreting Bede's expression that he had attained his fifty-ninth year as implying that he was entering on his sixtieth. On the other hand, another learned critic,† whose opinion has been adopted by Stevenson in his Introduction (p. 7], has endeavoured to show that 674 is the true date. But in so unimportant a particular it is hardly worth while to weigh the conflicting opinions, and the intermediate date, so long ago settled by
* Mabill. in v. Bed. sect. ii. Sim. Dun, de Ecc. D. 8, and Ep. de Archie. Ebor. Stubbs's Act. Pont. Eborac. Sparke's Hist. Ang. Scrip. 1723. Surtees' Hist. of Durham, ii. p. 69.
+ Pagi Critic. in Baron, Ann. A.D. 693, sect. 8.
Mabillon, and apparently so well borne out by Bede's own words, is perhaps the best that can be adopted.
It is always to be regretted, when little is known of the early life of eminent men, as in all cases where many facts have been handed down concerning the years of their youth, something or other has invariably broken forth significant of their future life and fortunes. So very little, however, is known of this great ornament of England and father of the universal church, that, except his own writings, the letter of Cuthbert his disciple, and one or two other almost contemporary records, we have no means whatever of tracing his private history.
The place of his birth is said by Bede himself to have been in the territory afterwards belonging to the twin-monasteries of St. Peter and St. Paul, at Wearmouth and Jarrow. The whole of this territory, lying along the coast near the mouths of the rivers Tyne and Wear, was granted to abbat Benedict by king Egfrid two years after the birth of Bede. William of Malmesbury points out more minutely the spot where our author first saw the light. His words are these: “Britain, which some writers have called another world, because, from its lying at a distance, it has been overlooked by most geographers, contains in its remotest parts a place on the borders of Scotland, where Bede was born and educated. The whole country was formerly studded with monasteries, and beautiful cities founded therein by the Romans; but now, owing to the devastations of the Danes and Normans, it has nothing to allure the senses. Through it runs the Wear, a river of no mean width, and of tolerable rapidity. It flows into the sea, and receives ships, which are driven thither by the wind, into its tranquil bosom. A certain Benedict built two churches on its banks, and founded there two monasteries, named after St. Peter and St. Paul, and united together by the same rule and bond of brotherly love." The birth of Bede happened in the third year of Egfrid, son of Oswy, the first of the kings of Northumberland, after the union of the provinces Deira and Bernicia into one monarchy. The dominions of this king extended from the Humber to the Frith of Forth, and comprehended all the six northern counties of England, and the
* Hist, of the Kings of England, book i. chap. iii., p. 54.
whole of the southern part of Scotland. The piety of Egfrid induced him to grant the large tract of land above mentioned to one Biscop, surnamed Benedict, who had formerly been one of his thanes, but now became a monk, and built thereon a monastery, which he dedicated to St. Peter, on the north bank of the river Wear, and which from this circumstance derived the name of Wearmouth. The same pious abbat, eight years after [A.D. 682], built another monastic establishment, which he dedicated to St. Paul, at Jarrow, on the banks of the Tyne, at the distance of about five miles from the former. In memory of this, the following inscription, which has been preserved, was carved on a tablet in the church at Jarrow:
Anno XV Egfridi regis
Conditoris anno IV.
in the fifteenth year of king Egfrid
who, under God, founded the same church. These two establishments were for many years ruled by Benedict himself, and his associates Ceolfrid, Easterwin, and Sigfrid, and from the unity and concord which prevailed between the two, deserved rather, as Bede expresses it, to be called one single monastery built in two different places."*
We cannot be certain as to the exact spot, but it is sufficiently near the mark to ascertain that Bede was born in the neighbourhood of these two monasteries, and probably in the village of Jarrow.
Of his parents nothing has been recorded. He tells us, in his own short narrative of himself, that he was placed, at the age of seven years, under the care of abbat Benedict, in the abbey of Wearmouth, that of Jarrow being not yet built. When, however, this second establishment was founded, Bede appears to have gone thither under Ceolfrid
* Leland. Antiq. de Reb. Brit. Col!. ed. Hearne, iii. 42.