« PreviousContinue »
should turn into the language which we all of us know, some such books as are deemed most useful for all men to understand, and that we do our best to effect, as we easily may, with God's help, if we have quietness, that all the youth of free-born Englishmen, such as have wealth enough to maintain them, be brought up to learn, that, at an age when they can do nothing else, they may learn to read the English language then, and that afterwards the Latin tongue shall be taught to those whom they have it in their power to teach and promote to a higher condition.
In pursuance of his noble design, King Alfred, not content to point out, merely, the way to excellence, but eager himself to tread it, with unremitting labour rendered into English numbers of books, which at that time were of the greatest renown in the Latin Literature, and it is a remarkable fact that there are at this moment in existence three of the very copies of Gregory's Pastoral, translated by himself, which, by his orders, were placed in the different cathedral churches for the use of his people.
It is true that the few original compositions of King Alfred, his prefaces and insertions, are but a small part, compared with the whole body of his writings; but they are so intimately connected with the works which they introduce or explain, that it would be impossible to separate them from the places to which they are attached, and to form a distinction between original writings and translations. Besides, whoever has read the latter, must be aware how much original matter they also contain, how freely the king translated, and how many additional ideas are entirely his own. In fact, not one of the works can be called a strict translation; they have all been transformed by Alfred for the particular use of his countrymen and his clergy. This varies, of course, in the different works; by far the most and highly important insertions occur in his Orosius, where is found the famous account of Othere and Wulfstan's travels in the north of Europe, and many more geographical and historical notices in different parts of the book. It is much the same with the translation of Boethius, where, instead of the mythology of the Roman poet, Alfred occasionally inserted that of his own people. In the translation of Bede's ecclesiastical history, on the contrary, we miss now and then some paragraphs, which are found in the original, especially those in which the events of Northumbria are more fully recorded; as the king of the West-Saxons wrote for the southern part of this island, he rejected whatever did not appear to him to be of general
interest. The Pastoral of St Gregory, and the Dialogues of the same pope translated by bishop Werfrith, under the king's especial superintendence, also deviate frequently from their Latin original. In the Jubilee edition of the works, care has been taken to collate the versions with the original Latin authors, and to discriminate, by short notes or otherwise, all the additions and changes made by the royal translator.
As it is not expedient to classify the works of Alfred as original writings and translations, so also is it impossible to arrange them historically, according to the time in which they might have been written. With regard to most of them this point is not at all certain. We only know that Alfred was employed in literary studies during eight or nine years of peace, between the first complete defeat of the Danes under their king Guthrum-Ethelstan in 878, until the time when, after the death of the converted Northman (c. A. 891), the war broke out again. Moreover Asser who became attached to the king not earlier than the year 884, asserts expressly, that Alfred, with his assistance, only then began to translate from the Latin into his native tongue, and that the text of Boethius was prepared and glossed by him for the king's use. It is only the translation of the Pastoral the date of which may be tolerably sure, because Alfred addressed one copy of it to archbishop Plegmund, whose accession to the see of Canterbury, according to the Saxon Chronicle, took place in the year 890. It may be presumed, that this was one of Alfred's last literary labours, as from the year 893 to the end of his life he hardly could have found time for such an occupation; for the dangerous enemy of his country again required his whole attention during that period. About the date of the other works no allusion is to be found.
Here then, and with little further preface—we launch the Jubilee Edition upon the sea of public opinion, trusting that it will be judged by the standard,-not of the 19th,-but of the 9th century. And yet not so:-we will not lower the remains of the great Alfred by measuring him with so low a standard. Let us rather say that his memory shall yet live another thousand years in those works of the intellect, which he has left as the best legacy behind him, those works which even now, after the revolution of the
mightiest cycle that mankind can hope to compass, stand out, every now and then, in some noble thought, high above the puny efforts of a world of scribblers, to shew that, of all the many virtues in his composition, the least was to have been born a king!
That Alfred was a good king, a great statesman, and a warrior of consummate talents, has been fully proved by a hundred writers who have, directly or indirectly, made him the subject of their praises. His abilities, as an author, have also not escaped notice; but the world requires to be constantly reminded even of the most homely truths. The greatest boons that have been conferred on humanity are speedily forgotten, unless repeatedly brought before the eyes of the existing generation. Virtue, says the poet, is hated by her contemporaries, and, if not suffered to die outright, yet certainly slumbers, until the bosom that harbours her is cold. Then, we are told, she rises from her lethargy, and soaring above the reach of apathy, is an object of admiration to every heart and of panegyric to every tongue. But there is a second bourn of forgetfulness, from which few, even the most brilliant of our species, have escaped, and this second wave of oblivion generally overwhelms its victim for ever. What is now actually known of those great heroes whose names still sound-but as little more than empty echoes on the tongues of our countrymen, or in the pages of our writers? Where are the deeds of King Arthur-of Cymbeline-of Caswallon? Where are the lays and harpings of Merlin, Taliessin, and a crowd of bards, who once excited or controlled the passions of multitudes, and directed them in harmony, as if they were knit into one mass? These have perished, by the law of things, which allows nothing to be everlasting. If then the name and actions of our own Alfred have survived the term which is fatal to the rest of mankind,—if he is still the object of ardent admiration to those who are of kindred blood, and who feel that he was in thoughts and feelings one of themselves, it must surely be the superior brilliancy of his character or of his intellect which has floated him down the stream, where others have been swallowed up, even to the end of the long period of a thousand years.
But, it seems, a new term of life awaits the father of a mighty nation. On the bloody field of victory, where the enemies of England lay slain, Alfred planted the tree of legislation, which has struck a deep root into the fertilized soil, and has long since
put forth leaves and branches. This tree has blossomed and borne fruit-yes! fruit which millions of Englishmen—say rather, Anglo-Saxons, in America and Germany, as well as England, will be able to gather and to store up in their own homes, and to say, as they show them to their children,"" Here, children, are the "best memorials of a mighty monarch; the legacy, which the great Alfred bequeathed to his countrymen, more precious than "the jewels which adorn the crown of Victoria, of more worth "than the revenues of kings. Here are contained the burning "words of him, whose life was only long enough to fulfil the work "which was allotted him, who died worn out with the toils of saving his own generation from ruin, and yet has left these "writings behind him to enlighten all succeeding generations. These, children, are the WORKS OF KING Alfred the Great, of
ENGLAND AND THE ENGLISH,
IN THE TIME OF KING ALFRED.
HARMONY OF THE CHRONICLERS,
DURING THE LIFE OF KING ALFRED:
A. D. 849-901.
The history of King Alfred's Life and Times is to be gathered from three different classes of written records :
1. CHRONICLES Containing a notice of public and private events during the period in which King Alfred lived; i. e. from the year 849 to the year 901.
2. Incidental notices of those times, found in other writings, such as Homilies, Letters, Councils, Charters &c, whether contemporary or of a later date.
3. The writings of King Alfred himself.
Of King Alfred's own writings, as published collectively, in these volumes, it is unnecessary here to speak.
The second of the three classes of documents, above-mentioned, namely Homilies, Letters, Councils, Charters, and other short pieces, furnishing incidental notices of King Alfred's life and times, have, up to the present time, been only partially collected, and are still in so uncertain a state, being mostly unpublished, and the information which each of them furnishes is so little, that we need