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we still have to thank them for having given us the means, by the multiplication of printed copies of Anglo-Saxon books, of correcting their errors.
Until comparatively recent times a few scattered particulars only were known respecting the Anglo-Saxon race. A barren list of the names of kings, and the battles which they fought, made up the greater portion of Anglo-Saxon story. With the state of society, or the state of knowledge, existing amongst them, of their prose or poetic compositions, we knew but little. Whilst the shelves of our libraries are filled with works written in the dark ages, (as we are apt to term the period preceding the Conquest,) on every subject of study then known, either in the vernacular or in the Latin tonguematerials sufficient to convince the most sceptical that they had made great progress in civilization-we have considered them a race of piratical barbarians, whose history and whose institutions were unworthy of our study. But we have fallen on better times; an ardent spirit of research has arisen on the subject of our early history, and, whilst we trace the progress of society in the changes of its institutions, may we hope that the language which Chaucer, and Shakspeare, and Byron have rendered immortal, will, in its older forms, soon receive from the instructors of the rising generation the attention which it so richly deserves.
Independent of the personal interest which, as Englishmen, we take, or ought to take, in the history of our country, there is superadded the important consideration which it affords us of thereby elucidating the history of the human mind, and of explaining the reason of the fact, that the inhabitants of an island so small as that on which we live should have spread her name, and language, and power, over the whole earth.
Whether the Saxons, on their invasion of Britain, possessed a knowledge of written language, has been much disputed. Like most of the Teutonic race, they employed Runes to record their events. These Runes were supposed to possess magical powers. After their conversion to Christianity, the Roman missionaries taught them to write in the manner in which they had been accustomed; hence the origin of what
we now term the Anglo-Saxon letters; but there are three only which strictly possess that character, and they are derived apparently from the ancient Runes. These are, p, th, Ồ, dh, and p, equivalent to our w.* What we term the Saxon alphabet was that in general use in this country from the sixth to the thirteenth century. We have thought fit to adopt it as Anglo-Saxon, and works in the Anglo-Saxon language are generally printed in this character; although, on the Continent, the modern Roman alphabet has been substituted, with the exception of the p and 8, and this latter practice has found strenuous advocates amongst us.†
But if, in the absence of direct evidence, we are left in some doubt respecting the knowledge of written language, possessed by the Anglo-Saxons, the early patronage of literature by their kings, leaves us in no doubt respecting their progress, when once they had begun to study the new art of “bóccræft." The pilgrimages to Rome, which, for religious purposes, were undertaken soon after the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, introduced the learning, as well as the teachers of the then mistress of the world. A prospect of worldly advancement induced some, whilst religious motives guided others, to visit the "isles of the west." The monks brought with them, not only the sacred writings, but also the works of the great writers of Greece and Rome. These were deposited in monasteries, where they were preserved with great care, and formed the ground-work of those MS. collections in which our own country is perhaps richer than any other.
The religion introduced by Gregory and Augustin was, of course, that professed at Rome. It was a compound of doctrines, ritual, discipline, and polity, derived partly from the Scriptures, partly from the decisions and orders of former councils and popes, intermixed with the popular customs and superstitions. The pope continued his attentions to his
* Palgrave's Hist. Anglo-Saxons, vol. i. p. 149.
† See Gent. Mag. April, 1834, p. 392; Rask's Anglo-Saxon Grammar, 1830; Kemble's Letter in Michel's Bib. Anglo-Saxonne, p. 35, and the authors there referred to.
infant church. He sent Augustin the pall, with a letter of instructions on the formation of the English hierarchy. Desirous of promoting literature amongst the new converts, he sent many MSS. of books, accompanied by ecclesiastical vessels, vestments, and ornaments; and thus began the intellectual as well as the religious education of the Anglo-Saxons."
The first school established in England was at Canterbury, at the commencement of the seventh century. Ethelbert, king of Kent, sanctioned Augustin's labours; and after his conversion to Christianity, assisted him in promoting the conversion of his subjects. We afterwards find him distinguished, not only as the first Christian king of the Anglo-Saxons, but also as the author of the first written Anglo-Saxon laws, which have descended to us, or which are known to have been established.†
Sigebert, about the year 631, ascended the throne of East Anglia. In his youth he had fled into France for safety from the arms of Penda, where he became a Christian, and attached himself to study. On his accession, he founded that school in his dominions, which has the distinction of being the first after that of Canterbury, which the Anglo-Saxons established; and also of being supposed to have formed the original germ of the University of Cambridge.‡
The latter portion of the seventh century, however, is the period referred to, as that in which literature was firmly established in England. The archbishop of Canterbury, dying at Rome, in 668, whither he had gone to solicit the papal ratification of his title, the Pope Vitalianus determined to elect a prelate of his own. He accordingly nominated Adrian, by birth an African, and abbot of a monastery near Naples; who declined the proffered honour, and recommended Theodore, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, and at that time a monk in Rome, whom, at his own request, he promised to accompany. The pope approved of his choice. Theodore accepted the appoint
* Bed. Hist. c. 29. Wanley has given a catalogue of the books sent by Gregory, p. 172. See also Turner's Anglo-Saxons, vol. i. p. 344-5. Elstob's Saxon Homily, 1709, Appendix. Turner, vol. i. p. 372.
†Turner, vol. i. p. 345.
ment, and, at the age of sixty-six, was ordained archbishop of Canterbury. His friend Adrian accompanied him to England.*
These men were well versed in Greek and Latin literature, and speaking those languages with equal fluency, their knowledge and conversation excited among the Anglo-Saxons an emulation for literary studies, and drew around them a multitude of scholars, to whom, besides the Scriptures and divinity, they taught the Greek and Latin languages, astronomy, arithmetic, and the art of Latin poetry.† Theodore retained his dignity twenty-one years. He appointed Adrian to the monastery of St. Peter, at Canterbury, who lived there thirty-nine years; and their presence, we are told, made Kent the fountain of knowledge to all England. Their pupils zealously diffused the knowledge they had acquired wherever they went. Schools were established in every monastery, for the education not only of the clergy, but such of the laity as evinced any inclination for literature. The principal deficiency was a competent supply of books. Among the benefactors to literature, Benedict, who founded the abbey of Weremouth, must be mentioned with honour. He went many times from England to Rome, and brought back with him very many books of every description, some given to him by his friends, some purchased not without great cost. And when his earthly career was well nigh ended, he enjoined his successors to preserve with care the library he had collected, that it was not spoiled or scattered by negligence.‡
Egbert, who was archbishop of York in 712, founded a noble library at York.§ It is of this library that Alcuin writes in one of his letters to the Emperor Charlemagne :-" I want those more exquisite books of scholastic erudition which I had
Turner, vol. i. p 396; Lorenz's Life of Alcuin, p. 7; Wright's Essay, p. 31; Bed. Hist. lib. iv. c. i.
Bede, Hist. Abbat. Wiremuth. p. 293-5.
§ A Catalogue of the books in the library at York, chiefly collected by Egbert, is given in Turner's Anglo-Saxons, vol. iii. p. 398.
in my own country. May it then please your wisdom, that I send some of our youths to procure what we need, and to convey into France the flowers of Britain, that they may not be locked up in York only, but that their fragrance and fruit may adorn, at Tours, the gardens and streams of the Loire.”*
The celebrated Bede, he to whom above all others we are so much indebted, began his education at seven years of age, under Benedict, in the monastery of Weremouth. His writings embrace almost every then known subject of science and learning. By their diffusion a flood of light was poured in upon the minds of his countrymen, which, from that time to our own, amidst all the vicissitudes to which books and learning have been subjected, has never ceased to illuminate their path.
Aldfrid, king of Northumbria towards the latter end of the seventh century, is celebrated by Bede as the first literary king of the Anglo-Saxons. He had been educated by Wilfrid of York; and we find that his love of knowledge had extended his fame, and excited the attention of Aldhelm, the celebrated West-Saxon scholar.† Nor was learning confined to ecclesiastics or to kings only. The Anglo-Saxon ladies were not only learners but teachers. For their reading Aldhelm, bishop of Scireburn, wrote his treatise De Laude Virginitatis ; and, in the Epistles of Boniface, we find many letters addressed to him by his female pupils, which shew their acquirements in Latin verse as well as in prose. The instance connected with Alfred's first learning to read may be mentioned. "It chanced one day that his mother, his own mother, Osburga, and not, as some people suppose, the Frenchwoman Judith, shewed to him and his brothers a volume of AngloSaxon poetry which she possessed. He who first can read Alfred's attention was
the book shall have it,' said she. attracted by the bright gilding and colouring of one of the illumined capital letters. He was delighted with the gay, and inquired of his mother-would she really keep her word?
Alcuini Epist., p. 1463; Turner, iii. 20. †Turner, iii. 371.