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CÆDMON AND MILTON.
One of them issues forth, and coils like a winged dragon, perhaps with a cherub's head, round the tree of life; he declares to Adam and Eve that he is sent from God to bid them eat of the fruit which was once forbidden them. Adam refuses, suspecting treachery; but Eve is curious and afraid to disobey an angel; she takes and eats, and her eyes are instantly opened; she sees God on his throne, and the winged hosts that surround him; she hears the stars shouting for joy. Adam is deceived, and takes "the unholy fruit, hell and death," into his mouth: and "the bitterest of messengers" departs with vindictive triumph, to cheer Satan "in the swart hell bound with the clasping of rings.'
The Miltonic character of this description is evident. The devils are not yet the mere monsters of the middle ages and of Dante; they are pale ghosts whose beauty is transformed, but who still retain the traces of faded majesty, and go out armed and helmed into the world. The kingdoms of light and darkness are conceived under the same analogies; the hierarchies in both are established in orderly gradations of rank; there are even traces of a trinity of evil. Again, although the position of hell is defined, its limits are still indeterminate; it is an abyss, with walls and portals, and even with floors, but, though narrow, infinitely deep; three days and nights were the angels falling into it from heaven. The council of the devils together, the circumstances of the embassy, of the temptation, and of the fall, resemble Paradise Lost. The style of Milton is no doubt unapproachable; but the mere story as told by Cadmon has been less hampered by theological difficulties, and is freer and grander than the Puritan poem.
Another part of Cadmon's poem deserves attention for the wide influence the conception exercised, in its many versions,
1 I have compiled Cadmon's kosmogony out of two passages, his paraphrase of Genesis, pp. 16-50, and the introduction to the descent into hell, pp. 265-280, of Mr. Thorpe's edition. I have followed Mr. Thorpe's translation.
2 I infer this from the lines, "Thou saidest us for sooth, that thy son was lord of mankind," (Cædmon, p. 268), and from the fact that the devil who tempts Eve is distinguished from Satan (p. 47), and yet important enough to be cursed.
THE DESCENT INTO HELL.
on the Christian thought of the middle ages. It is the story of the descent into hell, and is drawn from the apocryphal description appended to the gospel of Nicodemus. Cadmon, however, improves very much upon his original, which he probably only knew in some abstract. In the Anglo-Saxon poem, which is unfortunately mutilated, our Lord after death summons a host of angels, and descends to rescue the souls of the just who were in captivity for Adam's sin. "Then came the sound of angels, thunder at dawn," as the King of glory appears before the everlasting portals, and breaks them down that he may enter in and deliver. The devils fight hopelessly, for they know that from this day their punishment will be sterner than before; they will be "thrust further into that deep darkness closely curved where now Satan gloomily prays." At last they are panic-struck, and moan "through the windy hall," ceasing from the war. Then Adam implores Christ for mercy, and confesses the sin for which the world was lost. The father and mother of mankind are pardoned, and the long line of prophets and patriarchs sweep upwards after their Lord into glory.1
Passing over Aldhelm, a florid divine and a writer of Latin riddles in the style of Symposius, the next great name to Cadmon's is that of Bede. Bede's life of about sixty years, 674-735 A.D., was divided between the two monasteries of Jarrow and Wearmouth, in Northumbria, which had been endowed with large estates, and in which an extensive library had been formed by their founder, St. Bennet, in his visits to Italy. When the countless forgeries fathered upon him have been abstracted from the list of Bede's works, he remains the author of from forty to fifty treatises. Of these twenty-five are on the Bible or Biblical subjects; seven on subjects of ecclesiastical history; six on grammar and science, while the rest are made up of epistles, epigrams, and hymns. Original
1 Cædmon, pp. 287-296.
2 Stevenson's introduction to Bede's Hist. Eccles. Mr. Stevenson has shown that the common story of Bede's visit to Rome is without foundation.
3 Bede has left a list of his works at the end of the Ecclesiastical History. Mr. Wright has added several on probable grounds.-Biog. Ang. Sax., pp. 273, 274.
BEDE'S MERITS AND DEFECTS.
thought must not be looked for in a man who was pre-eminently a teacher, not a thinker, and whose dying breath was spent in the intervals of prayer in dictating an educational work, "lest his pupils should read a lie, and so work to no purpose after his death." But if Bede, like Cadmon, wanted the creative faculty, he had high powers of arrangement and exposition. He continues the tradition of Roman learning, even adding to it by fresh knowledge, or correcting it by his vigorous sense;1 his style is nervous and good, with scarcely any admixture of barbarisms; and his patience and love of truth leading him to collect knowledge from all quarters, have made his Ecclesiastical History of inestimable value. His defects are of two kinds, and both are due to the circumstances of his time. Never travelling, deriving his knowledge from ecclesiastics, the Italian followers of the primates Hadrian and Theodore, Bede is altogether wanting in critical power. He could see and avoid what was inconsistent in two different narratives, but he could not distinguish true from false where both had been moulded together into some new form; in the region of the supernatural, he is as credulous as the meanest of his contemporaries. Again, Greek and Latin thought had only produced satisfactory results in ethics and metaphysics; the pagan were now supplanted by the Christian ethics, but the philosophy of Plato had been discarded as a dangerous study, and would have been unintelligible, unless diluted through the medium of a father. If we can conceive England suddenly deprived of its upper classes, all interest in inductive philosophy abandoned, the study of Darwin and Mill proscribed as dangerous, education completely in the hands of a half-educated clergy, and literature reduced to a few standard poets and the text-books of training
"His work displays an advance, not a retrogradation, of human knowledge." -Turner's Anglo-Saxons, vol. iii., p. 403; quoted by Giles, Bede, Op. Sc., p. iv.
2 Introduction to Bede's H. E., p. ix. It is not certain whether Bede was actually under these men, but it is highly probable, as they came into the north, as he mentions them with high praise, and as the teaching they gave in metres, astronomy, and the calculation of Easter, was very much what his own works reproduce.-H. E., lib. iv., cap. 2.
BEDE'S THEORY OF THE UNIVERSE.
schools, it will give some idea of the actual state of the country in the eight century. Bede was not a man to create philosophy anew having before him abundant stores of knowledge, as he esteemed them, he did not care to speculate; the Bible was an inexhaustible study; grammar, which in those days seemed halfdivine, the knowledge of "the word," attracted and occupied him, and in chronology he became so great an authority that portions of his work were still in repute in the sixteenth century.1
But Bede's theory of the kosmos is too important to be lightly passed over, for it influenced English thought through the whole of the middle ages. Its main sources are the Bible and Ptolemy. The earth is conceived as a selfpoised sphere, with an undulating surface around which the ocean flows. Above the earth is the firmament, equi-distant everywhere from the centre of earth, and revolving around it in a rapid course, only moderated by the planets and the sun. Man, therefore, has been placed upon the one fixed spot in the universe. Above the firmament is the higher heaven, one sheet of fire, which God has parted by a veil of ice from the firmament, lest all nature should be consumed. The angels live in the burning glory above, but are able to descend at times and take men's nature upon them. Between the firmament and the earth, is the air peopled by the souls who expect judgement. In the centre of earth is the pit of hell. All things consist of the union of the four elements, which blend in virtue of their sympathetic qualities, the cold earth having an electric affinity for the cold water; while their antagonistic qualities are always carrying them apart, the hot fire rising upwards, the heavy earth sinking upon itself. In this balance of opposition and affinity consists the order of
1 Rabelais, lib. ii., caps. 18-20. The treatise attacked under the name De Numeris et Signis, was probably a separate edition of the first four chapters of Bede's book De Temporum Ratione.
2 Thus, in the vision of Dryhthelm, hell is “vallis multæ profunditatis barathrum abyssus."-Bede, H. E., lib. v., c. 12. So in an old fragment from the metrical Lives of the Saints, "the right pit of hell is amid the earth within."-Wright's Popular Treatises on Science, p. 132.
LIFE AND CHARACTER OF ALCUIN.
nature; and in the excess of any quality are disorder and death; pestilence, for instance, is derived either from excess of heat, the burning breath of the wind, or from excess of moisture corrupting the other elements. The symmetry of this theory of the universe is remarkable; it is complete in every part; and clearly only a step is wanting to elicit the doctrine of an original matter from whose unity the four elements have been developed.1
The mantle of Bede fell upon Alcuin, who was born in 735 A.D., at York, of a noble family, and became in course of time the master of the school where he had been trained. His chief celebrity, however, is derived from his connection with Charlemagne, whom he met in Parma, having been sent on a mission to Italy, and by whom he was persuaded to settle in France. The last twenty-two years of Alcuin's life (782-804 A.D.) were accordingly passed at the imperial court, in the enjoyment of his patron's highest favour, and richly endowed.2 His duties were to organize education in the national schools, and to train Charlemagne and his court in the abstract sciences. Probably a better man could not have been found at the time. He was not, indeed, of first-rate capacity: he was a pedant and affected; under his influence, the imperial generals and statesmen were tainted with a singular Della Cruscaism; Charlemagne is styled David in their intercourse; Angilbert, Homer; and Alcuin himself, Flaccus. But Alcuin's heart was in the right place. Himself a strict churchman, who reformed the abbeys in his gift, and wishing to free the clergy from all dependence on the secular courts, he yet remonstrated with Charlemagne against his oppression of the Huns and Saxons in the cause of orthodoxy; and we find him in his Rhetoric distinctly laying down the doctrine that reason is of no creed; and that only right results must be looked to in the sciences."
1 Bede, De Naturâ Rerum, caps. 2, 4, 5, 7, 37, 45.
2 Biog. Ang. Sax.; Art., Alcuin.
3 Alcuin, Epist. 33, 96. He advises gentleness in the exaction of tithes.Rhet., p. 324. Alcuin has quoted a story of an ancient philosopher; Carolus :