Anglo-Saxon Literature
by John Earle
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Tacitus informs us about the god Tuisco, whose name we still keep in Tuesday;[42] about the supremacy of Mercurius,[43] that is, of Woden; and about the form of the boar as a sacred symbol, which was worn on the person for a charm against danger.[44] He also relates the hideous ceremony of a goddess Nerthus, or Mother Earth, who makes her occasional progresses in a wagon drawn by cows, the attendants being slaves who, when the rite is done, are all drowned in a mysterious lake.[45]

2. From the second source we might have expected more than we find. Knowing that the new religion was not established without struggles and delays and relapses, we might have expected that the traces of the dying superstition would have been numerous in Anglo-Saxon literature. And if we had the domestic writings that were produced in the first Christian ardour, such an expectation might have been partially fulfilled. But in any case we should not expect too much from early and unformed literature. It is the mature fruit of long cultivation to produce a literature that reflects the present. Almost all early literature is conventional, because the spontaneous is not esteemed and is not preserved. But whatever might have happened under other conditions, the fact now is that the literature of our first Christian era is almost entirely lost. It perished in the Danish invasions. The works of Beda are, indeed, preserved, and in one sense they make a large exception to the general statement, yet the exception is not one that is of great import for our immediate purpose. His works, even when he is upon a local subject, breathe little of local curiosity or interest. His was a cloistered life, his view was ever directed through the vista of books and learned correspondence towards the central heart of Christianity, and he deigned but rarely to cast a look behind him at the old superstitions of his people. His writings, which are all in Latin, contribute something, but it is little, towards our knowledge of Saxon heathendom. We are indebted to him for an explicit statement about the meaning of the word "Easter." It is as follows:—"Rhedmonath is so called from their goddess Rheda, to whom in that month they sacrificed.... With the people of my nation, the old folk of the Angles, the month of April, which is now styled Paschal Month, had formerly the name of Esturmonath, after a goddess of theirs who was called Eostra, and whose festival is kept in that month; and they still designate the Paschal Season from her name, by force of old religious habit keeping the same name for the new solemnity."[46] This is a sample of what Beda might have told us about the old heathendom, if he had made it a subject of inquiry. The information is the more valuable because it was not forthcoming from any other source. The Germans have an obscure trace of Retmonat; and their starmnoth, which remains as a German name for April (Ostermonat) to the present day, is found as early as Eginhard, the biographer of Charlemagne. But of the deities there is no information anywhere but in Beda. The name of Easter appears related to "East" and the growing strength of the sun. In the Edda a male being, a spirit of light, bears the name of Austri: the German and Saxon tribes seem to have known only a female divinity in this sense. A being with attributes taken from the Dawn and from the Spring of the year, so full of promise and of blessing, might well be tenaciously remembered and retained for Christian use.

We will now proceed to notice the sources which preserve some relics of the old heathenism.


bear the greatest testimony to the former dignity of Woden's name. The royal houses of Kent, Essex, Deira, Bernicia, Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia,—all trace up to Woden. Some go up far above Woden, who has a series of mythological progenitors, the oldest of whom appears to be Scyld, the name which forms the starting-point of the "Beowulf."


In the Kentish code of Wihtrd (d. 725) there are penalties set down for those who sacrifice to devils, meaning heathen gods.

But, on the whole, it is remarkable how little is found on this subject in the codes before Alfred. In the Introduction to Alfred's Laws idolatry is forbidden in two places, not in words of the time, but with the sanction of Scripture texts.

In the Laws of Edward and Guthrum heathenism is denounced with penalties; in the Codes of thelred it is forbidden in a hortatory way; but the most explicit prohibition is that of Canute:—

"5. Of Heathenism. And we strictly forbid all heathenism. It is heathenism for a man to worship idols,—that is, to worship heathen gods, and the sun or moon, fire or flood, water-wells or stones, or any kind of wood-trees, or practise witchcraft, or contrive murder by sorcery."

The latter words seem to point to that form of sorcery known as defixio, wherein an effigy was maltreated, and incantations were used to direct the injury against the life or health of some private enemy, whom the image was taken to represent.


In the Canons of lfric, c. 35, priests are not to attend funereal festivities unless they are invited; and if they are invited, they are to forbid the heathen songs of the lewd men, and their loud cachinnations; and they are not to eat or drink where the corpse is deposited (thr tht lic inne lith), lest they be partakers of the heathen rite which is there celebrated. This seems to be illustrated by a prohibition found in the Capitularies of Charlemagne against eating and drinking over the mounds of the dead; and also by a passage of Boniface (Epist. 71), who says that the Franks immolated bulls and goats to the gods, and ate the sacrifices of the dead. It has been supposed that a number of teeth, of oxen and sheep or goats, which were found among heathen Saxon graves at Harnham, near Salisbury, might be evidence of this practice.[47]

In the "Laws of the Northumbrian Priests," c. 48, it is enacted:—"If there be a sanctuary (frith-geard) in any one's land, about a stone, or a tree, or a wall, or any such vanity, let him that made it pay a fine (lah-slit), half to Christ, half to the landlord (land-rica); and if the landlord will not aid in executing the law, then let Christ and the king receive the mulct."


preserves many traces of heathendom. The unconscious relics of old mythology that are imbedded in the recurrent formul of the heroic diction is one of our strongest proofs that this diction was already matured in heathen times. A very prominent term is Wyrd = Destiny, Fate; which is the same as the Urr of the Scandian mythology, one of the three fates, Urr, Werandi, Skuld = Past, Present, Future. In Wyrd, the whole of the attributes are included under one name; and it counts among the marks of affinity between the Heliand and our Anglo-Saxon literature, that the same thing is observed there also, though in a less distinct manner. In the "Beowulf" it is said:—"Wyrd often keeps alive the man who is not destined to die, if his courage is equal to the occasion." Wyrd is said to weave, to prescribe, to ordain, to delude, to hurt. In Cdmon she is wlgrim = bloodthirsty. And the heathen association may still be felt, even when the name of Wyrd is displaced by a name of the Christian's God, as in "Beowulf" where we read:—"The Lord gave him webs to speed in war."[48] In the Heliand the attributes are less varied, the vaticination is wanting, and Wur seems almost the same as Death.

But the old tradition of the three mysterious women lived on in this island. It is now best known to us through the German Fairy Tales, where we have the three spinning women. In the Middle Ages there was a remembrance of these mysterious visitants in a certain ceremony of spreading a table for three, whether for protection to the house at night, or to bring good luck to the children born in that house. In the Penitential of Baldwin, Bishop of Exeter (twelfth century), this superstition is noted, and the latter motive assigned.

The monks of Evesham kept up a tradition which traced the origin of their house to a vision of three beautiful maidens, in heavenly garments, sweetly singing. They were seen by a swineherd in the forest, when he was in search of a lost swine, and he went to Bishop Ecgwine and told him. The bishop arrived at the place, was favoured with the same vision, and founded the monastery there. The device on the abbey seal represented this vision.

A less pleasing vision of the Three Sisters is narrated by Wulfstan of Winchester, a poet of the tenth century, who has left us a Latin poem of the Miracles of St. Swithun. In it he tells how, coming back one evening towards Winchester, he was met by two hideous females, who commanded him to stop, but he ran away in terror; he was then met and stopped by a third, who struck him a blow from which he suffered for the remainder of his life; but the three women plunged into the river and disappeared.

The same three appear in Macbeth as the Weird Sisters; and it is probably from this connexion that weird has become an adjective for all that savours of heathenism.

A frequent word for battle and carnage is wl, and the root idea of this word is choice, which may be illustrated from the German whlen—to choose. The heathen idea was that Woden chose those who should fall in battle to dwell with him in Walhalla, the Hall of the chosen. In the exercise of this choice, Woden acted by female messengers, called in the Norse mythology valkyrja, pl. valkyrjor.[49]

All superior works in metal, as swords, coats of mail, jewels, are the productions of Weland, the smith. His father is called Wudga, and his son is called Wada; and with this child on his shoulder Weland strides through water nine yards deep. This was matter of popular song down to Chaucer's time:—

He songe, she playede, he told a tale of Wade.

"Troylus and Crescyde," iii., 615.

He had by Beadohild another son, in German named Witeche, who inherited his father's skill and renown. For his violence to Beadohild, Weland was lamed; but he made for himself a winged garment, wherewith he took his flight through the air. He is at once the Daidalos and the Hephaistos of the Greeks. The translator of the Boethian Metres has taken occasion to bring in this heathen god, whose cult (it seems) was still too active. In Metre ii., 7, where Boethius has the line—

Ubi nunc fidelis ossa Fabricii manent?

under colour of faber = smith, which the name Fabricius suggests, Weland is made a fruitful text:—

Hwr sind nu ths wisan Welandes ban, ths goldsmithes the ws gio mrost? Forthy ic cwth ths wisan Welandes ban, forthy ngum ne mg eorthbuendra, se craft losian the him Crist onlnth. Ne mg mon fre thy eth nne wrccan his craftes beniman the mon oncerran mg sunnan on swifan and thisne swiftan rodor of his riht ryne rinca nig. Hwa wat nu ths wisan Welandes ban, on hwelcum hi hlwa hrusan theccen?

Where now are the bones of Weland the wise, that goldsmith so glorious of yore? Why name I the bones of Weland the wise, but to tell you the truth that none upon earth can e'er lose the craft that is lent him by Christ? Vain were it to try, e'en a vagabond man of his craft to bereave; as vain as to turn the sun in his course and the swift wheeling sky from his stated career— it cannot be done. Who now wots of the bones of Weland the wise, or which is the barrow that banks them?

One of the most striking points of contact between our relics of mythology and those of the Edda occurs in the "Beowulf," where mention is made of the famous necklace of the Brosings (or, as Grimm would correct, Brisings).

In the Edda the goddess Freyja is the owner of a precious necklace, called Brsinga men. She had acquired this jewel from the dwarfs, and she kept it in an inaccessible chamber, but, nevertheless, it was stolen from her by Loki. Therefore Loki is Brsings thiofr, the thief of the Brising necklace; and Heimdallr fought with Loki for it. When Freyja is angry the heaving of this ornament betrays her emotion. When Thrr, to get his hammer back, disguises himself as Freyja, he fails not to put on her famous necklace. From its mention in Anglo-Saxon poetry, Grimm would infer the familiarity of the Saxon race with the whole story.[50]

But what adds vastly to the interest of this legend is that we find it in Homer. It is essentially the same with the belt of Aphrodite (Hymn, l. 88). In Iliad xiv., 214, Aphrodite takes it off and lends it to Hr to charm Zeus withal. When we add that just above in the same context (Iliad xiv., 165) Hr also has a curiously contrived chamber, made for her by Hephaistos (Vulcan), the parallel is too close to be mistaken.


Of the old heathen theogony we have a remarkable document in the names of the days of the week; and these names are best preserved to us in the rubrics of the Anglo-Saxon Gospels. These names are supposed to have come from the western shores of Asia, and to have pervaded the nations of Europe, both Roman and barbarian, in the first and second centuries. By a comparison of the sets of names in the two families of nations, we gain certain leading facts about the chief deities of our heathen ancestry, which all the rest of the scattered evidence tends to confirm. Thus our Tuesday, A.-S. Tywes-dg, compared with the French Mardi and its Latin original Martis dies, teaches us that the old god Tiw (who was also called Tir) was recognised as the analogue of the Roman Mars, the god of war. So Wednesday, A.-S. Wodnes-dg, compared with the French Mercredi and its Latin form Mercurii dies, gives us proof that the god Woden answered to the Roman Mercurius. So, too, Thursday, A.-S. Thunres-dg, compared with French Jeudi and Latin Jovis dies, shows that Thunor (whom the Scandinavians call Thor) is the god of thunder, like the Latin Jupiter. So again, Friday, A.-S. Frige-dg, compared with Vendredi and Veneris dies, gives us the analogy of Frige with Venus.[51] Saturday, A.-S. Satrnes-dg, seems like a borrowed name from the Latin Saturnus.

Kemble maintained the probability that Stere was a native divinity, and considered that the local names of Satterthwaite (Lanc.), and Satterleigh (Devon), offered some probable evidence in that direction. More distinct are the local namesakes of Woden. Kemble adduces repeated instances of Wanborough, formerly Wodnesbrook (Surrey, Wilts, Hants), Woodnesborough (Kent), Wanstrow, formerly Wodnestreow = Woden's tree (Somerset), Wansdike, and others.


occasionally denounce and describe the prevalent forms of heathenism still surviving. Thus lfric (i., 474):—"It is not allowed to any Christian man, that he should recover his health at any stone, or at any tree." Wulfstan preaches thus:—"From the devil comes every evil, every misery, and no remedy: where he finds incautious men he sends on themselves, or sometimes on their cattle, some terrible ailment, and they proceed to vow alms by the devil's suggestion, either to a well or to a stone, or else to some unlawful things...."[52]

In an alliterative homily of the tenth century, the heathen gods that are combated are Danish:—[53]

Thes Jovis is arwurthost ealra thra goda, The tha hthenan hfdon on heora gedwilde, and he hatte Thor betwux sumum theodum; thone tha Deniscan leode lufiath swithost. ... Sum man was gehaten Mercurius on life, he was swithe facenful and swicol on dedum, and lufode eac stala and leasbrednysse; thone macodon tha hthenan him to mran gode, and t wega geltum him lac offrodon, and to heagum beorgum him on brohton onsegdnysse. Thes god was arwurthra betwux eallum hthenum, and he is Othon gehaten othrum naman on Denisc.

This Jove is most worshipped of all the gods that the heathens had in their delusion; and he hight Thor some nations among; him the tribes of the Danes especially love. ... There once lived a man Mercurius hight; he was vastly deceitful and sly in his deeds, eke stealing he loved and lying device; him the heathens they made their majestical god, and at the cross roads they offered him gifts, and to the high hills brought him victims to slay. This god was main worthy all heathens among, and his name when translated in Danish is Odin.

An interesting example of the methods used to wean our simple forefathers from their old heathen practices may be seen in a "Spell to restore fertility to land."[54] The preamble sets forth:—"Here is the remedy whereby thou mayest restore thy fields, if they will not produce well, or where any uncanny thing has befallen them, like magic or witchcraft." Four turfs are to be cut before dawn from four corners of the land, and these are to be stacked in a heap, and upon them are to be dropped drops of an elaborate preparation whereof one ingredient is holy water; and over them are to be said words of Scripture and Our Father. And then the turfs are taken to church, and prayers are said by the priest while the green of the turfs is turned altarwards; and then, before sun-down, the turfs are returned to their own original places: but first, four crosses, made of quickbeam, with the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, written on their four ends, are to be put, one in the bottom of each pit, and as each turf is restored to its native spot, and laid on its particular cross, say thus:—"Crux, Mattheus; Crux, Marcus; Crux, Lucas; Crux, Joannes."[55] Then the supplicant turns eastward, bows nine times, and says a rhythmic form of prayer, in which some heathen elements are just discernible. Then he turns three times towards the sun in its course, and sings Benedicite, Magnificat, and Pater Noster, and makes a gracious vow, in the friendly comprehension of which all the neighbourhood is included, gentle and simple.

This being done, strange seed must be procured, and this must be got from poor "almsmen"; and the supplicant must give them a double quantity in return; and then he must collect together all his plough-gear and tackle, and say over them a poetic formula which has fragments that look very like the real old heathen charm. It begins with untranslatable words:—

Erce, erce, erce, eordan modor.

Erce, erce, erce, mother of earth.

Then go to work with the plough, and open the first furrow, and say:—

Hl wes thu, folde, fira modor; beo thu growende, on Codes fthme; fodre gefylled, firum to nytte.

Soil I salute thee, mother of souls; be thou growing by God's grace; filled with fodder folks to comfort.

Then a loaf is to be kneaded and baked, and put into the first furrow, with yet another anthem:—

Ful cer fodres fira cinne, beorht-blowende thu gebletsod weorth.

A full crop of fodder may the folks see; brightly blossoming, blessed mote thou be.

Then follows a chaplet of three repetitions, twice repeated, and this long day's orison is done.

Here we have a fair example of the artifice used by the clergy in transforming old heathen charms into edifying ceremonies. Men are here led to pray; to exercise themselves in some of the chief liturgical formularies of the Catholic Church; to accept Christian versions of their old incantations; to profess good will to their neighbours, high and low; and to exercise some bounty towards the poor. Natural means are not neglected; a change of seed is made a part of the ceremonial.

Such are some of the traces we can gather from the expiring relics of heathenism. They all come from the Christian period, as was natural, seeing that the national profession of heathenism ended before our literature began, unless the annals mentioned at the beginning of this chapter are exceptions. The facilities of writing must have been very limited if the only alphabet in use was the Runic. It is, perhaps, a little too rigid to assume that the use of the Roman alphabet is to be dated strictly from the Conversion. As the use of Runes did not then suddenly terminate, but gradually receded before the superior instrument, so perhaps it is most reasonable to suppose that the adoption of the Roman alphabet was very gradual, and that the Saxons may have begun to use it, at least in Kent, before the reign of thelberht.[56]


[39] T. Wright, "Celt, Roman, and Saxon," p. 389; J.R. Green, "Short History," i., 2.

[40] "Ecclesiastical History," i., 22.

[41] It is the manner of the Saxon chronicles to attach each annal to its year-date by an adverb of locality—"Here."

[42] "Germania," c. 2.

[43] Id., c. 9.

[44] Id., c. 45.

[45] "Germania," c. 40.

[46] "De Temporum Ratione," c. 13.

[47] "Archologia," vol. xxxv., p. 259.

[48] Compare with this the "Spaedom of the Norns," in Dasent's "Burnt Njal"; also Gray's "Fatal Sisters," which is another version of the same original, one remove further off, as Gray knew the poem only through the Latin of Torfus.

[49] The second part of this compound repeats the idea of the first, namely, choice: it is from the verb to choose, for in certain tenses this verb changed s to r, just as from the verb to freeze we have frore (Milton), and from lose we have a participle lorn. The Anglo-Saxon form is wlcyrige. Grimm's "Teutonic Mythol." tr. Stallybrass, p. 418. Kemble, "Saxons," i., 402.

[50] The same keen discoverer scents an old heathen reminiscence also when the poet of the Heliand makes that holy thing which is not to be cast before dogs (Matthew vii. 6) a hlag halsmeni = holy necklace.

[51] For the distinct attributes of this goddess, who was the wife of Woden, the reader may consult Grimm's "Teutonic Mythology," who quotes Paulus Diaconus (eighth century), saying that the Langobards called Woden's wife Frea, and Saxo, p. 13, saying, "Frigga Othini conjux."

[52] "ber die Werke des altenglischen Erzbischofs Wulfstan," von Arthur Napier. Weimar, 1882, p. 33.

[53] Printed in Kemble's "Solomon and Saturn," p. 120.

[54] Printed in Thorpe's "Analecta" (1846), p. 116.

[55] This recalls the charm that within living memory was used on Dartmoor as an evening prayer:—

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Bless the bed that I lie on; Two to head and two to feet, And four to keep me while I sleep.

[56] Some Runic alphabets may be seen in my "Philology of the English Tongue," 96 (ed. 3, 1879). The best collection of Runic monuments is in the two folio volumes of Professor George Stephens.




It is a debatable question whether any Roman culture lived through the Saxon conquest.

The Saxon conquest of Britain was certainly, on the whole, a destructive one, and it has been justly contrasted with the Frankish conquest of Gaul; where the conquerors quickly assimilated with the conquered. The relics of Roman civilisation which the Saxons adopted, were indeed few. This is true, as a general statement. But there is some ground for regarding Kent as a case apart. Here all accounts seem to indicate a gradual and less violent intrusion of the new race, and to suggest the possibility that there was not for that area a complete break in the traditions and customs of life. The capital city itself, Dorobernia (Canterbury), whatever revolution it may have suffered, was at least not destroyed. There is nothing that requires us to assume the extinction of the schools of grammar which existed presumably in Kent as in Gaul.

The foundation of schools by the Roman mission is not recorded, nor does Bede say anything to imply it when thirty years later he describes the foundation of schools in East Anglia. These were founded by king Sigberct because he desired to have good institutions such as he had seen in Gaul, and his wishes were carried into effect by bishop Felix, after the pattern of the schools of Kent.[57] Whether it would be possible to trace the study of Roman law as a scholastic exercise through these obscure times, is very doubtful.[58] But certainly there is something about the Latinity of our earliest legal documents, that has a local and even a vernacular aspect. Slight as these traces may be, they are interesting enough to merit consideration.

In the Kentish laws are preserved our oldest extant relics of ancestral custom. The first code is that of thelberht, with this title:—"This be the Dooms that thelbriht, king, ordained in Augustine's days." It is much concerned with penalties for personal injuries. These are some of the "Dooms":—

Cap. 40. If an ear be smitten off, 6 shillings amends (bt).

" 41. If the ear be pierced through, 3 shillings.

" 43. If an eye is lost, 50 shillings.

" 44. If mouth or eye be damaged, 12 shillings.

" 45. If the nose be pierced, 9 shillings.

" 51. For the four front teeth, 6 shillings each; the tooth that stands next, 4 shillings; the next to that, 3 shillings; and thenceforth, each, 1 shilling.

Penalties for theft are graduated according to the quality of the person injured, i.e., according to the different orders of men in the body politic, each of whom has a separate value: king, noble, freeman, serf, slave. Such we may suppose to have been the primitive institutes of the tribes in the old mother country on the Continent. But the code is headed by a captel, in which the property of the Church is valued beyond that of the king, and the same applies to the higher clergy. "Cap. 1. The property of God and the Church, 12 fold; Bishop's property, 11 fold; Priest's, 9 fold [the same as the King's]; Deacon's, 6 fold; Clerk's, 3 fold." Next follows one that we may well suppose might have been the first of the pre-Christian code: "Cap. 2. If the king summon his people to him, and one there do them evil—double bt, and 50 shillings to the king." Bede mentions (ii., 5) these laws of thelberht, and especially this feature of them, that they began with the protection of Church property. He also says, that the king constituted these laws according to Roman precedent (juxta exempla Romanorum), by which some have been led to expect that there would be an element of Roman law in them. The imitation consisted only in committing the laws to writing.

thelberht died in 616, and then came a heathen reaction under his son Eadbald; but he was converted to Christianity in 618 by Bishop Laurentius. His son Erconbriht, who succeeded in 640, was the first king who dared to demolish the heathen fanes. Bede informs us that this king made a law for the observance of the Lenten fast; but no law of the kind appears until we come to the laws of Wihtred. Ecgbriht succeeded his father in 664, under whom the waning power of Kent reasserted its former sway. To him succeeded first Hlothre in 673, and then Eadric. These two reigns were short, and the names of both the kings stand at the head of the next Kentish code.

The introductory sentence of this code was this:—"Hlothhre and Eadric, kings of the men of Kent, enlarged the laws which their predecessors had made aforetime, with these dooms following":—

Cap. 8. If one man implead another in a matter, and he cite the man to a 'Methel' or a 'Thing', let the man always give security to the other, and do him such right, as the Kentish judges prescribe to them.

This code has a little series of laws concerning offences to the sense of honour, and consequent danger to the king's peace:—

Cap. 11. If in another's house one man calleth another man a perjurer, or assail him offensively with injurious words; let him pay a shilling to the owner of the house, and 6 shillings to the insulted man, and forfeit 12 shillings to the king.

Cap. 12. If a man remove another's stoup where men drink without offence, by old right he pays a shilling to him who owns the house, and 6 shillings to him whose stoop was taken away, and 12 shillings to the king.

Cap. 13. If weapon be drawn where men drink, and no harm be done; a shilling to the owner of the house, and 12 shillings to the king.

After a troublous time of encroachment from the side of Wessex, the kingdom of Kent had again a time of honour, if not of absolute independence, under king Wihtred (691-725), who, in the preamble to his laws, is called the most gracious king of the Kentish folk (se mildesta cyning Cantwara). His laws are mostly ecclesiastical. The rights of the Church and of her ministers, the keeping of the Sunday, manumission of slaves at the altar, penalties for heathen rites, these subjects make the bulk of a code of 28 captels, of which the last four are about theft. The closing provision is characteristic of the state of society:

Cap. 28. If a man from a distance, or a stranger, go off the road, and he neither shout nor blow a horn, as a thief he is liable to be examined, or slain, or redeemed.

In the preamble this code is precisely dated on the 6th day of August in Wihtred's fifth year, which is 696. Also it mentions Berghamstyde, which seems to mean Berkhamstead (Herts), as the place of enactment, and Gybmund, bishop of Rochester, as having been present. Doubts have been cast upon the genuineness of this code, but it is defended in Schmid's introduction. This is the last of the laws of Kent.

The Kentish laws are found in a register of the twelfth century, which has a high character for fidelity. No doubt the substance of them is faithfully preserved. But they are not in the original Kentish dialect; they have been translated into West Saxon. The translation has not, however, obliterated all traces of the original; there are some peculiarities which survive, and which enable us to see through the present form those traces of a higher antiquity, which strengthen that confidence which the contents are calculated to inspire.

The Kentish dialect was the first literary form of the language of our Saxon ancestors. It has been thought that in the Epinal Gloss, of which a specimen will be given below, we have the best extant representation of this ancient dialect. Early in the ninth century we have some original documents in the Kentish dialect, and these are our surest guides in judging of other specimens.[59]

The following extract is from a legal document of the year 832. Luba had made a deed of gift from her estate to the fraternity of Christ Church at Canterbury, and the following sanction was appended:

{+} Ic luba eamod godes iwen as forecwedenan god {&} as elmessan gesette {&} gefestnie ob minem erfelande et mundlingham em hiium to cristes cirican {&} ic bidde {&} an godes libgendes naman bebiade m men e is land {&} is erbe hebbe et mundlingham et he as god forleste o wiaralde ende se man se is healdan wille {&} lestan et ic beboden hebbe an isem gewrite se him seald {&} gehealden sia hiabenlice bledsung se his ferwerne oe hit agele se him seald {&} gehealden helle wite bute he to fulre bote gecerran wille gode {&} mannum uene ualete.

I, Luba, the humble handmaid of God, appoint and establish these foresaid benefactions and alms from my heritable land at Mundlingham to the brethren at Christ Church; and I entreat, and in the name of the living God I command, the man who may have this land and this inheritance at Mundlingham, that he continue these benefactions to the world's end. The man who will keep and discharge this that I have commanded in this writing, to him be given and kept the heavenly blessing; he who hinders or neglects it, to him be given and kept the punishment of hell, unless he will repent with full amends to God and to men. Fare ye well.


The middle of the seventh century was a very dark period throughout the West. The lingering rays of ancient culture had grown very faint in France, Italy, and Spain. Literary production had ceased in France since Gregory of Tours and his friend Venantius Fortunatus, the poet; in Spain, soon after Isidore of Seville, the Christian area had been narrowed by the Moslem invasion; in Italy, though the tradition of learning was never extinguished, yet no writer of eminence appeared for a long time after Gregory the Great. At such a time it was that the seed of learning found a new and fruitful soil among the Anglo-Saxon people; and they who had been the latest receivers of the civilising element, quickly took the lead in religion and learning.

In the year 668 three remarkable men came into Britain, These were Theodore, a Greek of Tarsus, who came as Archbishop of Canterbury; Hadrian, an African monk who had deprecated his own appointment to that office; and Biscop Baducing (called Benedict Biscop), an Angle of Northumbria, who had left his retreat in the monastery of Lerins, to guide and accompany the travellers into his native country.

This had risen out of an unforeseen event, and had almost the appearance of accident. But the consequences were great and far-reaching. Theodore organised the English Church upon lines that proved permanent. A new era was also inaugurated for literature and art. Literature was represented by Hadrian, who set up education at St. Augustine's upon an improved plan; and art, especially in relation to religious and educational institutions—books, buildings, ritual—was the province of Benedict Biscop.

Up to this time education and literature had two rival sources, the old schools of Kent, and the schools of the Irish teachers. But from Hadrian's coming a new literary era commences. For more than a hundred years our island was the seat of learning beyond any other country in the world of the West. Even Greek learning, extinct elsewhere, was revived for a time; and Bede, whose childhood had corresponded to the opening of this new activity, looked back on it when he was old as a glorious time, and he put it on record that he had known many scholars to whom both the Latin and Greek languages were as their mother tongue.

Of those who were formed in the school of Hadrian, the first and most conspicuous is Aldhelm. His rudimentary education must have been over before he knew Hadrian. The school of Maidulf gave him his boyish training at the monastery which was called after the Irish founder, and which has given name to the town of Malmesbury (Maidulfes burh). So Aldhelm stands between the two systems, the old Irish and the new Kentish. His preference was for the latter, but his works retain the characteristics of both. He has a love of grandiloquence which is both Keltic and Saxon, and a delight in alliteration which is more especially Saxon. His familiarity with the national poetry looms often through his Latin. But his proper characteristics, those whereby he fills a position altogether his own, are apart from these peculiarities. He is the scholar of the age, the type of that set whom Bede delighted to recall, who knew Latin and Greek like their mother tongue. He is the father of Anglo-Latin poetry. He made a zealous study of the Latin metres, and he commended the pursuit to other scholars. His Greek knowledge manifests itself everywhere: not always with a good effect, according to present taste; but in a manner which is of historical value as demonstrating his real familiarity with the Greek language.

Aldhelm's great work, and the work which most conveys his interpretation of the spiritual conditions of his time, is his book, "De Laude Virginitatis," in praise of Celibacy. But for the purposes of literary history, his artistic studies are of more importance than those which are strictly religious and ecclesiastical. Of the greatest interest for us are his Riddles. These are short Latin poems somewhat after the model of Symphosius, whose work he describes,[60] and whom he seems ambitious to outstrip. The riddles of Symphosius are uniformly of three hexameter lines, those of Aldhelm vary in length from four lines to sixteen; rarely more. The external structure is that of the Epigram, with the object speaking in the first person. The riddles both of Symphosius and Aldhelm are so closely identified with the vernacular riddles of the famous Exeter Song Book, that the reader may be glad of a specimen from each author. It should be premised that in each collection the subject stands as a title at the head of each piece. The subject of the sixteenth in Symphosius is the book-moth:—


Litera me pavit, nec quid sit litera novi, In libris vixi nec sum studiosior inde, Exedi musas nec adhuc tamen ipse profeci.

I have fed upon literature, yet know not what it is; I have lived among books, yet am not the more studious for it; I have devoured the Muses, yet up to the present time I have made no progress.

One of Aldhelm's riddles is on the Alphabet; and this will be a fit specimen here, as containing something that is germane to the history of literature:—

Nos den et septem genit sine voce sorores, Sex alias nothas non dicimus adnumerandas, Nascimur ex ferro rursus ferro moribund, Necnon et volucris penn volitantis ad thram; Terni nos fratres incert matre crearunt; Qui cupit instanter sitiens audire, docemus, Turn cito prompta damus rogitanti verba silenter.

We are seventeen sisters voiceless born; six others, half-sisters, we exclude from our set; children of iron by iron we die, but children too of the bird's wing that flies so high; three brethren our sires, be our mother as may; if any one is very eager to hear, we tell him, and quickly give answer without any sound.[61]

Aldhelm is the first of the Anglo-Latin poets, and he was a classical scholar at a time when to be so was a great distinction. Both in prose and verse, his style has the faults which belong to an age of revived study. His love of learning, his keen appreciation of its beauty and its value, have tended to inflate his sentences with an appearance of display. His poetic diction is simpler than that of his prose; but here, too, he is habitually over-elevated, whence he becomes sometimes stilted, and oftentimes he drops below pitch with an inadequate and disappointing close. But we must honour him in the position which he holds. He is the leader of that noble series of English scholars who represent the first endeavouring stage of recovery after the great eclipse of European culture.

There is nothing of his remaining in the vernacular; but that he was an English poet we have testimony which, though late, is not to be disregarded. William of Malmesbury quotes a book of King Alfred's, which said that Aldhelm had been a peerless writer of English poetry: and he adds, moreover, that a popular song, which had been mentioned by Alfred as Aldhelm's, was still commonly sung in his own time—that is, in the twelfth century.

Attempts have been made to identify some of our extant Anglo-Saxon literature with a name so eminent. In 1835 the Anglo-Saxon Psalter of the Paris manuscript was first printed at Oxford, and as this book gives a hundred of the Psalms in vernacular poetry, the suggestion that they might be Aldhelm's, though modernised, had rhetorical attractions for the editor (Thorpe), and supplied him with material for a few rather idle sentences of his Latin preface. In 1840 Jacob Grimm edited (from Thorpe's editio princeps) two poems of the Vercelli book, the "Andreas" and the "Elene;" and in his preface he sought to fix this poetry upon Aldhelm by a line of argument altogether fallacious, as was afterwards shown by Mr. Kemble in his edition of the "Andreas" for the lfric Society.

That which we have to show for this period in the native Kentish dialect is less ambitious, but it will not be despised by the considerate reader. In the beginnings of learning, when students had not the apparatus of grammars and dictionaries, which now, being common, are almost as much a matter of course as any gift of nature, it was necessary for students to make lists of words and phrases for themselves, and after a while a few of these would be thrown together, and would be reduced to alphabetical order for facility of reference. It is to such a process as this that we owe the Glossaries which form an interesting branch of Anglo-Saxon literature. The Epinal Gloss is the oldest of these, and it is very valuable because of the archaic forms of many of the words. A selection is here given by way of specimen:—[62]


(Cooper, Appendix B, p. 153.)

Alba spina, haegu thorn (hawthorn). Aesculus, boecae (beech). Achalantis, luscina netigal (nightingale). Acrifolus, holegn (holly). Alnus, alaer (alder). Abies, saeppae (fir). Argella, laam (loam). Accitulium, geacaes surae (sorrel). Absintium, uuermod (wormwood). Alacris, snel (swift, German schnell). Alveus, stream rad (stream-road = channel). Aquil, segnas (military standards). Anser, goos (goose). Beta, berc, arbor (birch). Ballena, hran (whale). Buculus, rand beag (buckler). Berruca, uueart (wart). Cados, ambras (casks). Chaos, duolma (confusion, error). Cicuta, hymblicae (hemlock). Cofinus, mand (hamper). Fulix, ganot, dop aenid (gannet, dip-chick). Filix, fearn (fern). Fasianus, uuor hana (pheasant). Fungus, suamm (German schwamm). Fragor, suoeg (swough, sough). Finiculus, finugl (fennel). Follis, blest baeelg (blast-bellows). Glarea, cisil (pebble, cf. Chesil Bank). Hibiscum, biscop uuyrt (marsh mallow). Horodius, uualh hebuc (foreign hawk). Hirundo, sualuuae (swallow). Intestinum, thearm (German Darm). Jungetum, risc thyfil (jungle). Inprobus, gimach (troublesome). Iners, asolcaen (lazy). Inter primores, bituien aeldrum (among the chief men). Juris periti, red boran (counsellors). Invisus, laath (loath). Iuuar (= jubar), leoma, earendil (gleam, beacon, crest). Ignarium, al giuueorc (fire-work). Ibices, firgen gaett (mountain goats, chamois). Lunules, mene scillingas (coins or bracteates on a necklace). Lucius, haecid (hake, German Hecht). Lolium, atae (oats). Limax, snel (snail). Ligustrum, hunaeg sugae (honeysuckle). Manipulatim, threatmelum (in bands). Manica, gloob (glove). Mascus, grima (mask). Malva, cotuc, geormant lab (mallow). Mars, Tiig (cf. Tuesday). Ninguit, hsniuuith (snoweth). Nigra spina, slach thorn (sloe-thorn). Nanus, duerg (dwarf). Olor, aelbitu (the elk, wild swan). Piraticum, uuicing sceadan (pirates). Pares, uuyrdae (Fates). Perna, flicci (flitch). Pictus acu, mi naelae sasiuuid (embroidered). Pronus, nihol (perpendicular). Pollux, thuma (thumb). Quoquomodo, aengiinga (anyhow). Rumex, edroc. Ramnus, theban (thorn). Salix, salch (sallow). Sturnus, staer (starling). Titio, brand (firebrand). Tignarius, hrofuuyrcta (roofwright). Vadimonium, borg (pledge, security).

In this glossary we see the preparation for our modern Latin-English dictionaries. Already, as early as the reign of Augustus, the foundation of the Latin dictionary was laid by Verrius Flaccus, but his dictionary would naturally consist of Latin words with Latin explanations. But in the seventh century there was a demand for Latin vocabularies, with equivalents in the vernacular languages; and here, in the Epinal Glossary, we have the earliest known example of such a work. At first such glossaries would be merely lists of words formed in the course of studying some one or two Latin texts, and in process of time would follow the compilation of several such glossaries into one, until, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, we find vocabularies of some compass (as lfric's), and by the fifteenth century we have such bulky dictionaries as the "Catholicon" and the "Promptorium Parvulorum."

We will close this chapter with specimens of the "Psalter of St. Augustine," which received an Anglo-Saxon gloss (dialect Kentish[63]) at the end of the ninth, or early in the tenth century. The book has been already described above, p. 33.

PSALM XLIX. (L.), 7:—"Hear, O my people," &c.

geher folc min ond sprecu to israhela folce ond 7. Audi populus meus et loquar Israhel et

ic cythu the thtte god god thin ic eam testificabor tibi quoniam Deus Deus tuus ego sum

na les ofer onsegdnisse thine ic dregu the onsegdnisse 8. Non super sacrificia tua arguam te holocausta

soth thine in gesihthe minre sind aa autem tua in conspectu meo sunt semper

ic ne on foo of huse thinum calferu ne of eowdum 9. Non accipiam de domo tua vitulos neque de gregibus

thinum buccan tuis hircos

for thon min sind all wildeor wuda neat in 10. Quoniam me sunt omnes fer silvarum jumenta in

muntum ond oexen montibus et boves

ic on cneow all tha flegendan heofenes ond hiow 11. Cognovi omnia volatilia cli et species

londes mid mec is agri mecum est

gif ic hyngriu ne cweothu ic to the min is sothlice 12. Si esuriero non dicam tibi, meus est enim

ymb hwerft eorthan ond fylnis his orbis terr et plenitudo ejus

ah ic eotu flsc ferra oththe blod 13. Numquid manducabo carnes taurorum aut sanguinem

buccena ic drinco hircorum potabo

ageld gode onsegdnisse lofes ond geld tham hestan 14. Immola Deo sacrificium laudis et redde Altissimo

gehat thin vota tua

gece mec in dege geswinces thines tht ic genere 15. Invoca me in die tribulationis tu ut eripiam

thec ond thu miclas mec te et magnificabis me

D I A P S A L M A.

to thm synfullan sothlice cweth god for hwon thu 16. Peccatori autem dixit Deus Quare tu

asagas rehtwisnisse mine ond genimes cythnisse mine enarras justitias meas et adsumes testamentum meum

thorh muth thinne per os tuum

thu sothlice thu fiodes theodscipe ond thu awurpe 17. Tu vero odisti disciplinam et projecisti

word min efter the sermones meos post te

gif thu gesege theof somud thu urne mid hine ond 18. Si videbas furem simul currebas cum eo et

mid unreht hmderum dl thinne thu settes cum adulteris portionem tuam ponebas

muth thin genihtsumath mid nithe ond tunge thin 19. Os tuum abundavit nequitia et lingua tua

hleothrade facen concinnavit dolum

sittende with broether thinum thu teldes ond 20. Sedens adversus fratrem tuum detrahebas et

with suna moeder thinre thu settes eswic adversus filium matris tu ponebas scandalum

thas thu dydes ond ic swigade thu gewoendes on unrehtwisnisse 21. Hc fecisti et tacui existimasti iniquitatem

tht ic wre the gelic quod ero tibi similis

ic threu thec ond ic setto tha ongegn onsiene Arguam te et statuam illa contra faciem

thinre Ongeotath thas alle tha ofer geoteliath tuam (22.) intelligite hc omnes qui obliviscimini

dryhten ne hwonne gereafie ond ne sie se generge Dominum ne quando rapiat et non sit qui eripiat

onsegdnis lofes gearath mec ond ther 23. Sacrificium laudis honorificabit me et illic

sithfet is thider ic oteawu him haelu godes iter est in quo ostendam illi salutare Dei


Ond smegende ic eam in allum wercum thinum ond 13. Et meditatus sum in omnibus operibus tuis et

in gehaeldum thinum ic bieode in observationibus tuis exercebor

god in halgum weg thin hwelc god micel 14. Deus in sancto via tua quis Deus magnus

swe swe god ur thu earth god thu the doest sicut Deus noster (15.) tu es Deus qui facis

wundur ana cuthe thu dydes in folcum megen mirabilia solus notam fecisti in populis virtutem

thin gefreodes in earme thinum folc thin tuam (16.) liberasti in brachio tuo populum tuum

bearn filios Israhel et Joseph

gesegun thec weter god gesegun thec weter ond 17. Viderunt te aqu Deus viderunt te aqu et

on dreordun gedroefde werun niolnisse mengu timuerunt turbati sunt abyssi (18.) multitudo

swoeges wetre stefne saldun wolcen ond sothlice sonitus aquarum Vocem dederunt nubes et enim

strelas thine thorh leordun stefn thunurrade thinre sagitt tu pertransierunt (19.) vox tonitrui tui

in hweole in rota

in lihton bliccetunge thine eorthan ymbhwyrfte gesaeh Inluxerunt coruscationes tu orbi terr vidit

ond onstyred wes eorthe et commota est terra

in sae wegas thine ond stige thine in wetrum miclum 20. In mari vi tu et semit tu in aquis multis

ond swethe thine ne bioth oncnawen et vestigia tua non cognoscentur

thu gelaeddes swe swe scep folc thin in honda 21. Deduxisti sicut oves populum tuum in manu

mosi ond aaron Moysi et Aaron

These specimens of the Kentish dialect (with the exception of the Epinal Gloss) are of much later date than the times which our narrative has yet reached; and they are only offered as a proximate representation of that which was the first of English dialects to receive literary culture. This dialect is peculiarly interesting as being that from which the West Saxon was developed; in other words, it is the earliest form of that imperial dialect in which the great body of extant Saxon literature is preserved. But the Kentish did not ripen into the maturer outlines of the West Saxon without the intervention of a third dialect; and in order to appreciate this it is necessary for us to review that more spacious culture of which the scene was laid in the country of the Northern Angles.


[57] "Ecclesiastical History," iii., 18.

[58] Aldhelm speaks of the study of Roman law in connexion with other scholastic studies, as Latin verses and music. But then that was after the new start given to education by Theodore and Hadrian. A century later, Alcuin described the studies at V York in this order,—grammar, rhetoric, law.—Wharton, "Anglia Sacra," ii. 6; Alcuin's poem, "De Pontificibus &c."

[59] They are in Kemble, "Codex Diplomaticus," Nos. 226, 228, 229, 231, 235, 238.

[60] Aldhelm's "Works," ed. Giles, p. 228.

[61] Seventeen consonants and six vowels; made with iron style and erased with the same, or else made with a bird's quill; whatever the instrument, three fingers are the agents; and we can convey answer without delay even in situations where it would be inconvenient to speak.

[62] I have given the th, or , or , as in the manuscript. This is done in the present instance because a peculiar interest attaches to it in the earliest specimens of writing. The frequency of th, and the rarity of the monograms, is itself a distinguishing feature. Speaking in general terms of Anglo-Saxon literature, as it appears in manuscripts, it might be fairly said that there is no th; this sound is represented by or . And of these two, the modified Roman character, , is found to prevail over the native Rune () in the oldest extant writings. Throughout this little book the th is commonly used, as being most convenient for the general reader.

[63] Transactions of the Philological Society for 1875-6.



While Canterbury was so important a seminary of learning, there was, in the Anglian region of Northumbria, a development of religious and intellectual life which makes it natural to regard the whole brilliant era from the later seventh to the early ninth century as "The Anglian Period." Not only did the greatest school of the whole island grow up at York, but also one that, with its important library, was for the time the most active and useful in the whole of Western Europe.

The importance of the Anglian period consists in the fact that it belongs not merely to one nation, but that Anglia became for a century the light-spot of European history; and that here we recognise the first great stage in the revival of learning, and the first movement towards the establishment of public order in things temporal and spiritual. Happily, the period stands out in a good historical light, and the chief elements of its influence are finely exhibited in the persons of representative men or representative groups.

There is Paulinus, the fugitive missionary from Kent, who made the first rapid evangelisation of the northern country; King Edwin and his court form a well-displayed group between the old darkness and the coming light, as they consult and compare the two; Oswald, returning from exile to be king, and bringing with him the Scotian type of Christianity; Aidan, the first Scotian bishop of Lindisfarne, and the model of pastors; Wilfrid, the champion of Roman unity, confronting Colman at the synod of Whitby before Oswy, the presiding king, on the absorbing question of the time; Wilfrid appealing to Rome against Theodore; and yet again, Wilfrid, the first Anglo-Saxon missionary; Biscop Baducing (Benedict Biscop), the founder of abbeys, the traveller, the introducer of arts from abroad; Cdmon, the cowherd, the divinely-inspired singer and the father of a school of English poetry; Cuthberht, the shepherd-boy, abbot, bishop, hermit, and finally the national saint of Northumbria; Willebrord and the two Hewalds, and all the glorious band of missionaries and martyrs; Winfrid (Boniface), the crown of them all, apostle of Germany, and martyr; Beda, the teacher and historian; Ecgberct and Alberct, successively archbishops of York, acknowledged presidents of Western learning; Alcuin, the bearer of Anglian learning to the Franks, and the organiser of schools for the future ages.

After Aldhelm, the first Englishman who appeared as an author was ddi, better known as Eddius Stephanus. He was the friend and companion of Wilfrid in his contentions and troubles, and, after his death, he wrote a biography of him in Latin. This book is of great value as an authority, and as illustrating the history of the later seventh and early eighth century. Wilfrid died in 709, the same year as Aldhelm.

Wilfrid was the master-spirit of this age. He represented the best aims of his nation; he understood the needs of the time; he worked for them, and he suffered for them. With an overbearing spirit, fantastic too often in his conduct, he saw what was needed—he saw the necessity for unity with Rome. This was a necessity, not for one country alone, but for the whole West at that time. Protestant writers have looked at Wilfrid through a distorting medium. Nowhere, perhaps, is there more need to allow for difference of times than in estimating Wilfrid. He had great faults; he quarrelled with the best men; but, on the other hand, Theodore, the most important of all his adversaries, sought reconciliation at last, and accused himself of injustice. Wilfrid initiated the German missions; he impressed on that great field of Saxon activity the policy of his agitated life, and that policy was ever militant in Boniface, the chief apostle of Germany, and may be said to have triumphed when the Roman Empire was renewed in harmony with the Holy See, and Charles was crowned in 800. Wilfrid, more than any other man, appears as the ideal representative of that varied influence, religious, literary, political, which the Anglo-Saxon Church exercised upon the Western world.

The beginning of our vernacular literature, so far as it can be treated chronologically, lies between the years 658 and 680. For these are the years of the abbacy of Hild at Whitby, and it was in her time that Cdmon appeared, who had received the gift of divine song in a vision of the night. When this heavenly call was recognised, the herdsman became a brother of the religious fraternity, and devoted his life to the pursuit of sacred poetry. To the lover of the mother tongue it must appear a singular felicity that Cdmon's first hymn is preserved in a book that was written not much more than half-a-century after his death.[64]

Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes uard, metuds maecti end his modgidanc; uerc uuldurfadur; sue he uundra gihuaes, eci dryctin, or astelid. He aerist scop aelda barnum heben til hrofe, halig scepen; tha middungeard moncynns uard, eci dryctin, fter tiad firum foldan frea allmectig.

Now shall we glorify the guardian of heaven's realm, the Maker's might and the thought of his mind; the work of the glory-father, how He of every wonder, He the Lord eternal laid the foundation. He shapd erst for the sons of men, heaven their roof, holy Creator; the middle world he, mankind's sovereign, eternal captain, afterwards created, the land for men Lord Almighty.[65]

BEDA was born in 672, in the neighbourhood of Wearmouth, two years before Biscop founded an abbey there. Of this abbey Beda became an inmate in his seventh year, under Abbot Biscop. He was afterwards moved to the sister foundation at Jarrow, under Abbot Ceolfrid, and there he lived, with rare absences, the remainder of his life. He was ordained deacon at the early age of nineteen; in his thirtieth year he was ordained priest; he died in his sixty-third year, A.D. 735. He was a very prolific author, and he has left us, at the end of his most considerable work, a sketch of his life, and a list of his writings, down to the fifty-ninth year of his age, A.D. 731. The bulk of his works are theological, chiefly in the form of commentaries, and they are little more than extracts from the best known of the Fathers. This was adapted to the needs of the time, and Bede's commentaries were held in great esteem during the whole period. lfric, in the tenth century, used them largely for his "Homilies."

Of all Bede's works, the chronological made the greatest immediate impression, and was of most general use at the time and for some centuries afterwards. The computation of Easter was the groundwork of the ecclesiastical year, and every church felt the benefit of his services. Chronology was then in its early maturity, and the Christian era was not yet a familiar method of reckoning. Bede was the first historian who arranged his materials according to the years from the Incarnation. He had made himself completely master of this subject, and he left it in such order that nothing more had to be done to it, or could be improved upon it, for many centuries.

His fullest and most detailed work on chronology is entitled "De Temporum Ratione," and to this is added a chronicle of the world. On this elaborate work he was working down to A.D. 726. We have the authority of Ideler for saying that this is a complete guide to the calculation of times and festivals. He treats of the several divisions of time; and under the months, he speaks of the moon's orbit (c. xvii.), and its importance for the calendar, and the relation of the moon to the tides (c. xxix.); then of the equinoxes and solstices, the varying length of the days, the seasons of the year, the intercalary day, the cycle of nineteen years, the reckoning Anno Domini (c. xlvii.), indictions, epacts, the determination of Easter. All these things are taught with theoretical thoroughness, as well as also in their practical application. He also (c. lxv.) made a table for Easter from A.D. 532, "when Dionysius began the first cycle," to A.D. 1063.[66] This is followed by the "Chronicle or Six Ages of this World," altogether a work that was a growing nucleus, and went on expanding down to the invention of printing and the revival of classical literature.

But the works on which his eminence permanently rests, and by which he made all posterity indebted to him, are his historical and biographical writings. He wrote a poem on the miracles of St. Cuthbert, and afterwards he wrote a prose narrative "Of the Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne;" and in this, though a new and independent work, something of the poem is reproduced. It is in this prose work that we find the call of Cuthbert on the night of Aidan's death, the details of his hermit life on the rocky islet of Farne, to which he had retired for greater rigour of devotion, from which he was called back to be bishop at Lindisfarne, and to which after two years' episcopate he again retired for the remnant of his life.

He wrote also a prose life of St. Felix, drawing his materials from the metrical life of that saint in hexameters by Paulinus.

His greatest biographical work is "Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, namely, Benedict, Ceolfrid, Easterwini, Sigfrid, and Hwetbert." These were the heads of the two sister foundations with which his career was identified; and some of them had been his own teachers. The Life of Benedict is the most interesting, as might be expected, and it fills the largest part of the book.

Finally, his greatest work, the work which is a gift for all time, is his "Church History of the Anglian People." This was the work of the author's mature powers, and some of his earlier writings are made use of in it. In this history, which is divided into five books, there is, first, a summary of the history of Britain, from the time of Julius Csar down to the time of Gregory the Great. This part occupies twenty-two chapters, and is drawn from Orosius and Gildas and Constantius. The proper narrative of Bede begins at chap. xxiii., and there the conversion and early history of Saxon Christianity is given down to the time of the restoration of the old church of St. Saviour (Canterbury Cathedral), and the institution of the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul (St. Augustine's). The last chapter is of the decisive battle of Degsastan, which determined the superiority of the Angles over the Scotti. The second book begins with the death of Gregory and goes down to the death of duini, King of Northumbria, A.D. 633. In this book occurs a remarkable speech made by one of duini's nobles, in the debate about a change of religion:—

"The present life of man in the world, O king, is, by comparison with that time which is unknown, like as when you are sitting at table with your aldermen and thanes in the winter season, the fire blazing in the midst, and the hall cheerfully warm, while the whirlwinds rage everywhere outside and drive the rain or the snow; one of the sparrows comes in and flies swiftly through the house, entering at one door and out at the other. So long as it is inside, it is sheltered from the storm, but when the brief momentary calm is past, the bird is in the cold as before, and is no more seen. So this human life is visible for a time: but of what follows or what went before we are utterly ignorant. Wherefore, if this new doctrine should offer anything surer, it seems worthy to be followed." (ii., 13.)

The third book goes down to the appointment of Theodore to be Archbishop of Canterbury, A.D. 665.

This book contains the decision for Roman unity, and the defeat and departure of Colman and his Scotian clergy. Bede was a hearty adherent of the Roman obedience, and his affectionate tribute to the work of the Irish is all the more remarkable. He pauses upon the record of their departure as upon the close of a good time that had been, and to which he looks wistfully back.

"The great frugality and content of him and his predecessors was witnessed by the very place they ruled; for at their departure there were very few buildings besides the church; just what civilised life absolutely requires, and no more. Their only capital was their cattle; for if rich men gave them money, they presently gave it to the poor. Of funds and halls for entertaining the worldly great they had no need, as such personages never came but to pray and hear the word of God. The King himself, when occasion required, would come with just five or six thanes, and after prayer in church would depart; and if it chanced they took refreshment there, they were content with just the simple every-day fare of the brothers, and wanted nothing better. For at that time those teachers made it their entire business to serve not the world but God, and their whole care to cherish not the belly but the heart. And consequently the religious garb was at that time in great veneration; so much so that, wherever a cleric or a monk arrived, he was joyfully received by all as the servant of God. Even upon the road, if one were found travelling, they would run to him, and bend the head, and rejoice if he signed them with the cross, or uttered a blessing; at the same time they gave careful attention to their words of exhortation. Moreover, on Sundays they would race to the church or the monasteries, not to refresh the body, but to hear God's word; and if one of the priests happened to come to a village, the villagers were quickly assembled, and were wanting to hear from him the word of life. And, indeed, the priests on their part or the clerics had no other object in going to the villages but for preaching, baptising, visiting the sick, and in a word for the care of souls; being so entirely purged from all infection of avarice, that none accepted lands and possessions for building monasteries unless compelled to do so by secular lords. Such conduct was maintained in the Northumbrian churches for some time after this date. But I have said enough." (iii., 26.)

The fourth book goes down to the death, A.D. 687, of the saint of whom Bede had previously written, both in verse and in prose, the Saint of Northumbria, St. Cuthbert.

This book contains another passage to show that Bede looked wistfully back to a blessed time that had been, and for which he was born too late. He has been speaking of Theodore and Hadrian, and he is about to speak of Wilfrid and ddi, when he thus breaks out:—"Never, never, since the Angles came to Britain, were there happier times; brave and Christian kings held all barbarians in awe; the universal ambition was for those heavenly joys of which men had recently heard; and all who desired to be instructed in sacred learning had masters ready to teach them." (iv., 2.)

This book also contains the history of Cdmon, which is perhaps the most frequently quoted piece of all Bede's writings:—

"In the monastery of this abbess [Hild], there was a certain brother, eminently distinguished by divine grace, for he was wont to make songs fit for religion and piety, so that, whatever he learnt out of Scripture by means of interpreters, this he would after a time produce in his own, that is to say, the Angles' tongue, with poetical words, composed with perfect sweetness and feeling. By this man's songs often the minds of many were kindled to contempt of the world and desire for the celestial life. Moreover, others after him in the nation of the Angles tried to make religious poems, but no one was able to equal him. For he learnt the art of singing not from men, nor through any man's instructions, but he received the gift of singing unacquired and by divine help. Wherefore he could never make any frivolous or unprofitable poem, but those things only which pertain to religion were fit themes for his religious tongue. During his secular life, which continued up to the time of advanced age, he had never learnt any songs. And, therefore, sometimes at a feast, when for merriment sake it was agreed that all should sing in turn, he, when he saw that the harp was nearing him, would rise from his unfinished supper and go quietly away to his own home." (iv., 24.)

On one occasion, when this had happened, he went, not to his home, but to the cattle sheds, to rest, because it was his turn to do so that night. In his sleep one appeared to him and bade him sing. He pleaded inability, but the command was repeated. "What then," he asked, "must I sing?" He was told he must sing of the beginning of created things. Then he sang a Hymn of Creation, and this hymn he remembered when he was risen from sleep, and it was the proof of his divine vocation. The hymn was preserved in Latin as well as in the original; and both have been quoted above. The poems which he subsequently wrote are thus described:—

"He sang of the creation of the world and the origin of the human race, and the whole story of Genesis, of Israel's departure out of Egypt and entrance into the land of promise, of many other parts of the sacred history, of the Lord's Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of the Apostles. Likewise of the terror of judgment to come, and the awful punishment of hell, and the bliss of the heavenly kingdom, he made many poems; many others also concerning divine benefits and judgments, in all which he sought to wean men from the love of sin, and stimulate them to the enjoyment and pursuit of good action."

The fifth and last book contains a survey of the condition of the national Church down to 731, within about four years of the author's death.

Books of his on the technicalities of literature are a tract on "Orthography," another "On the Metric Art," also a book "On Figures and Tropes of Holy Scripture." Least esteemed have been his poetical compositions, some of which have been suffered to perish. The poem on the "Miracles of St. Cuthberht" is extant, but the "Book of Hymns in Various Metre or Rhythm" is lost, and so also is his "Book of Epigrams in Heroic or Elegiac Metre." But we are not left without an authentic specimen of his hymnody, as he has incorporated in his history the Hymn of Virginity in praise of Queen Ethelthry, the foundress of Ely. His extant poetry proves him to have been an accomplished scholar and a man of cultivated taste rather than of poetic genius. But we could afford to lose many Latin poems in consideration of the slightest vernacular effort of such a man.

Many manuscripts of the "Ecclesiastical History" contain a letter by one Cuthbert to his fellow-student Cuthwine, describing the manner of Bede's death. In this letter is contained a pious ditty in the vernacular, which Bede, who was "learned in our native songs," composed at the time when he was contemplating the approach of his own dissolution.

Fore there neidfarae nnig ni uurthit thonc snoturra than him tharf sie to ymbhycggannae, aer his him iongae, huaet his gastae godaes aeththa yflaes aefter deothdaege doemid uueorthae.

Before the need-journey no one is ever more wise in thought than he ought, to contemplate ere his going hence what to his soul of good or of evil after death-day deemed will be.[67]

Other remains in the Northumbrian dialect are the Runic inscription on the Ruthwell Cross, for which the reader is referred to Professor Stephens's "Old Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England," vol. i., p. 405; also the interlinear glosses in the Lindisfarne Gospels, and in the Durham Ritual. For fuller information on these glosses I must refer the reader to Professor Skeat's Gospels "in Anglo-Saxon and Northumbrian Versions Synoptically Arranged;" and more especially to his preface in the concluding volume, which contains the fourth Gospel. The Psalter, which was published by the Surtees Society as Northumbrian, is now judged to be Kentish; but that volume contains, besides, an "Early English Psalter," which presents a later phase of the Northumbrian dialect.

The poetical works which now bear Cdmon's name received that name from Junius, the first editor, in 1655, on the ground of the general agreement of the subjects with Bede's description of Cdmon's works. In this book we find a first part containing the most prominent narratives from the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel; and a second part containing the Descent of Christ into Hades and the delivery of the patriarchs from their captivity, according to the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus and the constant legend of the Middle Ages. This comprises a kind of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Of all this, the part which has attracted most notice is a part of which the materials are found neither in Scripture nor in any known Apocrypha. The nearest approximation yet indicated is in the hexameters of Avitus, described above.[68] This problematical part describes the Fall of Man as the sequel of the Fall of the Angels, substantially running on the same lines as Milton's famous treatment of the same subject. It has often been surmised that Milton may have known of Cdmon through Junius, and that this knowledge may have affected the cast of his great poem as well as suggested some of his most famous touches.[69]

The precipitation is thus described:—

329 wron tha befeallene fyre to botme on tha hatan hell thurh hygeleaste and thurh ofermetto. Sohten other land tht ws leohtes leas and ws liges full fyres fr micel.

So were they felled to the fiery abyss into the hot hell through heedlessness and through arrogance. They arrived at another land that was void of light and was full of flame fire's horror huge.[70]

When the fallen angel speaks, he begins thus:—

355 Is thes nga stede ungelic swithe tham othrum the we r cuthon heah on heofenrice the me min hearra onlag.

This confined place is terribly unlike that other one that we knew before high in heaven's realm which my lord conferred on me.

Having thus begun with a lamentable cry, he gradually recovers composure and propounds a policy. He observes that God has created a new and happy being, who is destined to inherit the glory which he and his have lost:—

394 He hfth nu gemearcod anne middangeard thr he hfth mon geworhtne fter his onlicnesse; mid tham he wile eft gesettan heofena rice, mid hluttrum saulum. We ths sculon hycgan georne, tht we on Adame gif we fre mgen, and on his eafram swa some andan gebetan.

He hath now designed a middle world where He man hath made, after His likeness:— with which He will repeople heaven's realm, with stainless souls. We must thereto give careful heed that we on Adam if we ever may and on his offspring likewise our harm redress.

The way proposed is by inducing them to displease their Maker, and then they will be banished to the same place and become the slaves of Satan and his angels. A messenger is required:—

409 Gif ic nigum thegne theoden madmas geara forgeafe thenden we on than godan rice geslige ston and hfdon ure setla geweald, thonne heme na on leofrantid leanum ne meahte mine gife gyldan. Gif his gien wolde minra thegna hwilc gethafa wurthan tht he up heonon ute mihte cuman thurh thas clustro and hfde crft mid him tht he mid fetherhoman fleogan meahte windan on wolcne thr geworht stondath Adam and Eve on eorth rice mid welan bewunden. and we synd aworpene hider on thas deopan dalo.

If I to any thane lordly treasures in former times have given, while we in the good realm all blissful sate, and had sway of our mansions:— at no more acceptable time could he ever with value my bounty requite. If now for this purpose any one of my thanes would himself volunteer that he from here upward and outward might go, might come through these barriers and strength in him had that with raiment of feather his flight could take to whirl on the welkin where the new work is standing Adam and Eve in the earthly realm with wealth surrounded— and we are cast away hither into these deep dales!

Satan rages not so much on account of his own loss as for their gain. If they could only be ruined by the wrath of God, he declares he could be at ease even in the midst of woes; and whoever would achieve this he will reward to his utmost, and give him a seat by his side. Presently we come to the accoutring of the emissary:—

442 Angan hine tha gyrwan Godes andsaca fus on frtwum: hfde frcne hyge. Hleth helm on heafod asette and thone full hearde geband, spenn mid spangum. Wiste him sprca fela wora worda.

Began him then t' equip th' antagonist of God, prompt in harness:— he had a guileful mind. A magic helm on head he set, he bound it hard and tight, braced it with buckles. Speeches many wist he well, crooked words.

He takes wing and rises in air; and then comes a passage like Milton:—

Swang tht fyr on twa feondes crfte.

he dashed the fire in two with fiendish craft.[71]

Arrived at the garden he takes the shape of a serpent, and winds himself round the forbidden tree. The description recalls the familiar picture so vividly that we cannot doubt the same picture was before the eyes of children in the Saxon period as now. He takes some of the fruit and finds Adam, and addresses him in a speech. He gives a nave reason why he is sent:—

507 Brade synd on worulde grene geardas, and God siteth on tham hehstan heofna rice ufan. Alwalda nele tha earfethu sylfa habban that he on thisne sith fare, gumena drihten:— ac he his gingran sent to thinre sprce.

Broad are in the world the green plains, and God sitteth in the highest heavenly realm above. The Almighty will not the trouble himself have, that He should on this journey fare, the Lord of men:— but He sends his deputy to speak with thee.

These poems are surrounded by interesting questions which it is barely possible here to indicate. Upon the top of the discussion about Milton, which is not by any means exhausted, there comes a much larger and wider field of inquiry as to the relation existing between this Miltonic part (if I may so speak) and the Old Saxon poem of the "Heliand." The investigation has been admirably started by Mr. Edouard Sievers in a little book containing this portion of the text, and exhibiting in detail the peculiar intimacy of relation between it and the "Heliand," in regard to vocabulary, phraseology, and versification. This part of Mr. Sievers' work is complete. Probably no one who has gone through his proofs will be found to question his conclusion, that there is between the "Heliand" and the Saxon "Paradise Lost" such an identity as isolates those two works from all other literature, and makes it necessary to trace them to one source. What remains is only to determine the order of their affiliation. His theory is that our "Cdmon" contains a large insertion which has been borrowed, not, of course, from the "Heliand," because the "Heliand" is a poem solely on the Gospel history, but from a sister poem to the "Heliand," a corresponding poem on the Old Testament. Professor George Stephens, of Copenhagen, offered a simpler explanation. He supposed that our piece is a purely domestic remnant of that school of English poetry which Bede described, and that the "Heliand" is a continental offspring of the same school, being a monument of the poetic culture which was planted along the borders of the Rhine by the Anglo-Saxon missionaries.

ALCUIN'S name connects the Anglian period with the great Frankish revival of literature under Charlemagne. And as he bears a prominent part in the establishment of literature in its next European seat, so also he had the grief of witnessing the earlier stages of that devastation which extinguished the light in his own country. This is how he writes on hearing of the invasion of Lindisfarne by the northern rovers in 793, to Bishop Hugibald and the monks of Lindisfarne:—

"As your beloved society was wont to delight me when I was with you, so does the report of your tribulation sadden me continually now that I am absent from you. How have the heathen defiled the sanctuaries of God, and shed the blood of the saints round about the altar. They have laid waste the dwelling-place of our hope; they have trodden down the bodies of the saints in the temple of God like mire in the street. What can I say? I can only lament in my heart with you before the altar of Christ, and say: Spare, Lord, spare Thy people, and give not Thy heritage to the heathen, lest the pagans say, Where is the God of the Christians? What confidence is there for the churches of Britain if Saint Cuthbert, with so great a company of saints, defends not his own? Either this is the beginning of a greater sorrow, or the sins of the people have brought this upon them."[72]

Thus we have arrived at the verge of that catastrophe which closes for ever the singular greatness of Anglia. Charles brought learning to France by drawing from Anglia and from Italy the best plants for his new field; he inherited the civilising labours of the Saxon missionaries in his dominions beyond the Rhine; he founded a centre of power and a centre of education together; and France remained the chief seat of learning throughout the Middle Ages.[73] The glory of a European position in literature can no longer be claimed for England. Through the remainder of our narrative we must be content with a provincial sphere; and our compensation must be found in the fact that the vernacular element is all the more freely developed.


[64] In the famous manuscript of the "Ecclesiastical History" of Bede, which is commonly known as the Moore manuscript, because it passed with the library of Bishop Moore (Ely) to the University of Cambridge, is in a hand which is thought to be as old as the time of Bede, who died in 735.

[65] Bede gives the "sense" of this first hymn as follows:—"Nunc laudare debemus auctorem regni caelestis, potentiam creatoris et consilium illius, facta patris gloriae; quomodo ille, cum sit aeternus deus, omnium miraculorum auctor extitit, qui primo filiis hominum caelum pro culmine tecti, dehinc terram custos humani generis omnipotens creavit."—"Ecclesiastical History," iv. 24.

[66] Adolf Ebert's account of Bede in "History of Christian-Latin Literature," translated by Mayor and Lumby in their admirable edition of the third and fourth books of Bede's "Church History" (Pitt Press Series), 1878, p. 11.

[67] The general correctness of our translation is assured by the fact that the Latin text in which it is embodied supplies a Latin translation, thus:—"quod ita latine sonat: 'ante necessarium exitum prudentior quam opus fuerit nemo existit, ad cogitandum videlicet antequam hinc proficiscatur anima, quid boni vel mali egerit, qualiter post exitum judicanda fuerit.'"—"Bed Hist. Eccl.," iii., iv. (Mayor and Lumby), p. 177.

[68] Page 14.

[69] There has been a recent discussion of this question by Professor Wlcker in "Anglia," with a negative result. But the conclusion rests on too slight a basis.

[70] "Milton has the same idea in a kindred passage, but it is not so terse, so condensed, as Cdmon's:—

'Yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible Served only to discover sights of woe.'

"In Job x. 22 we also find a similar idea:—'A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death without any order, and where the light is as darkness.' They are all powerful, all dreadful, but Cdmon's 'without light, and full of flame,' is much the strongest. It is an Inferno in a line."—ROBERT SPENCE WATSON, "Cdmon," p. 44.

[71] "Paradise Lost," i., 221:—

"Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool His mighty stature; on each hand the flames, Driv'n backward, slope their pointing spires, and roll'd In billows, leave i' th' midst a horrid vale."

[72] Wright, "Biographia Literaria," Anglo-Saxon Period, p. 353.

[73] The new start of literature under Charles is briefly and brilliantly stated in the first paragraph of Adolf Ebert's second volume.



We have now seen something of a culture that was introduced from abroad, and guided by foreign models. But our people had a native gift of song, and a tradition of poetic lore, which lived in memory, and was sustained by the profession of minstrelsy. The Christian and literary culture obtained through the Latin tended strongly to the suppression and extinction of this ancient and national vein of poetry. But happily it has not all been lost, and it will be the aim of this chapter to present some specimens of that poetry which is rooted in the native genius of the race, and which we may call the primary poetry. The poetry which is manifestly of Latin material we will call the secondary poetry. It is not asserted that we have two sorts of poetry so entirely separate and distinct the one from the other, that the one is purely native and untinged with foreign influence, while the other springs from mere imitation. The two sorts are not so utterly contrasted as that. Even the secondary poetry is not without originality. On the other hand the primary poetry betrays here and there the Latin culture and the Christian sentiment; and yet if is quite sufficiently distinct and characterised to justify the plan of grouping it apart from the general body of the poetical remains.

The chief features of the Saxon poetry may conveniently be arranged under three heads: 1. The mechanical formation. 2. The rhetorical characteristics. 3. The imaginative elements.

1. Of these the first turns on Alliteration, Accent, and Rhythm; and this part, which is generally held to belong rather to grammar than to literature, I have described elsewhere.[74]

2. The Rhetorical characteristic of Anglo-Saxon poetry which is most prominent, is a certain repetition of the thought with a variation of epithet or phrase, in a manner which distinctly resembles the parallelism of Hebrew poetry.

3. The Imaginative element resides chiefly in the metaphor, which is very pervading and seems to be almost unconscious. It seldom rises to that conscious form of metaphor which we call the Simile, and when it does it is laconically brief, as in the comparison of a ship with a bird (fugle gelicost). The later poetry begins to expand the similes somewhat after the manner of the Latin poets. In Beowulf we have four brief similes and only one that is expanded; namely, that of the sword-hilt melting like ice in the warm season of spring (line 1,608).

We will begin with the "Beowulf," the largest and in every sense the most important of the remaining Anglo-Saxon poems. It has much in it that seems like anticipation of the age of chivalry. The story of the "Beowulf" is as follows:[75]—

Hrogar, king of the Danes, ruled over many nations with imperial sway. It came into his mind to add to his Burg a spacious hall for the greater splendour of his hospitality and the dispensing of his bounty. This hall was named Heorot. But all his glory was undone by the nightly visits of a devouring fiend; Hrogar's people were either killed, or gone to safer quarters. Heorot, though habitable by day, was abandoned at night; no faithful band kept watch around the seat of Danish royalty; Hrogar, the aged king, was in dejection and despair.

Higelac was king in the neighbouring land of the Geatas, and he had about him a young nephew, a sister's son, Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow. Beowulf had great bodily strength, but was otherwise little accounted of. The young man loved adventure, and hearing of Hrogar's misery, he determined to help him. He embarked with fourteen companions, and reached the coast of the Danes, where he was challenged by the coast-warden in a tone of mistrust. After a parley, that officer sped him on his way, and Beowulf's company stood before Hrogar's gate. Asked the meaning of this armed visit, the leader answers: "We sit at Higelac's table: my name is Beowulf. I will tell mine errand to thy master, if he will deign that we may greet him." Hrogar knew Beowulf's name, remembered his father Ecgtheow,[76] had the visitor to his presence, heard his high resolve, was ready to hope for deliverance, and prompt to see in Beowulf a deliverer. Festivity is renewed in the deserted hall, and tales of old achievements revive forgotten mirth—mirth broken only by the gibes of the eloquent Hunferth, which give Beowulf occasion to tell the tale of an old swimming-match when he slew sea-monsters; and all is harmony again. But night descends, and with it the fears that were now habitual. Beowulf shrinks not from his adventure; the guests depart, and the king, retiring to his castle, commits to his visitor the night-watch of Heorot.

Nfre ic negum men r alyfde, sian ic hond and rond hebban mihte, thryth rn Dena:— buton the nu tha! Hafa nu and geheald husa selest; gemyne mrtho, mgen ellen cyth; waca with wrathum! ne bith the wilna gad, gif thu tht ellen weorc aldre gedigest.

Never I to any man ere now entrusted, (since hand and shield I first could heave) the Guardhouse of the Danes:— never but now to thee! Have now and hold the sacred house; of glory mindful main and valour prove; watch for the foe! no wish of thine shall fail, if thou the daring work with life canst do.

Beowulf and his companions have their beds in the hall.

They sleep; but he watches. It was not long before the depredator of the night was there, and a lurid gleam stood out of his eyes. While Beowulf cautiously held himself on the alert, the fiend had quickly clutched and devoured one of the sleepers. But now Grendel—such was the demon's name—found himself in a grasp unknown before. Long and dire was the strife. The timbers cracked, the iron-bound benches plied, and work deemed proof against all but fire was now a wreck. Grendel finding the foe too strong, thought only of escape. He did escape, and got away to the moor, but he left an arm in Beowulf's grip.

Early in the morning men came from far and near to see the hideous trophy on the gable of the hall: men came to rejoice in the great deliverance; for Heorot, they said, was now purged. Great was their joy. Mounted men rode over the moor, tracking Grendel's retreat by his blood; they followed his path to the dismal pool where he had his habitation; then they turn homewards, riding together and conversing as they go. They talk of Beowulf, they liken him with Sigemund, that hero of greatest name. When they come to galloping ground, they break away from the tales, and race over the turf. In another tale they talk of Heremod; but he was proud and cold, not like Beowulf, who is as genial as he is valiant. The early riders are back to Heorot in time to see the king and the queen moving from bower to hall, the king with his guard, the queen with her maidens. Then follows a noble scene. Hrogar sees the hideous trophy on the gable; he stands on the terrace, and utters a thanksgiving to God as stately as it is simple. He reviews the woe and the grief, the disgrace, the helplessness, and the utter despondency of himself and of his people; "and now a boy hath done the deed which we all with our united powers could not compass! Verily that woman is blessed that bare him; and if she yet lives, she may well say that God was very gracious to her in her childbearing. Beowulf, I will love thee as a son, and thou shalt lack nothing that it is in my power to give."

Beowulf spake: "We did our best in a risky tussle; would I could have brought you the fiend a captive. I could not hold him; he gave me the slip: but he left a limb behind; that will be his death." Next Heorot is restored and beautified anew. Marvellous gold-embroidered hangings drape the walls, the admiration of those who have an eye for such things. The whole interior had been a wreck, the roof alone remained entire. Now, it was straight and fair once more; and now it was to be the scene of such a profusion of gifts as poet had never sung.

In honour of his victory Beowulf received a golden banner of quaint device, a helmet, and a coat of mail; but what drew all eyes was the ancient famous sword now brought forth from the treasure house, and borne up to the hero. Furthermore, at the king's word, eight splendid horses, cheek-adorned, were led into the hall; and on one of them was seen the saddle, the well-known saddle of Hrogar, wherein he, never aloof in battle-hour, sate when he mingled in the fray of war. "Take them," said the king, "take them, Beowulf, both horses and armour; and my blessing with them."

The companions of Beowulf were not forgotten: they all received appropriate gifts. The festivities proceed, and we have a picture of the course of the banquet. The minstrel's tale on that occasion was the Fearful Fray in the Castle of Finn, when Danes were there on a visit. The song being ended, Waltheow the queen bears the cup to the king, and bids him be merry and bountiful. Her queenly counsel stops not here. The king had sons of his own; he should give no hint of any other succession to his seat; while he occupied the throne, he should be large in bounty and encircle himself with grateful champions. Next, with like ceremony she honours Beowulf, and hands the cup to him. She also presents her own special gifts to the deliverer:—bracelets, and a rich garment, and a collar surpassing all most famed in story since Hama captured the collar of the Brosings. The queen addresses Beowulf, wishes him joy of her gifts, exalts his merits, bids him befriend her son and be loyal to the king. She took her seat, and the revelry grew. Little deemed they, what next would happen, when the night should be dark, and Hrogar asleep in his bower!

The hall is made ready as a dormitory for the men-at-arms; the benches are slewed round, and the floor is spread from end to end with beds and bolsters. Every warrior's shield is set upright at his head, and by the bench-posts stands his spear, supporting helmet and mail. Such was their custom; they slept as ever ready to rise and do service to their king. Horror is renewed in the night; Grendel's fiendish dam visits the hall and kills one of the sleepers, schere by name.

In the morning the king is in great distress. He sends for Beowulf, who, after the purging of Heorot, had occupied a separate bower, like the king. Beowulf arrives, and hopes all is well. Hrogar spake:—"Ask not of welfare; sorrow is renewed for the Danish folk! My trusty friend schere is dead; my comrade tried in battle when the tug was for life, when the fight was foot to foot and helmets kissed:—oh! schere was what a thane should be! The cruel hag has wreaked on him her vengeance. The country folk said there were two of them, one the semblance of a woman, the other the spectre of a man. Their haunt is in the remote land, in the crags of the wolf, the wind-beaten cliffs, and untrodden bogs, where the dismal stream plunges into the drear abyss of an awful lake, overhung with a dark and grisly wood rooted down to the water's edge, where a lurid flame plays nightly on the surface of the flood—and there lives not the man who knows its depth! So dreadful is the place that the hunted stag, hard driven by the hounds, will rather die on the bank than find a shelter there. A place of terror! When the wind rises, the waves mingle hurly-burly with the clouds, the air is stifling and rumbles with thunder. To thee alone we look for relief; darest thou explore the monster's lair, I will reward the adventure with ancient treasures, with coils of gold if thou return alive!"

Said Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow:—"Sorrow not, experienced sire! Better avenge a friend than idly deplore him:—each must wait the end of life, and should work while he may to make him a name—the best thing after life! Bestir thee, guardian of the folk! let us be quick upon the track of Grendel's housemate. I make thee a promise:—not highest cliff, not widest field, not darkest wood, nor deepest flood—go where he will—shall be his refuge! Bear up for one day, and may thy troubles end according to my wish!" The king mounts, and with his retinue conducts Beowulf to the charmed lake: the wildness of the way, and the strange nature of the scenes, are all in keeping. The armed followers sit them down in a place where they command a view of the dismal water. Monstrous creatures writhe about the crags; the men shoot some of them.

Beowulf equips for his adventure. His sword was the famous Hrunting, lent to him by Hunferth, the boastful orator, he who had gibed at Beowulf on the day of his arrival. It was a sword of high repute; a hoarded treasure; its edge was iron; it was damascened with device of coiled twigs; it had never failed in fight the hand that dared to wield it. Now Beowulf spoke, ready for action: "Remember, noble Hrogar, how thou and I talked together, that if I lost life in thy service thou wouldest be as a father to me departed:—protect my comrades if I am taken; and the gifts thou gavest me, beloved Hrogar, send home to Higelac. When he looks on the treasures he will know that I found a bounteous master, and enjoyed life while it lasted. And let Hunfer have his old sword again: I will conquer fame with Hrunting, or die fighting." Act followed word: he was gone, and the wave had covered him. He was most of the day before he reached the depths of the abyss. While yet on the downward way, he was met by the old water-wolf that had dwelt there a hundred years, who had perceived the approach of a human visitor. She clutched him and bore him off, till he found himself with his enemy in a vast chamber which excluded the water and was lighted by some strange fire-glow. At once the fight began, and Hrunting rang about the demon's head; but against such a being the sword was useless, the edge turned that never had failed before: he flung it from him and trusted to strength of arm. In his rage he charged so deadly that he felled the monster to the ground; but she recovered and Beowulf fell. And now the furious wight thought to revenge Grendel; she plunged her knife at Beowulf's breast, and his life had ended there but for the good service of his ringed mail-serk. Protected by this armour, and helped by Him who giveth victory, he passed the perilous moment, and was on his feet again. And now he espied among the armour in that place an old elfin sword, such as no other man might carry; this he seized, and with the force of despair he so smote that the fell hag lay dead:—the sword was gory, and the boy was fain of his work. With rage unsated, he ranged through the place till he came to where Grendel lay lifeless: he smote the head from the hateful carcase.

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