Page images

of Cambridge, by Alcuin, in which allusion is made to Bede as still alive, but Alcuin was fifty years later than Bede, and the supposed letter is consequently a forgery.

Sect. 7.-Of his occasional visits to his friends.

WE may therefore infer without hesitation that Bede did not travel far from the monastery. This is both plainly asserted in his own account of his secluded life, and appears also from the want of any evidence to the contrary. Yet it is certain he made visits and excursions to other places; nor can we suppose that he confined himself entirely within the monastery, and never indulged the pleasure of seeing and conversing with his friends. In his own letter to Egbert, archbishop of York, and nephew to king Ceolwulf, he alludes to a visit which he paid to that nobleman and prelate, and acknowledges an invitation to go there for the sake of conferring with him on their common pursuits in the year following. He was unable to comply with this request, in consequence of illness, and therefore communicated with his friend by letter. In another letter, still extant, addressed to Wictred on the celebration of Easter, he speaks of the kindness and affability with which he had been received by him on a former occasion. It is not improbable that he might sometimes likewise pay visits to the court; for Ceolwulf, king of the Northumbrians, in one of whose provinces, i. e. Bernicia, Bede lived, was himself a man of singular learning, and a very great encourager of it in others; and had, doubtlessly, an extraordinary respect for Bede, as appears by his request to him to write the Ecclesiastical History, and by Bede's submitting the papers to him for his perusal. That prince was not only a lover of learned men in general, but especially of that part of them who led a monastic life, insomuch that, about three years after Bede's death, he resigned his crown. and became a monk at Lindisfarne.


Sect. 8.-Of his death.

THE tranquillity of Bede's life, passed, as we have seen, entirely in the monastery of Jarrow, has left it a difficult task for his biographers to extend their accounts of him to * King of Kent,


[ocr errors]

that length which might seem suitable to his reputation and the value of his works. It has been truly remarked that scholars and persons of sedentary habits, though liable to frequent petty illnesses from want of bodily exercise and too great mental exertion, are nevertheless on the whole rather a long-lived race. This rule was not exemplified in the case of Bede. He seems to have contracted at a somewhat early period a complaint in his stomach, accompanied with shortness of breath: "So that," says Malmesbury, "he suffered in his stomach, and drew his breath with pains and sighs.” An attack of this disorder had lately prevented him from visiting his friend archbishop Egbert, and led to his writing him the valuable letter on the duties of a bishop, which we have still extant. We are not informed whether the disorder left him at that time, and came on afresh, when it at last killed him; but it is most probable that he enjoyed general ill health during the last few years of his existence. He was ill some weeks before he died, and was attended by Cuthbert, who had been one of his pupils, and after Huetbert became abbat of the monastery. The Christian piety with which he suffered the dispensation which awaited him, has been the universal theme of panegyric. The whole scene of his increasing malady, his devout resignation, and fervent prayers for all his friends, together with his paternal admonitions for the regulation of their lives, and his uncontrollable anxiety to dictate to the boy who was his amanuensis, even to his last moments, are so beautifully recorded in the letter of his pupil Cuthbert, that we shall not attempt here to describe it in other terms.†



"To his fellow reader Cuthwin, beloved in Christ, Cuthbert, his school-fellow; health for ever in the Lord. I have received with much pleasure the small present which you sent me, and with much satisfaction read the letters of your devout erudition; wherein I found that masses and holy

* Hist. of the Kings of England, lib. i. c. 2.

+ See Simeon. Dunelm. de Ecc. Dun. ap. Twysdeni Scrip. X. I. :5, p. 8. Lelard, Collect. Hearne, IV. iii. 77 Mabilloni Act. Bened. Sec. ii

prayers are diligently celebrated by you for our father and master, Bede, whom God loved: this was what I principally desired, and therefore it is more pleasing, for the love of him (according to my capacity), in a few words to relate in what manner he departed this world, understanding that you also desire and ask the same. He was much troubled with shortness of breath, yet without pain, before the day of our Lord's resurrection, that is, about a fortnight; and thus he afterwards passed his life, cheerful and rejoicing, giving thanks to Almighty God every day and night, nay, every hour, till the day of our Lord's ascension, that is, the seventh before the kalends of June [twenty-sixth of May], and daily read lessons to us his disciples, and whatever remained of the day, he spent in singing psalms; he also passed all the night awake, in joy and thanksgiving, unless a short sleep prevented it; in which case he no sooner awoke than he presently repeated his wonted exercises, and ceased not to give thanks to God with uplifted hands. I declare with truth, that I have never seen with my eyes, nor heard with my ears, any man so earnest in giving thanks to the living God.

"O truly happy man! He chanted the sentence of St. Paul the apostle, 'It is dreadful to fall into the hands of the living God,' and much more out of Holy Writ; wherein also he admonished us to think of our last hour, and to shake off the sleep of the soul; and being learned in our poetry, he said some things also in our tongue, for he said, putting the same into English,

"For tham neod-fere

Nenig wyrtheth

Thances snottra

Thonne him thearf sy

To gehiggene

which means this:

Ær his heonen-gange

Hwet his gaste
Godes oththe yveles
Efter deathe heonen
Demed wurthe.'

"No man is wiser than is requisite, before the necessary departure; that is, to consider before the soul departs hence, what good or evil it hath done, and how it is to be judged after its departure.'

"He also sang antiphons according to our custom and his own, one of which is, 'O glorious King, Lord of all power, who, triumphing this day, didst ascend above all the heavens; do not forsake us orphans; but send down upon us the Spirit

of truth which was promised to us by the Father. Hallelu ah!' And when he came to that word, 'do not forsake us,' ne burst into tears, and wept much, and an hour after he began to repeat what he had commenced, and we, hearing it, mourned with him. By turns we read, and by turns we wept, nay, we wept always whilst we read. In such joy we passed the days of Lent, till the aforesaid day; and he rejoiced much, and gave God thanks, because he had been thought worthy to be so weakened. He often repeated, 'That God scourgeth every son whom he receiveth; and much more out of Holy Scripture; as also this sentence from St. Ambrose, 'I have not lived so as to be ashamed to live among you; nor do I fear to die, because we have a gracious God.' During these days he laboured to compose two works well worthy to be remembered, besides the lessons we had from him, and singing of Psalms; viz. he translated the Gospel of St. John as far as the words: But what are these among so many,' etc. [St. John, vi. 9.] into our own tongue, for the benefit of the church; and some collections out of the Book of Notes of bishop Isidorus, saying: 'I will not have my pupils read a falsehood, nor labour therein without profit after my death.' When the Tuesday before the ascension of our Lord came, he began to suffer still more in his breath, and a small swelling appeared in his feet; but he passed all that day and dictated cheerfully, and now and then among other things, said, 'Go on quickly, I know not how long I shall hold out, and whether my Maker will not soon take me away.' But to us he seemed very well to know the time of his departure; and so he spent the night, awake, in thanks. giving; and when the morning appeared, that is, Wednesday, he ordered us to write with all speed what he had begun ; and this done, we walked till the third hour with the relics of saints, according to the custom of that day. There was one of us with him, who said to him, 'Most dear master, there is still one chapter wanting: do you think it troublesome to be asked any more questions?' He answered, 'It is no trouble. Take your pen, and make ready, and write fast.' Which he did, but at the ninth hour he said to me, 'I have some little articles of value in my chest, such as pepper, napkins, and incense: run quickly, and bring the priests of our monastery to me, that I may distribute "mong them the gifts

which God has bestowed on me. The rich in this world are bent on giving gold and silver and other precious things. But I, in charity, will joyfully give my brothers what God has given unto me.' He spoke to every one of them, admonishing and entreating them that they would carefully say masses and prayers for him, which they readily promised; but they all mourned and wept, especially because he said, 'They should no more see his face in this world.' They rejoiced for that he said, "It is time that I return to Him who formed me out of nothing: I have lived long; my merciful Judge well foresaw my life for me; the time of my dissolution draws nigh; for I desire to die and to be with Christ. Having said much more, he passed the day joyfully till the evening; and the boy, above mentioned, said: "Dear master, there is yet one sentence not written.' He answered, 'Write quickly.' Soon after, the boy said, 'The sentence is now written.' He replied, 'It is well, you have said the truth. It is ended. Receive my head into your hands, for it is a great satisfaction to me to sit facing my holy place, where I was wont to pray, that I may also sitting call upon my Father.' And thus on the pavement of his little cell, singing: 'Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,' when he had named the Holy Ghost, he breathed his last, and so departed to the heavenly kingdom. All who were present at the death of the blessed father, said they had never seen any other person expire with so much devotion, and in so tranquil a frame of mind. For as you have heard, so long as the soul animated his body, he never ceased to give thanks to the true and living God, with expanded hands exclaiming: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost!' with other spiritual ejaculations. But know this, dearest brother, that I could say much concerning him, if my want of learning did not cut short my discourse. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, I purpose shortly to write more concerning him, particularly of those things which I saw with my own eyes, and heard with my own ears.'



As we learn from this letter of Cuthbert that Bede died on St. Ascension-day which he states to have been that year the seventh before the kalends of June, this fact enables u to fix it on the 26th May, in the year of our Lord 735.

The remains of the venerable Bede were placed first under

« PreviousContinue »