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LECTURE I

CYNEWULF

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“ As Cynewulf's life fell within the reigns of two notable English kings, Offa and Egbert ; as he was the contemporary of Charlemagne, and probably outlived him, and as we cannot suppose that he was wholly blind to the course of events in his own day, he may have had some premonition of the influence which his poetry would exert, and therefore have taken precautions that his name should not perish, by interweaving it into the substance of his verse.

That he, like Alfred, loved the poetry of his native tongue, is beyond question. Caedmon, who knew no Latin, could only sing in English, if at all; Aldhem, who knew Latin, wrote only in that language; Bede has left us but one brief English poem, though the vigour which that displays is evidence that he was under no necessity of writing in Latin; so that Cynewulf is the first Christian poet who, being thoroughly conversant with Latin, deliberately adopted the vernacular as the vehicle for a considerable body of poetry, and in this showed himself at once a good scholar, a good Christian, and a good patriot."

A. S. Cook.

THE

CHRIST OF ENGLISH POETRY

LECTURE I

CYNEWULF

Worship God : for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy."

-REVELATION xix. 10.

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In the belief that “prophecy is an attribute of poetry rather than poetry an attribute of prophecy,' proposing in the four lectures which it is my duty to deliver in this place, to ask you to consider with me the varied witness which has been borne by four representative poets of England, to the Person and the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Let me begin with a preliminary question.

What is the secret of that immortal story which now for more than sixty generations of Gospel readers has wrought its unfailing spell upon the heart of humanity? What is the source and origin of that compelling motive which alone in the experience of Christendom has been found potent to make bad men good, and to bring to good men the abiding vision of eternal life, the abiding vision of the best that is hidden in temporal things ?

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