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Alfred the Great was twelve years old before he could read. He had admired a beautifully illuminated book of Saxon poetry in his mother's hands, and she allured him to learn by promising him the splendid volume as a reward. From that hour he diligently improved himself; and, in the end, built up his mind so strongly, and so high, and applied its powers so beneficially to his kingdom, that no monarch of the thousand years since his rule attained to be reputed, and called, like Alfred, the great. He always carried a book in his bosom, and amidst the great business and hurries of government, snatched moments of leisure to read. In the early part of his reign, he was
Cast from the pedestal of pride by shocks,
Invaded, overwhelmed, and vanquished by foreign enemies, he was compelled to fly for personal safety, and to retreat alone, into remote wastes and forests:—"learning policy from adversity, and gathering courage from misery,"
Where living things, and things inanimate,
—For the man ,
No vengeance, and no hatred, needs must feel
—Contemplating these forms,
Alfred became our greatest legislator, and pre-eminently our patriot king for when he had secured the independence of the nation, he rigidly enforced au impartial administration of justice; renovated the energies of his subjects by popular institutions for the preservation of life, property and order , secured public liberty upon the basis of law; lived to see the prosperity of the people, and to experience their affection for the commonwealth of the
kingdom ; and died so convinced of their loyalty, that he wrote in his last will, "The English have an undoubted right to remain free as their own thoughts.'' It was one of his laws that freemen should train their sons " to know God, to be men of understanding, and to live happily." The whole policy of his government was founded upon "the beginning of Wisdom." The age was simple, and the nation poor; but the people were happy. Little was known of the arts, and of science less. A monarch's state-carriage was like a farmer's waggon, and his majesty sat in it holding in his hand a long stick, having a bit of pointed iron at the top, with which he goaded a team of oxen yoked to the vehicle.
Ours is an age of civilization and refinement, in which art has arrived to excellence, and science has erected England into a great work-house for the whole world. The nation is richer than all the other nations of Europe, and distinguished from them by Mammon-worship, and abject subserviency to Mammon-worshippers, the enormous heaps of wealth accumulated by unblest means; the enlarging radius of indigence around every Upas-heap; the sudden and fierce outbrcakings of the hungry and ignorant; and, more than all, a simultaneous growth of selfishness with knowledge ; are awful signs of an amalgamation of depravity with the national character. Luxury prevails in all classes: private gentlemen live "like lords," tradesmen and farmers like gentlemen, and there is a universal desire to " keep up appearances," which situations in life do not require, and means cannot afford. The getters and keepers of money want more and get more ; want more of more, and want and get, and get and want, and live and die—wanting happiness. Thoughtless alike of their uses as human beings, and their final destiny, many of them exhibit a cultivated intellect of a high order, eagerly and heartlessly engaged in a misery-making craft. Are these " the English" contemplated bv Alfred?
Life's Autumn past, I stand on Winter's verge,
Of a most rustic ignorance
than see and hear
The repetitions wearisome of sense,
Where soul is dead, and feeling hath no place;
Where knowledge, ill begun in cold remark
On outward things, with formal inference ends
Or if the mind turns inward 'tis perplexed,
Lost in a gloom of uninspired research;
Meanwhile, the Heart within the Heart, the seat
Where peace and happy consciousness should dwell,
On its own axis restlessly revolves,
Yet no where finds the cheering light of truth.
Most of us may find, that we have tnucti to unlearn: yet evil indeed must we be, if we do not desire that our children may not be worse for what they learn from us, and what they gather from their miscellaneous reading. In selecting materials for the Every-Day Book, and Table Book, I aimed to avoid what might injure the youthful mind ; and in the Year Book there is something more, than in those works, of what seemed suitable to ingenuous thought. For the rest, I have endeavoured to supply omissions upon subjects which the Every-Day Book and the Table Book were designed to include; and, in that, I have been greatly assisted by very kind correspondents.
IS, Gracechurcbstreet, January, 1832
Now, musing o'er the changing scene
Clake's Shepherd's Calendar.
With an abundance of freshly accumu lated materials, and my power not lessened, for adventuring in the track pursued in the Every-Day Book, I find, gentle reader, since we discoursed in that work, that the world, and all that is therein, have changed —I know not how much, nor whether to the disadvantage of my present purpose. It is my intention, however, to persevere in my endeavours to complete a popular and full record of the customs, the seasons, and the ancient usages of our country.
Each new year has increased my early likings, and my love for that quiet without which research cannot be made either into
antiquity, or a man's self. The most bustling are not the busiest. The " fool in the forest" was not the melancholy Jaquos: he bestowed the betrothed couples, recommended them to pastime, and withdrew before the sports began. My present doings are not with the great business that bestirs the world, yet I calculate on many who are actors in passing events finding leisure to recreate with the coming pages, where will be found many things for use, several things worth thinking over, various articles of much amusement, nothing that I have brought together before, and a prevailing feeling which is well described in these verses—
POWER AND GENTLENESS.
I've thought, in gentle and ungentle hour,
Of many an act and giant shape of power;
Of the old kings with high exacting looks,
Sceptred and globed; of eagles on their rocks
With straining feet, and that fierce mouth and drear,
Answering the strain with downward drag austere;
Of the rich-headed lion, whose huge frown,
All his great nature, gathering, seems to crown;
Then of cathedral, with its priestly height,
Seen from below at superstitious sight;
Of ghastly castle, that eternally
Holds its blind visage out to the lone sea;
And of all sunless subterranean deeps
The creature makes, who listens while he sleeps,
Avarice; and then of those old earthly cones
That stride, they say, over heroic bones;
And those stone heaps Egyptian, whose small doors
Look like low dens under precipitous shores;
And him great Memnon, that long sitting by
In seeming idleness, with stony eye,
Sang at the morning's touch, like poetry;
And then of all the fierce and bitter fruit
Of the proud planting of a tyrannous foot;—
Of bruised rights, and flourishing bad men;
And virtue wasting heav'nwards from a den;
Brute force and fury; and the devilish drouth
Of the fool cannons ever-gaping mouth;
And the bride widowing sword; and the harsh bray
The sneering trumpet sends across the fray;
And all which lights the people-thinning star
That selfishness invokes,—the horsed war
Panting along with many a bloody mane.
I've thought of all this pride and all this pain