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feast to the stable, where he had that night charge of the cattle, there appeared to him in his sleep One who said, greeting him by name, 'Sing, Cædmon, some song to Me.' • I cannot sing,' he answered ; .for this cause left I the feast and came hither.' He who talked with him answered, · However that be, you shall sing to Me.' What shall I sing ?' rejoined Cædmon. • The beginning of created things,' replied He. In the morning the cowherd stood before Hild, the abbess, and told his dream. Abbess and brethren alike concluded, that heavenly grace had been conferred on him by the Lord.' They translated for Cædmon a passage in Holy Writ, bidding him, if he could, put the same in verse.' The next morning he gave it them composed in excellent verse, whereon the abbess, understanding the divine grace in the man, bade him quit the secular habit and take on him the monastic life.”
This was late in the seventh century, and in the eighth a poet of great power named Cynewulf wrote on sacred
and serious themes. Four poems are signed by Cynewulf.
him in a singular manner, by putting the runes which spelled his name into the midst or at the end of each of these poems, and working them into the text. Other poems, the "Andreas," or expedition of Saint Andrew to rescue Saint Matthew, and the “ Dream of the Rood,” in which the Cross is personified, are attributed to him from internal evidence. Whoever the writer may have been, they illustrate the moral seriousness, simplicity, and imaginative force of the Anglo-Saxon mind.
Anglo-Saxon prose is of greater bulk than is AngloSaxon poetry. This is largely due to King Alfred, who Anglo-Saxon
translated or caused to be translated the “ConProse. solations of Boëthius,” the “History of Orosius," and the Latin History” of Bede, and gathered or com
piled the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," which was kept up with less completeness for two centuries after his death.
This last, with the “ Ecclesiastical History” of the Venerable Bede, is the foundation authority for early English history. Bede (673-735), one of the most beautiful characters brought out by the action of Christianity on the strong, simple nature of the primitive peoples, spent all his life in Saint Paul's Monastery at Jarrow
on-Tyne. He says himself, “ I spent my whole
life in the same monastery, and while attentive to the rule of my order, and the services of the church, my constant pleasure lay in learning or teaching or writing.” Early monasteries were the conservators of the learning and culture of the day, and Bede became the greatest scholar and teacher of his time. He compiled or composed a large number of works in Latin, of which the * Ecclesiastical History," before mentioned, was the most considerable. He died just as he had finished a translation of Saint John's Gospel into Anglo-Saxon. This is lost. His pupil, Saint Cuthbert, tells the story of his death, which though printed in every history will bear another repetition :
"I do not want my boys to read a lie,' he answered those who would have him rest, «or to work to no purpose after I am gone.' A few days before Ascension-tide his sickness grew upon him, but he spent the whole day in teaching, only saying cheerfully to his scholars, Learn with what speed you may; I know not how long I may last.' The dawn broke on another sleepless night, and again the old man called his scholars around him and bade them write. There is still a chapter wanting,' said the scribe as the morning drew on, “and it is hard for thee to question thyself any longer. It is easily done,' said Bede, 'take thy pen and write quickly. Amid tears and farewells the day wore on to eventide. There is yet one sentence
unwritten, dear Master,' said the boy. “Write it quickly,' said the dying man. • It is finisbed now,' said the little scribe at last. You speak truth,' said the master, “all is finished now. Placed upon the pavement, his head supported in his scholar's arms, his face turned to the spot where he was wont to pray, Bede chanted the solemn .Glory to God.' As his voice reached the close of the song he passed quietly away.” — GREEN's Short History of the English People.
Bede, the first English scholar, and Alfred, the first English statesman, are alone enough to give dignity to the Anglo-Saxon period. The writings of Bede, though in Latin, contributed to the development of the English mind, and may properly be considered a part of the literature of the period even before they were translated.
Anglo-Saxon literature can be divided into that written under the old heathen and that under the Christian in
spiration. Of the former, “Beowulf” is the Characteris
chief example. But the old war imagery pertics of Anglo-Saxon sists even in the Christian poems, and Christian Literature.
conceptions are translated in the heroic spirit. Familiarity with the sea and impressions from the wild aspects of nature are evident. Courage, truthfulness, and loyalty to chieftain and comrades are the virtues glorified in song from “ Beowulf” to the “ Battle of Maldon,” as well as recognition of the duty of the leader to protect his people and sacrifice himself for them if need be.
These underlying qualities persist in their descendants, but we can understand them best by noting them in their source. There is also in Anglo-Saxon poetry an ever-present perception of the seriousness of life embodied in the conception of "wyrd," or destiny, which no man can avoid, but which every one must meet with firmness.
The Anglo-Saxons were a race of fighters, and turbu
lence seems at first to be the distinguishing mark of their history. They were undoubtedly cruel to their enemies, but humanity and pity are virtues of later growth. The student must guard carefully against the mistake of supposing that the early races with the future before them were in any way analogous to modern barbarous races whose development has been arrested and who are hopelessly out of the line of progress. The readiness with which the Anglo-Saxons assimilated the fundamental Christian ideas, and the simplicity and earnestness of some of their early saints, who, too, were held in veneration by the entire community, show that our forefathers were far more than merely bold pirates and ruthless, stubborn savages.
Their poetry proves that at bottom they were responsive to the ideas of sincerity and moral earnestness.
They were not an artistic, though they were a poetic, race, and it would be absurd to look for the harmony of Greek poetry in their verse. Still more absurd would it be to look for the technical finish and the refined conceptions of the poetry of a later civilization. They were primitive, and their imaginative production has some of nature's qualities, — absence of artificiality, conceit, and affectation.
What traits have been contributed by the Saxon and the Celt respectively to the English character? What qualities to the literature ?
Show by examples how literature, especially primitive literature, is an exponent and mirror of the national character.
Which of the Old English dialects became dominant for literary purposes and kept its position throughout the Anglo-Saxon period?
Name the chief characteristic of Old English poetry, as to technique; as to subject matter.
Do popular ballads, war songs, and legends, passed from mouth to mouth among the people and preserved chiefly in the memories of gleemen and minstrels, constitute a literature ?
In general, what ethical conceptions of duty, of destiny, of providence, are expressed or implied in Anglo-Saxon poetry?
ARNOLD, M. Celtic Literature.
v. 1, c. 2-4. 1895.