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only mention Mr Kemble's collection of charters, "Codex diplomaticus ævi Anglo-Saxonici," and may proceed at once to pass in review the first and principal source from which almost all that we know of the life and history of king Alfred is derived. These are, the regular Chronicles or annals of English history, drawn up by monks and ecclesiastics, who lived and wrote between the time of the Reformation and the first introduction of the Christian religion into this island.
These chronicles are valued in proportion as the author was contemporary or not with the events which he records; but in some cases we know so little about the writers that it is impossible for us to determine whether they furnish original evidence or write from second hand. In few cases do we know more about these chroniclers than may be gathered from some brief sentences interspersed in various parts of their works. It is necessary, therefore, to judge each of them on his own merits, and constantly to refer their statements to those tests which criticism supplies, as the best means of eliciting the truth.
The most approved of these methods is certainly to compare one chronicle with another; for if, by this process, all are found to be at variance, we may safely say that no satisfactory inference can be deduced; but if, on the contrary, all agree in the main points of their narratives, it is an obvious result that all are founded upon a ground-work of truth. If any period of English history is of sufficient importance to warrant this laborious comparison of authorities, it is surely the latter half of the ninth century, which coincides with the life of king Alfred the Great; for those fifty years abound in brilliant deeds and stirring events, which have had an influence on the condition of this country, its laws and liberties, even down to the present time.
Notwithstanding the importance of the subject, it is nevertheless a fact, that we do not possess a single ancient chronicle, which can be shewn to be undoubtedly contemporary with the period of which we have now to speak. It is, indeed, generally believed that we have one, at least, if not two contemporary histories of this period; but there are certain difficulties connected with one of these, and a want of conclusive evidence respecting the antiquity of the other, which make it necessary to receive both, not perhaps with suspicion, but with that reserve, which, whilst it dignifies every enquiry after truth, not unfrequently leads at last to the
place, where truth may with the greatest certainty be found. These remarks will be more intelligible, as we proceed to examine severally the chronicles which form the basis of English history between the year 849 when Alfred was born at Wantage, and 901, the year of his death.
I. The first of these is generally called the SAXON CHRONICLE, because it is written in the old Saxon tongue, and forms a contiuous record of the old Saxon times. Seven ancient manuscripts of this invaluable document have been preserved, some of which are thought to have been written as early as the ninth century, and therefore to be contemporary with king Alfred. It would far exceed our present limits to give even a superficial account of these manuscripts and the various questions which arise concerning them. The reader may refer, for more minute particulars, to a folio volume "Materials for the History of England, &c." edited by Mr Petrie and published by the Record Commission; to Dr Ingram's edition of the Saxon Chronicle; to the little volume containing a translation of Bede's Ecclesiastical History and of the Saxon Chronicle, published in Mr Bohn's Antiquarian Library; and to a small volume entitled a "Dissection of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle &c. &c." London, 1815.
One observation however must be made, relating to its contemporary character. The gradual variation of style from a more rude to a more modern dialect, so conspicuous throughout the Chronicle, has led to the obvious supposition that it is the gradual work of succeeding ages, the notice of each event having been inserted by the next succeeding chronicler who lived at the time or in the generation immediately succeeding. As applied to the period with which we are now concerned, it is very remarkable that the chronicle does not notice the birth of Alfred in 849, but is highly laudatory of him under 901 the year of his death, and for several preceding years. The inference, which I draw from this fact, is, that the events of 849 and following years were written before Alfred's fame was established, and that those of 901 and the years immediately preceding were written by some contemporary when Alfred's reputation was at its height.
II. ASSER'S Life of AlfreD. The second historical record of this period is a work, professing to be a life of Alfred by Asser, one of his friends and bishops. Its authority, on the one hand, rests upon general tradition; but, on the other hand, has been
questioned on account of certain difficulties, which I shall here briefly mention. 1. It consists of two elements, the one biographical, the other historical. 2. The historical notices are in many places identical in language with the other chronicles of this period, and everywhere correspond most remarkably; as if all had been drawn from some common original. 3. The biographical notices, though interesting, are inserted at random in various parts of the work. The two sides of this complicated question have been severally taken, the one by Mr Wright, who impugns the authenticity of the work in his "Biographia Anglo-Saxonica," page 408, and more fully in a paper read before the Antiquarian Society, and printed in the Archæologia: the other by Dr Lingard, who defends it, in his "History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church," vol. ii, page 420. The work does not extend further than the year 893, and the whole of it is given in this Harmony of the Chroniclers.
III. ETHELWERD, surnamed the Patrician,' has left a chronicle of England down to the reign of king Edgar, written in the most barbarous and inflated Latin style that can possibly be conceived. He says, in his own work, that he was descended from Ethelred the brother of king Alfred. He lived in the latter half of the eleventh century and therefore was coeval with the Norman Conquest. His work is copied almost wholly from the Saxon Chronicle.
IV. FLORENCE OF WORCESTER, so called from the abbey, in which he was a monk, compiled a chronicle of English history, partly from the Saxon Chronicle, and partly from the work of Marianus Scotus, extending to the year 1118, when its author died. A continuation, by an anonymous author, brings down the history to the year 1141.
V. HENRY OF HUNTINGDON. This writer tells us, in a letter published in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, vol. ii, p. 694, that he was an adherent of Robert Bloet, bishop of Lincoln from A. D. 1092 to 1122. He is surnamed of Huntingdon,' because he was archdeacon of Huntingdon; and not from the place of his birth. He died about the middle of the twelfth century. His works consist of his History or Chronicle, and various poems, epigrams and hymns, which were collected by their author before his death, and published in twelve books, part of which only has been printed.
VI. SIMEON OF DURHAM, a monk of Durham, and præcentor of that church, lived about the year 1130, and wrote a Chronicle or Annals of English history from the time of the Saxon Heptarchy down to the year 1129; and for part of this period he wrote a duplicate work, varying in several respects, but principally in phraseology, from the former. There has not yet been any complete edition of the two works.
These six chronicles form the ground work of our authority for the period of English history preceding the times in which their authors lived. In the Harmony' their narratives will be arranged in parallel columns; for which mode of treatment, they are admirably adapted by the tabular form of annals into which they were originally thrown by their authors.
There are, however, several other medieval writers which require to be noticed, because, though mostly later in date, they have added minor facts, which the foregoing principal chroniclers have omitted. These are William of Malmesbury, Ingulf, and the anonymous author of the Chronicle of St Neot's commonly called Asser's Annals.
1. The first of these, WILLIAM OF MALMESBURY, was coeval with some of the six chroniclers before enumerated, as he died in 1140; but the nature of his work, which does not follow the order of chronology, and is not arranged in the form of annals, renders it less adapted for being introduced into a Harmony than those before mentioned. He is the author of a " History of the Kings of England," De gestis Regum Angliæ, and " a History of the bishops," De gestis Pontificum, besides some works of inferior note.
2. INGULF OF CROYLAND, was secretary to William the Conqueror; he has left us a History of Croyland abbey, which has been continued by an anonymous author, said to be Petrus Blesensis, down to A. D. 1118. Doubts of the authenticity of this work have been entertained by many writers [See WRIGHT'S BIOG. vol. ii, page 29]; but this question cannot be discussed within our present limits.
3. The CHRONICLE OF SAINT NEOT, is sometimes called Asser's Annals, because supposed to have been compiled by the same Asser who wrote the Life of Alfred. This, however, is another of those historical difficulties for the solution or even the investigation of which a separate treatise would be required. The most remarkable feature of the Annals, as regards our present subject,
is their identity in language with the Life of Alfred in at least three-fourths of what they have in common: and a second peculiarity of the Annals is that some passages in Alfred's life, of a vague and uncertain character, seem to rest on their authority alone. They omit some things mentioned in the Life, and elsewhere supply additional matter: they end in the year 914.
Such are principally the works which have been brought together to form this Harmony of the Chroniclers during the life of king Alfred; and the mode in which they are arranged, with every other necessary particular, will be readily understood, with the help of the following observations.
1. The six oldest chroniclers are arranged in six parallel columns, so that the different accounts of the same transaction are found side by side.
2. Variations of fact only, and not of mere language, found in the three subsidiary writers, above described, are inserted in smaller type, as near as may be to the six principal narratives.
3. Notes, illustrations, and occasional extracts from later writers, Matthew of Westminster, Matthew Paris, John Brompton, and others, are also, in like manner, given in a smaller type.