« ZurückWeiter »
ners so beautiful in youth, and your name will become celebrated through the world. But as I wish you not to be sluggish, so neither be proud. I worship the recesses of the devout and humble breast."
In a poem on the "Saints of the Church of York," Alcuin pays a beautiful tribute to Elbert, his predecessor as master of the cathedral school, who, after instruction in the liberal arts, led his students to the Scriptures:
"Then, last and best, he opened up to view
The depths of Holy Scripture, Old and New.
Then him the master cherished, taught, and loved;
Bede may be justly regarded as the father of English prose. From an interesting autobiographical sketch at the close of his "Ecclesiastical History," we learn the leading events in his unpretentious life. He was born in 673, near the monastery of Jarrow in northern England. As pupil, deacon, and priest, he passed his entire life in that monastic institution. The leisure that remained to him. after the faithful performance of his various official duties, he assiduously devoted to learning; for he always took delight, as he tells us, "in learning, teaching, and writing." He was an indefatigable worker, and wrote no less than forty-five separate treatises, including works on Scripture, history, hymnology, astronomy, grammar, and rhetoric, in which is embodied all the learning of his age.
His scholarship and aptness as a teacher gave celebrity to the monastic school at Jarrow, which was attended at one time by six hundred monks in addition to many secu
lar students. His fame extended as far as Rome, whither he was invited by Pope Sergius, who wished the benefit of his counsel. He led an eminently simple, devout, and earnest life. He declined the dignity of abbot, lest the duties of the office might interfere with his studies. As a writer he was clear, succinct, and artless.
Latin, is our
astical History," which was composed in chief source of information in regard to the early AngloSaxon church. The credulity he exhibits in regard to ecclesiastical miracles was characteristic of his time.
His pupil Cuthbert has left us a pathetic account of his death. Industrious to the last, he was engaged on an Anglo-Saxon version of St. John. It was Wednesday morning, the 27th of May. One of his pupils, who was acting as scribe, said to him: "Dearest 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 write fast." In the afternoon he called his friends together, distributed a few simple gifts, and then amidst their tears bade them a solemn farewell. At sunset his scribe said: "Dear master, there is yet one sentence not written." He answered: "Write quickly." "It is finished now," said the scribe at last. "You have spoken truly," the aged scholar replied; “it is finished. Receive my head into your hands, for it is a great satisfaction to me to sit facing the holy place where I was wont to pray." And thus on the pavement of his little cell, in the year 735, he quietly passed away with the last words of the solemn chant, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost."
Thus closed the life of the first great English scholar.
Not inaptly did later ages style him the Venerable Bede. "First among English scholars, first among English theologians, first among English historians, it is in the monk of Jarrow that English literature strikes its roots. In the six hundred scholars who gathered round him for instruction, he is the father of our national education. In his physical treatises he is the first figure to which our science looks back." 1
The Old English or Anglo-Saxon, which was first reduced to writing after the establishment of Christian schools, belongs to the Aryan or Indo-European group of languages. The other principal members of this group, besides the Teutonic branch to which the Anglo-Saxon belongs, are the Indic, the Iranic, the Hellenic, the Italic, the Celtic, and the Slavonic. They all sprang originally from the same mother-tongue, the home of which is commonly supposed to have been central Asia. Their relationship is clearly established by the substantial identity of many words and grammatical forms. The following diagram shows the relative age and remoteness from each other of these different branches or classes, together with the dates of their earliest literary records:
8 5 7 6 4 3 2
A. Aryan or Indo-European Stock.
I. Indic, Sanskrit Vedas, 1500 B.C.
2. Iranic, Bactrian Avesta, 1000 B.C.
3. Hellenic, Greek, 800 B.C.
4. Italic, Latin, 200, B.C.
5. Teutonic, Gothic Bible, fourth century.
6. Celtic, eighth century.
7. Slavonic, Bulgarian Bible, fourth century. 8. Anglo-Saxon, eighth century.
1 Green, "History of the English People," Vol. 1.
The Anglo-Saxon belongs to the Teutonic branch of the Aryan family, and is closely related, on the one hand, to German, and on the other to Scandinavian. It is an inflected language with four cases. In England it was divided into four dialects, the Northumbrian, the Mercian, the Kentish, and the West Saxon. Most of our Anglo-Saxon remains are in the West Saxon dialect, though it is from the Mercian, which was spoken in central England, that modern English is most directly derived. The Lord's Prayer in Anglo-Saxon, with an interlinear translation, will serve for illustration.
Ure Fæder, thu the eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod. Our Father, thou who art in [the] heavens, be thy name hallowed. Tocume thin rice. Geweorthe thin willa on eorthan swa-swa May come thy kingdom. Be thy will on earth on heofonum. Sele us to-dæg urne dæg-hwamlican hlaf. in [the] heavens. Give us to-day our daily forgif us ure gyltas swa-swa we fogifath urum gyl-tendum. forgive us our guilts as we forgive our guilty ones.
læd thu us on costnunge. lead thou us into temptation.
bread (loaf). And
Ac alys us from yfel. Si hit swa.
The first literature of a people is poetry. In national as in individual life, the imagination is active during the period of youth. Among the Anglo-Saxons, as among some other nations, narrative poems, before they were reduced to writing, were sung by the wandering glee
"A man of celebrity, mindful of rhythms,
1" Beowulf," xiv.
The most pleasing picture that comes to us from the early days of our English forefathers, is that of the scop or gleeman at their feasts. While the stern warriors sit at their long tables and quaff their mead in the large hall hung with shields and armor, and lighted by great blazing logs on the hearth, the rude poet, to the sound of his harp, recounts the deeds of heroes in rhythmical song.
The principle of Anglo-Saxon poetry is not rhyme nor metre, but alliteration. Each line is divided into two parts by a cæsura, and two principal words of the first hemistich, and one of the second, regularly begin with the same consonant. If these principal words begin with vowels, they are different. Parallelism the repetition of the same thought in different words, as in Hebrew poetryis also common. The following extract from "Beowulf" exhibits the Anglo-Saxon alliterative form :
"His armor of iron-off him he did then,
His helmet from his head - to his henchman committed,
The language of Anglo-Saxon poetry is abrupt, elliptical, and highly metaphorical, but often of great energy. The range of ideas is necessarily limited. From what we already know of the life and character of the Angles and Saxons, it is not difficult to understand the spirit of their poetry. Not love, but war and religion form its leading themes. Its prevailing tone, especially of that portion which contains an echo of the continental home of the Angles and Saxons, is one of sadness. The inhospitable climate of northern Germany, and the stern struggle for