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In the passage quoted from Beowulf the first line has rhythmical accents on "Hroðgar," "hal," and "Hygelaces; " the second, on "mæg," "mago-," and "mærða; " the third, on "-gun-," "geogope," and "Grendles; " the fourth (vowel-alliteration any vowel alliterating with any other), on the first syllables of "epel-tyrf" and "undyrne." The first half of the first and second lines and the second half of the third have five syllables each; the second half of the first and the first half of the fourth have six syllables; the second half of the second and the first half of the third line have seven syllables; and the second half of the fourth has four. (2) Subject-matter. The subject-matter of this poetry is very limited it deals with religion or with heroes. Nature, except the sea, produces no outbursts of feeling from AngloSaxon poets. A sense of humor seems not to have been among their gifts. The emotion of love, which has occasioned so many of the greatest poems in all languages, finds no expression in their verse.
(3) Style. The lack of these features does not, however, signify a lack of interest for the reader. Even in translation we may see the poet's fondness for striking figures of speech, especially metaphors, very frequently in the form of compound words. For example, the body is called the “bonehouse," the dragon in Beowulf is a "twilight-flier," the sun is "God's bright candle," the sea is "the whale-road," the ship is a "wave-rider." The devotion of warriors to their leader, the bravery and magnanimity of the leader himself, the universal practice of hospitality, make a real appeal to the reader who is not entirely dominated by modern ideas of poetic art.
The "Venerable" Beda. The earliest prose-writer of Saxon England wrote almost wholly in Latin; and his one
work in Anglo-Saxon - a translation of the Gospel of Saint John is not extant. This is Bede, or Beda, usually called the "Venerable" Beda, after the epitaph placed over his grave in Durham by a devoted admirer. His whole life (673-735) was spent in the county of Durham, most of it in the monastery of Jarrow, at the mouth of the river Tyne.
His most important work is Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum ("Ecclesiastical History of the English People"), which is our main dependence for the facts of English history from the time of Cæsar's invasion (55 B.C.). The "Ecclesiastical History" holds a place in English literature by reason of its translation into Anglo-Saxon by Alfred a century and a half after Beda's death.
From North to South. Cædmon, Cynewulf, Beda, all lived in northern England, the country of the Angles. Here in the great monasteries had been gathered extensive libraries in connection with which schools were established. Their influence was felt not only in England but also on the continent, whither some of the English scholars went, taking with them copies of the works treasured in the monastic libraries.
With the ninth century, as a result of the Danish invasions, the chief home of England's literary activity shifted from north to south. Landing in the north, the Danes laid waste the country, ruthlessly destroying the monasteries, and threatening the entire land. That they were stopped before making a complete conquest was due to the bravery and effective leadership of Alfred, King of Wessex (i.e., of the West Saxons), called the Great. At Edington in Wiltshire in 878 the Danes were defeated, and shortly afterward, by the Treaty of Wedmore, acknowledged Alfred as chief ruler of the country.
Alfred's Literary Labors. With the success of Alfred on the field of battle came the ascendency of his kingdom in literature as well as in politics. From the time of his accession, seven years before the Treaty of Wedmore, he had set himself to arouse interest in education and religion, founding new religious houses and attracting scholars to them, translating many Latin works of interest and profit to Englishmen.
Among the works put into English by Alfred himself or by men associated with him are: History of the World, by Orosius, a Spanish priest of the fifth century; Consolations of Philosophy, by Boethius (pronounced Bō e'thi ŭs), a Roman
1 All of these works were, of course, in manuscript. See page 36 ff.
who is supposed to have written the book while in prison for political crimes; the Pastoral Care (a hand-book for priests), by Pope Gregory I; and the Ecclesiastical History of Beda. The works are not always literally translated, the Consolations of Philosophy in particular showing great freedom in rendering, and containing many passages inserted by Alfred himself.
In his Preface to the Pastoral Care King Alfred laments
STATUE OF KING ALFRED, WINCHESTER.
the decay of learning in England, and lays plans for the revival of it. Writing to his bishops, he says:
"It has very often come into my mind what wise men there were formerly throughout England, both of sacred and secular orders; and how happy times there were then throughout England. . . . So general was the decay of learning in England that there were very few who could understand their rituals in English when I came to the throne. . . . Therefore it seems better to me, if ye think so, for us to translate some books which are most needful for men to know into the language which
we can all understand, and for you to do as we very easily can if we have tranquillity enough, that is that all the youth now in England of free men, who are rich enough to be able to devote themselves to it, be set to learn as long as they are not fit for any other occupation, until they are well able to read English writing; and let those be afterward taught in the Latin language who are to continue learning and be promoted to a higher rank."
ST. MARTIN'S CHURCH, NEAR CANTERBURY.
On this site stood the first church in Britain used by Augustine. "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle."- More important, all things considered, than any of these translations is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, begun under the inspiration of Alfred's illustrious court at Winchester, if not under the direct supervision of the King. This work, based on Beda's history and the additions from various cathedrals and monasteries, was continued to the death of King Stephen in 1154, and is the basis of our knowledge of twelve centuries of British history. The entries vary greatly in length and importance. For the year 444, for example, the entire record is that "Saint Martin died; " whereas for 449 there