Early Britain - Anglo-Saxon Britain
by Grant Allen
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The following examples will give a sufficient idea of the commoner forms of declension in the classical West Saxon of the time of AElfred. The pronunciation has already been briefly explained in the preface.


(1.) Nom. stan (a stone). Nom. stanas. Gen. stanes. Gen. stana. Dat. stane. Dat. stanum. Acc. stan. Acc. stanas.

This is the commonest declension for masculine nouns, and it has fixed the normal plural for the modern English.


(2.) Nom. fot (a foot). Nom. fet. Gen. fotes. Gen. fota. Dat. fet. Dat. fotum. Acc. fot. Acc. fet.

Hence our modified plurals, such as feet, teeth, and men.


(3.) Nom. wudu (a wood). Nom. wuda. Gen. wuda. Gen. wuda. Dat. wuda. Dat. wudum. Acc. wudu. Acc. wuda.

All these are for masculine nouns.

The commonest feminine declension is as follows:—


(4.) Nom. gifu (a gift). Nom. gifa. Gen. gife. Gen. gifena. Dat. gife. Dat. gifum. Acc. gife. Acc. gifa.

Less frequent is the modified form:


(5.) Nom. boc (a book). Nom. bec. Gen. bec. Gen. boca. Dat. bec. Dat. bocum. Acc. boc. Acc. bec.

Of neuters there are two principal declensions. The first has the plural in u; the second leaves it unchanged.


(6.) Nom. scip (a ship). Nom. scipu. Gen. scipes. Gen. scipa. Dat. scipe. Dat. scipum. Acc. scip. Acc. scipu.


(7.) Nom. hus (a house). Nom. hus. Gen. huses. Gen. husa. Dat. huse. Dat. husum. Acc. hus. Acc. hus.

Hence our "collective" plurals, such as fish, deer, sheep, and trout.

There is also a weak declension, much the same for all three genders, of which the masculine form runs as follows:—


Nom. guma (a man). Nom. guman. Gen. guman. Gen. gumena. Dat. guman. Dat. guman. Acc. guman. Acc. guman.

Adjectives are declined throughout, as in Latin, through all the cases (including an instrumental), numbers, and genders. The demonstrative pronoun or definite article se (the) may stand as an example.


Masc. Fem. Neut. Nom. se, seo, thaet. Gen. thaes, thaere, thaes. Dat. tham, thaere, tham. Acc. thone, tha, thaet. Inst. thy, thaere, thy.


Masc. Fem. Neut. Nom. tha. Gen. thara. Dat. tham. Acc. tha. Inst.

Verbs are conjugated about as fully as in Latin. There are two principal forms: strong verbs, which form their preterite by vowel modification, as binde, pret. band; and weak verbs, which form it by the addition of ode or de to the root, as lufige, pret. lufode; hire, pret. hirde. The present and preterite of the first form are as follows:—


Pres. sing. 1. binde. binde. 2. bindest. binde. 3. bindeth. binde.

plur. 1, 2, 3. bindath. binden.

Pret. sing. 1. band. bunde. 2. bunde. bunde. 3. band. bunde.

plur. 1, 2, 3. bundon. bunden.

Both the grammatical forms and still more the orthography vary much from time to time, from place to place, and even from writer to writer. The forms used in this work are for the most part those employed by West Saxons in the age of AElfred.

A few examples of the language as written at three periods will enable the reader to form some idea of its relation to the existing type. The first passage cited is from King AElfred's translation of Orosius; but it consists of the opening lines of a paragraph inserted by the king himself from his own materials, and so affords an excellent illustration of his style in original English prose. The reader is recommended to compare it word for word with the parallel slightly modernised version, bearing in mind the inflexional terminations.

Ohthere saede his hlaforde, Othhere said [to] his lord, AElfrede cyninge, thaet he AElfred king, that he of all ealra Northmonna northmest Northmen northmost abode. bude. He cwaeth thaet he He quoth that he abode bude on thaem lande northweardum on the land northward against with tha West-sae. the West Sea. He said, He saede theah thaet thaet land though, that that land was sie swithe lang north thonan; [or extended] much north ac hit is eall weste, buton on thence; eke it is all waste, feawum stowum styccemaelum but [except that] on few stows wiciath Finnas, on huntothe [in a few places] piecemeal on wintra, and on sumera on dwelleth Finns, on hunting on fiscathe be thaere sae. He winter, and on summer on saede thaet he aet sumum cirre fishing by the sea. He said wolde fandian hu longe thaet that he at some time [on one land northryhte laege, oththe occasion] would seek how long hwaether aenig monn be northan that land lay northright [due thaem westenne bude. Tha north], or whether any man by for he northryhte be thaem north of the waste abode. lande: let him ealne weg Then fore [fared] he northright, thaet weste land on thaet steorbord, by the land: left all the and tha wid-sae on thaet way that waste land on the baecbord thrie dagas. Tha starboard of him, and the wide waes he swa feor north swa tha sea on the backboard [port, hwael-huntan firrest farath. French babord] three days. Then was he so far north as the whale-hunters furthest fareth.

In this passage it is easy to see that the variations which make it into modern English are for the most part of a very simple kind. Some of the words are absolutely identical, as his, on, he, and, land, or north. Others, though differences of spelling mask the likeness, are practically the same, as sae, saede, cwaeth, thaet, lang, for which we now write sea, said, quoth, that, long. A few have undergone contraction or alteration, as hlaford, now lord, cyning, now king, and steorbord, now starboard. Stow, a place, is now obsolete, except in local names; styccemaelum, stickmeal, has been Normanised into piecemeal. In other cases new terminations have been substituted for old ones; huntath and fiscath are now replaced by hunting and fishing; while hunta has been superseded by hunter. Only six words in the passage have died out wholly: buan, to abide (bude); swithe, very; wician, to dwell; cirr, an occasion; fandian, to enquire (connected with find); and baecbord, port, which still survives in French from Norman sources. Daeg, day, and aenig, any, show how existing English has softened the final g into a y. But the main difference which separates the modern passage from its ancient prototype is the consistent dropping of the grammatical inflexions in hlaforde, AElfrede, ealra, feawum, and fandian, where we now say, to his lord, of all, in few, and to enquire.

The next passage, from the old English epic of Beowulf, shows the language in another aspect. Here, as in all poetry, archaic forms abound, and the syntax is intentionally involved. It is written in the old alliterative rhythm, described in the next chapter:—

Beowulf mathelode bearn Ecgtheowes; Hwaet! we the thas sae-lac sunu Healfdenes Leod Scyldinga lustum brohton, Tires to tacne, the thu her to-locast. Ic thaet un-softe ealdre gedigde Wigge under waetere, weore genethde Earfothlice; aet rihte waes Guth getwaefed nymthe mec god scylde.

* * * * *

Beowulf spake, the son of Ecgtheow: See! We to thee this sea-gift, son of Healfdene, Prince of the Scyldings, joyfully have brought, For a token of glory, that thou here lookest on. That I unsoftly, gloriously accomplished, In war under water: the work I dared, With much labour: rightly was The battle divided, but that a god shielded me.

Or, to translate more prosaically:—

"Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow, addressed the meeting. See, son of Healfdene, Prince of the Scyldings; we have joyfully brought thee this gift from the sea which thou beholdest, for a proof of our valour. I obtained it with difficulty, gloriously, fighting beneath the waves: I dared the task with great toil. Evenly was the battle decreed, but that a god afforded me his protection."

In this short passage, many of the words are now obsolete: for example, mathelian, to address an assembly (concionari); lac, a gift; wig, war; guth, battle; and leod, a prince. Ge-digde, ge-nethde, and ge-twaefed have the now obsolete particle ge-, which bears much the same sense as in High German. On the other hand, bearn, a bairn; sunu, a son; sae, sea; tacen, a token; waeter, water; and weorc, work, still survive: as do the verbs to bring, to look, and to shield. Lust, pleasure, whence lustum, joyfully, has now restricted its meaning in modern English, but retains its original sense in High German.

A few lines from the "Chronicle" under the year 1137, during the reign of Stephen, will give an example of Anglo-Saxon in its later and corrupt form, caught in the act of passing into Chaucerian English:—

This gaere for the King This year fared the King Stephan ofer sae to Normandi; Stephen over sea to Normandy; and ther wes under and there he was fangen, forthi thaet hi wenden accepted [received as duke] thaet he sculde ben alsuic alse because that they weened the eom waes, and for he that he should be just as his hadde get his tresor; ac he uncle was, and because he todeld it and scatered sotlice. had got his treasure: but he Micel hadde Henri king to-dealt [distributed] and gadered gold and sylver, and scattered it sot-like [foolishly]. na god ne dide men for his Muckle had King saule tharof. Tha the King Henry gathered of gold and Stephan to Englaland com, silver; and man did no good tha macod he his gadering for his soul thereof. When aet Oxeneford, and thar he that King Stephan was come nam the biscop Roger of to England, then maked he Sereberi, and Alexander his gathering at Oxford, and biscop of Lincoln, and the there he took the bishop Canceler Roger, hise neves, Roger of Salisbury, and Alexander, and dide aelle in prisun, til bishop of Lincoln, and hi iafen up hire castles. the Chancellor Roger, his nephew, and did them all in prison [put them in prison] till they gave up their castles.

The following passage from AElfric's Life of King Oswold, in the best period of early English prose, may perhaps be intelligible to modern readers by the aid of a few explanatory notes only. Mid means with; while with itself still bears only the meaning of against:—

"AEfter tham the Augustinus to Englalande becom, waes sum aethele cyning, Oswold ge-haten [hight or called], on North-hymbra-lande, ge-lyfed swithe on God. Se ferde [went] on his iugothe [youth] fram his freondum and magum [relations] to Scotlande on sae, and thaer sona wearth ge-fullod [baptised], and his ge-feran [companions] samod the mid him sithedon [journeyed]. Betwux tham wearth of-slagen [off-slain] Eadwine his eam [uncle], North-hymbra cyning, on Crist ge-lyfed, fram Brytta cyninge, Ceadwalla ge-ciged [called, named], and twegen his aefter-gengan binnan twam gearum [years]; and se Ceadwalla sloh and to sceame tucode tha North-hymbran leode [people] aefter heora hlafordes fylle, oth thaet [until] Oswold se eadiga his yfelnysse adwaescte [extinguished]. Oswold him com to, and him cenlice [boldly] with feaht mid lytlum werode [troop], ac his geleafa [belief] hine ge-trymde [encouraged], and Crist him ge-fylste [helped] to his feonda [fiends, enemies] slege."

It will be noticed in every case that the syntactical arrangement of the words in the sentences follows as a whole the rule that the governed word precedes the governing, as in Latin or High German, not vice versa, as in modern English.

A brief list will show the principal modifications undergone by nouns in the process of modernisation. Stan, stone; snaw, snow; ban, bone. Craeft, craft; staef, staff; baec, back. Weg, way; daeg, day; naegel, nail; fugol, fowl. Gear, year; geong, young. Finger, finger; winter, winter; ford, ford. AEfen, even; morgen, morn. Monath, month; heofon, heaven; heafod, head. Fot, foot; toth, tooth; boc, book; freond, friend. Modor, mother; faeder, father; dohtor, daughter. Sunu, son; wudu, wood; caru, care; denu, dene (valley). Scip, ship; cild, child; ceorl, churl; cynn, kin; ceald, cold. Wherever a word has not become wholly obsolete, or assumed a new termination, (e.g., gifu, gift; morgen, morn-ing), it usually follows one or other of these analogies.

The changes which the English language, as a whole, has undergone in passing from its earlier to its later form, may best be considered under the two heads of form and matter.

As regards form or structure, the language has been simplified in three separate ways. First, the nouns and adjectives have for the most part lost their inflexions, at least so far as the cases are concerned. Secondly, the nouns have also lost their gender. And thirdly, the verbs have been simplified in conjugation, weak preterites being often substituted for strong ones, and differential terminations largely lost. On the other hand, the plural of nouns is still distinguished from the singular by its termination in s, which is derived from the first declension of Anglo-Saxon nouns, not as is often asserted, from the Norman-French usage. In other words, all plurals have been assimilated to this the commonest model; just as in French they have been assimilated to the final s of the third declension in Latin. A few plurals of the other types still survive, such as men, geese, mice, sheep, deer, oxen, children and (dialectically) peasen. To make up for this loss of inflexions, the language now employs a larger number of particles, and to some extent, of auxiliaries. Instead of wines, we now say of a friend; instead of wine, we now say to a friend; and instead of winum, we now say to friends. English, in short, has almost ceased to be inflexional and has become analytic.

As regards matter or vocabulary, the language has lost in certain directions, and gained in others. It has lost many old Teutonic roots, such as wig, war; rice, kingdom; tungol, light; with their derivatives, wigend, warrior; rixian, to rule; tungol-witega, astrologer; and so forth. The relative number of such losses to the survivals may be roughly gauged from the passages quoted above. On the other hand, the language has gained by the incorporation of many Romance words, shortly after the Norman Conquest, such as place, voice, judge, war, and royal. Some of these have entirely superseded native old English words. Thus the Norman-French uncle, aunt, cousin, nephew, and niece, have wholly ousted their Anglo-Saxon equivalents. In other instances the Romance words have enriched the language with symbols for really new ideas. This is still more strikingly the case with the direct importations from the classical Greek and Latin which began at the period of the Renaissance. Such words usually refer either to abstract conceptions for which the English language had no suitable expression, or to the accurate terminology of the advanced sciences. In every-day conversation our vocabulary is almost entirely English; in speaking or writing upon philosophical or scientific subjects it is largely intermixed with Romance and Graeco-Latin elements. On the whole, though it is to be regretted that many strong, vigorous or poetical old Teutonic roots should have been allowed to fall into disuse, it may safely be asserted that our gains have far more than outbalanced our losses in this respect.

It must never be forgotten, however, that the whole framework of our language still remains, in every case, purely English—that is to say, Anglo-Saxon or Low Dutch—however many foreign elements may happen to enter into its vocabulary. We can frame many sentences without using one word of Romance or classical origin: we cannot frame a single sentence without using words of English origin. The Authorised Version of the Bible, "The Pilgrim's Progress," and such poems as Tennyson's "Dora," consist almost entirely of Teutonic elements. Even when the vocabulary is largely classical, as in Johnson's "Rasselas" and some parts of "Paradise Lost," the grammatical structure, the prepositions, the pronouns, the auxiliary verbs, and the connecting particles, are all necessarily and purely English. Two examples will suffice to make this principle perfectly clear. In the first, which is the most familiar quotation from Shakespeare, all the words of foreign origin have been printed in italics:—

To be, or not to be,—that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them? To die,—to sleep,— No more; and, by a sleep, to say we end The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to,—'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished. To die,—to sleep;— To sleep! perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin?

Here, out of 167 words, we find only 28 of foreign origin; and even these are Englished in their terminations or adjuncts. Noble is Norman-French; but the comparative nobler stamps it with the Teutonic mark. Oppose is Latin; but the participle opposing is true English. Devout is naturalised by the native adverbial termination, devoutly. Oppressor's and despised take English inflexions. The formative elements, or, not, that, the, in, and, by, we, and the rest, are all English. The only complete sentence which we could frame of wholly Latin words would be an imperative standing alone, as, "Observe," and even this would be English in form.

On the other hand, we may take the following passage from Mr. Herbert Spencer as a specimen of the largely Latinised vocabulary needed for expressing the exact ideas of science or philosophy. Here also borrowed words are printed in italics:—

"The constitution which we assign to this etherial medium, however, like the constitution we assign to solid substance, is necessarily an abstract of the impressions received from tangible bodies. The opposition to pressure which a tangible body offers to us is not shown in one direction only, but in all directions; and so likewise is its tenacity. Suppose countless lines radiating from its centre on every side, and it resists along each of these lines and coheres along each of these lines. Hence the constitution of those ultimate units through the instrumentality of which phenomena are interpreted. Be they atoms of ponderable matter or molecules of ether, the properties we conceive them to possess are nothing else than these perceptible properties idealised."

In this case, out of 122 words we find no less than 46 are of foreign origin. Though this large proportion sufficiently shows the amount of our indebtedness to the classical languages for our abstract or specialised scientific terms, the absolutely indisputable nature of the English substratum remains clearly evident. The tongue which we use to-day is enriched by valuable loan words from many separate sources; but it is still as it has always been, English and nothing else. It is the self-same speech with the tongue of the Sleswick pirates and the West Saxon over-lords.



Perhaps nothing tends more to repel the modern English student from the early history of his country than the very unfamiliar appearance of the personal names which he meets before the Norman Conquest. There can be no doubt that such a shrinking from the first stages of our national annals does really exist; and it seems to be largely due to this very superficial and somewhat unphilosophical cause. Before the Norman invasion, the modern Englishman finds himself apparently among complete foreigners, in the AEthelwulfs, the Eadgyths, the Oswius, and the Seaxburhs of the Chronicle; while he hails the Norman invaders, the Johns, Henrys, Williams, and Roberts, of the period immediately succeeding the conquest, as familiar English friends. The contrast can scarcely be better given than in the story told about AEthelred's Norman wife. Her name was Ymma, or Emma; but the English of that time murmured against such an outlandish sound, and so the Lady received a new English name as AElfgifu. At the present day our nomenclature has changed so utterly that Emma sounds like ordinary English, while AElfgifu sounds like a wholly foreign word. The incidental light thrown upon our history by the careful study of personal names is indeed so valuable that a few remarks upon the subject seem necessary in order to complete our hasty survey of Anglo-Saxon Britain.

During the very earliest period when we catch a glimpse of the English people on the Continent or in eastern Britain, a double system of naming seems to have prevailed, not wholly unlike our modern plan of Christian and surname. The clan name was appended to the personal one. A man was apparently described as Wulf the Holting, or as Creoda the AEscing. The clan names were in many cases common to the English and the Continental Teutons. Thus we find Helsings in the English Helsington and the Swedish Helsingland; Harlings in the English Harlingham and the Frisian Harlingen; and Bleccings in the English Bletchingley and the Scandinavian Bleckingen. Our Thyrings at Thorrington answer, perhaps, to the Thuringians; our Myrgings at Merrington to the Frankish Merwings or Merovingians; our Waerings at Warrington to the Norse Vaeringjar or Varangians. At any rate, the clan organization was one common to both great branches of the Teutonic stock, and it has left its mark deeply upon our modern nomenclature, both in England and in Germany. Mr. Kemble has enumerated nearly 200 clan names found in early English charters and documents, besides over 600 others inferred from local names in England at the present day. Taking one letter of the alphabet alone, his list includes the Glaestings, Geddings, Gumenings, Gustings, Getings, Grundlings, Gildlings, and Gillings, from documentary evidence; and the Gaersings, Gestings, Geofonings, Goldings, and Garings, with many others, from the inferential evidence of existing towns and villages.

The personal names of the earliest period are in many cases untranslateable—that is to say, as with the first stratum of Greek names, they bear no obvious meaning in the language as we know it. Others are names of animals or natural objects. Unlike the later historical cognomens, they each consist, as a rule, of a single element, not of two elements in composition. Such are the names which we get in the narrative of the colonization and in the mythical genealogies; Hengest, Horsa, AEsc, AElle, Cymen, Cissa, Bieda, Maegla; Ceol, Penda, Offa, Blecca; Esla, Gewis, Wig, Brand, and so forth. A few of these names (such as Penda and Offa), are undoubtedly historical; but of the rest, some seem to be etymological blunders, like Port and Wihtgar; others to be pure myths, like Wig and Brand; and others, again, to be doubtfully true, like Cerdic, Cissa, and Bieda, eponyms, perhaps, of Cerdices-ford, Cissan-ceaster, and Biedan-heafod.

In the truly historical age, the clan system seems to have died out, and each person bore, as a rule, only a single personal name. These names are almost invariably compounded of two elements, and the elements thus employed were comparatively few in number. Thus, we get the root aethel, noble, as the first half in AEthelred, AEthelwulf, AEthelberht, AEthelstan, and AEthelbald. Again, the root ead, rich, or powerful, occurs in Eadgar, Eadred, Eadward, Eadwine, and Eadwulf. AElf, an elf, forms the prime element in AElfred, AElfric, AElfwine, AElfward, and AElfstan. These were the favourite names of the West-Saxon royal house; the Northumbrian kings seem rather to have affected the syllable os, divine, as in Oswald, Oswiu, Osric, Osred, and Oslaf. Wine, friend, is a favourite termination found in AEscwine, Eadwine, AEthelwine, Oswine, and AElfwine, whose meanings need no further explanation. Wulf appears as the first half in Wulfstan, Wulfric, Wulfred, and Wulfhere; while it forms the second half in AEthelwulf, Eadwulf, Ealdwulf, and Cenwulf. Beorht, berht, or briht, bright, or glorious, appears in Beorhtric, Beorhtwulf, Brihtwald; AEthelberht, Ealdbriht, and Eadbyrht. Burh, a fortress, enters into many female names, as Eadburh, AEthelburh, Sexburh, and Wihtburh. As a rule, a certain number of syllables seem to have been regarded as proper elements for forming personal names, and to have been combined somewhat fancifully, without much regard to the resulting meaning. The following short list of such elements, in addition to the roots given above, will suffice to explain most of the names mentioned in this work.

Helm: helmet. Gar: spear. Gifu: gift. Here: army. Sige: victory. Cyne: royal. Leof: dear. Wig: war. Stan: stone. Eald: old, venerable. Weard, ward: ward, protection. Red: counsel. Eeg: edge, sword. Theod: people, nation.

By combining these elements with those already given most of the royal or noble names in use in early England were obtained.

With the people, however, it would seem that shorter and older forms were still in vogue. The following document, the original of which is printed in Kemble's collection, represents the pedigree of a serf, and is interesting, both as showing the sort of names in use among the servile class, and the care with which their family relationships were recorded, in order to preserve the rights of their lord.

Dudda was a boor at Hatfield, and he had three daughters: one hight Deorwyn, the other Deorswith, the third Golde. And Wulflaf at Hatfield has Deorwyn to wife. AElfstan, at Tatchingworth, has Deorswith to wife: and Ealhstan, AElfstan's brother, has Golde to wife. There was a man hight Hwita, bee-master at Hatfield, and he had a daughter Tate, mother of Wulfsige, the bowman; and Wulfsige's sister Lulle has Hehstan to wife, at Walden. Wifus and Dunne and Seoloce are inborn at Hatfield. Duding, son of Wifus, lives at Walden; and Ceolmund, Dunne's son, also sits at Walden; and AEthelheah, Seoloce's son, also sits at Walden. And Tate, Cenwold's sister, Maeg has to wife at Welgun; and Eadhelm, Herethryth's son, has Tate's daughter to wife. Waerlaf, Waerstan's father, was a right serf at Hatfield; he kept the grey swine there.

In the west, and especially in Cornwall, the names of the serfs were mainly Celtic,—Griffith, Modred, Riol, and so forth,—as may be seen from the list of manumissions preserved in a mass-book at St. Petroc's, or Padstow. Elsewhere, however, the Celtic names seem to have dropped out, for the most part, with the Celtic language. It is true, we meet with cases of apparently Welsh forms, like Maccus, or Rum, even in purely Teutonic districts; and some names, such as Cerdic and Ceadwalla, seem to have been borrowed by one race from the other: while such forms as Wealtheow and Waltheof are at least suggestive of British descent: but on the whole, the conquered Britons appear everywhere to have quickly adopted the names in vogue among their conquerors. Such names would doubtless be considered fashionable, as was the case at a later date with those introduced by the Danes and the Normans. Even in Cornwall a good many English forms occur among the serfs: while in very Celtic Devonshire, English names were probably universal.

The Danish Conquest introduced a number of Scandinavian names, especially in the North, the consideration of which belongs rather to a companion volume. They must be briefly noted here, however, to prevent confusion with the genuine English forms. Amongst such Scandinavian introductions, the commonest are perhaps Harold, Swegen or Swend, Ulf, Gorm or Guthrum, Orm, Yric or Eric, Cnut, and Ulfcytel. During and after the time of the Danish dynasty, these forms, rendered fashionable by royal usage, became very general even among the native English. Thus Earl Godwine's sons bore Scandinavian names; and at an earlier period we even find persons, apparently Scandinavian, fighting on the English side against the Danes in East Anglia.

But the sequel to the Norman Conquest shows us most clearly how the whole nomenclature of a nation may be entirely altered without any large change of race. Immediately after the Conquest the native English names begin to disappear, and in their place we get a crop of Williams, Walters, Rogers, Henries, Ralphs, Richards, Gilberts, and Roberts. Most of these were originally High German forms, taken into Gaul by the Franks, borrowed from them by the Normans, and then copied by the English from their foreign lords. A few, however, such as Arthur, Owen, and Alan, were Breton Welsh. Side by side with these French names, the Normans introduced the Scriptural forms, John, Matthew, Thomas, Simon, Stephen, Piers or Peter, and James; for though a few cases of Scriptural names occur in the earlier history—for example, St. John of Beverley and Daniel, bishop of the West Saxons—these are always borne by ecclesiastics, probably as names of religion. All through the middle ages, and down to very recent times, the vast majority of English men and women continued to bear these baptismal names of Norman introduction. Only two native English forms practically survived—Edward and Edmund—owing to mere accidents of royal favour. They were the names of two great English saints, Eadward the Confessor and Eadmund of East Anglia; and Henry III. bestowed them upon his two sons, Edward I. and Edmund of Lancaster. In this manner they became adopted into the royal and fashionable circle, and so were perpetuated to our own day. All the others died out in mediaeval times, while the few old forms now current, such as Alfred, Edgar, Athelstane, and Edwin, are mere artificial revivals of the two last centuries. If we were to judge by nomenclature alone, we might almost fancy that the Norman Conquest had wholly extinguished the English people.

A few steps towards the adoption of surnames were taken even before the Conquest. Titles of office were usually placed after the personal name, as AElfred King, Lilla Thegn, Wulfnoth Cild, AElfward Bishop, AEthelberht Ealdorman, and Harold Earl. Double names occasionally occur, the second being a nickname or true surname, as Osgod Clapa, Benedict Biscop, Thurkytel Myranheafod, Godwine Bace, and AElfric Cerm. Trade names are also found, as Ecceard smith, or Godwig boor. Everywhere, but especially in the Danish North, patronymics were in common use; for example, Harold Godwine's son, or Thored Gunnor's son. In all these cases we get surnames in the germ; but their general and official adoption dates from after the Norman Conquest.

Local nomenclature also demands a short explanation. Most of the Roman towns continued to be called by their Roman names: Londinium, Lunden, London; Eburacum, Eoforwic, Eurewic, York; Lindum Colonia, Lincolne, Lincoln. Often ceaster, from castrum, was added: Gwent, Venta Belgarum, Wintan-ceaster, Winteceaster, Winchester; Isca, Exan-ceaster, Execestre, Exeter; Corinium, Cyren-ceaster, Cirencester. Almost every place which is known to have had a name at the English Conquest retained that name afterwards, in a more or less clipped or altered form. Examples are Kent, Wight, Devon, Dorset; Manchester, Lancaster, Doncaster, Leicester, Gloucester, Worcester, Colchester, Silchester, Uttoxeter, Wroxeter, and Chester; Thames, Severn, Ouse, Don, Aire, Derwent, Swale, and Tyne. Even where the Roman name is now lost, as at Pevensey, the old form was retained in Early English days; for the "Chronicle" calls it Andredes-ceaster, that is to say, Anderida. So the old name of Bath is Akemannes-ceaster, derived from the Latin Aqua, Cissan-ceaster, Chichester, forms an almost solitary exception. Canterbury, or Cant-wara-byrig, was correctly known as Dwrovernum or Doroberna in Latin documents of the Anglo-Saxon period.

On the other hand, the true English towns which grew up around the strictly English settlements, bore names of three sorts. The first were the clan villages, the hams or tuns, such as Baenesingatun, Bensington; Snotingaham, Nottingham; Glaestingabyrig, Glastonbury; and Waeringwica, Warwick. These have already been sufficiently illustrated; and they were situated, for the most part, in the richest agricultural lowlands. The second were towns which grew up slowly for purposes of trade by fords of rivers or at ports: such are Oxeneford, Oxford; Bedcanford, Bedford (a British town); Stretford, Stratford; and Wealingaford, Wallingford. The third were the towns which grew up in the wastes and wealds, with names of varied form but more modern origin. As a whole, it may be said that during the entire early English period the names of cities were mostly Roman, the names of villages and country towns were mostly English.



Nothing better illustrates the original peculiarities and subsequent development of the early English mind than the Anglo-Saxon literature. A vast mass of manuscripts has been preserved for us, embracing works in prose and verse of the most varied kind; and all the most important of these have been made accessible to modern readers in printed copies. They cast a flood of light upon the workings of the English mind in all ages, from the old pagan period in Sleswick to the date of the Norman Conquest, and the subsequent gradual supplanting of our native literature by a new culture based upon the Romance models.

All national literature everywhere begins with rude songs. From the earliest period at which the English and Saxon people existed as separate tribes at all, we may be sure that they possessed battle-songs, like those common to the whole Aryan stock. But among the Teutonic races poetry was not distinguished by either of the peculiarities—rime or metre—which mark off modern verse from prose, so far as its external form is concerned. Our existing English system of versification is not derived from our old native poetry at all; it is a development of the Romance system, adopted by the school of Gower and Chaucer from the French and Italian poets. Its metre, or syllabic arrangement, is an adaptation from the Greek quantitative prosody, handed down through Latin and the neo-Latin dialects; its rime is a Celtic peculiarity borrowed by the Romance nationalities, and handed on through them to modern English literature by the Romance school of the fourteenth century. Our original English versification, on the other hand, was neither rimed nor rhythmic. What answered to metre was a certain irregular swing, produced by a roughly recurrent number of accents in each couplet, without restriction as to the number of feet or syllables. What answered to rime was a regular and marked alliteration, each couplet having a certain key-letter, with which three principal words in the couplet began. In addition to these two poetical devices, Anglo-Saxon verse shows traces of parallelism, similar to that which distinguishes Hebrew poetry. But the alliteration and parallelism do not run quite side by side, the second half of each alliterative couplet being parallel with the first half of the next couplet. Accordingly, each new sentence begins somewhat clumsily in the middle of the couplet. All these peculiarities are not, however, always to be distinguished in every separate poem.

The following rough translation of a very early Teutonic spell for the cure of a sprained ankle, belonging to the heathen period, will illustrate the earliest form of this alliterative verse. The key-letter in each couplet is printed in capitals, and the verse is read from end to end, not as two separate columns.[1]

Balder and Woden Went to the Woodland: There Balder's Foal Fell, wrenching its Foot. Then Sinthgunt beguiled him, and Sunna her Sister: Then Frua beguiled him, and Folla her sister, Then Woden beguiled him, as Well he knew how; Wrench of blood, Wrench of bone, and eke Wrench of limb: Bone unto Bone, Blood unto Blood, Limb unto Limb as though Limed it were.

[1] The original of this heathen charm is in the Old High German dialect; but it is quoted here as a good specimen of the early form of alliterative verse. A similar charm undoubtedly existed in Anglo-Saxon, though no copy of it has come down to our days, as we possess a modernised and Christianised English version, in which the name of our Lord is substituted for that of Balder.

In this simple spell the alliteration serves rather as an aid to memory than as an ornamental device. The following lines, translated from the ballad on AEthelstan's victory at Brunanburh, in 937, will show the developed form of the same versificatory system. The parallelism and alliteration are here well marked:—

AEthelstan king, lord of Earls, Bestower of Bracelets, and his Brother eke, Eadmund the AEtheling, honour Eternal Won in the Slaughter, with edge of the Sword By Brunnanbury. The Bucklers they clave, Hewed the Helmets, with Hammered steel, Heirs of Edward, as was their Heritage, From their Fore-Fathers, that oft the Field They should Guard their Good folk Gainst every comer, Their Home and their Hoard. The Hated foe cringed to them, The Scottish Sailors, and the Northern Shipmen; Fated they Fell. The Field lay gory With Swordsmen's blood Since the Sun rose On Morning tide a Mighty globe, To Glide o'er the Ground, God's candle bright, The endless Lord's taper, till the great Light Sank to its Setting. There Soldiers lay, Warriors Wounded, Northern Wights, Shot over Shields; and so Scotsmen eke, Wearied with War. The West Saxon onwards, The Live-Long day in Linked order Followed the Footsteps of the Foul Foe.

Of course no songs of the old heathen period were committed to writing either in Sleswick or in Britain. The minstrels who composed them taught them by word of mouth to their pupils, and so handed them down from generation to generation, much as the Achaean rhapsodists handed down the Homeric poems. Nevertheless, two or three such old songs were afterwards written out in Christian Northumbria or Wessex; and though their heathendom has been greatly toned down by the transcribers, enough remains to give us a graphic glimpse of the fierce and gloomy old English nature which we could not otherwise obtain. One fragment, known as the Fight at Finnesburh (rescued from a book-cover into which it had been pasted), probably dates back before the colonisation of Britain, and closely resembles in style the above-quoted ode. Two other early pieces, the Traveller's Song and the Lament of Deor, are inserted from pagan tradition in a book of later devotional poems preserved at Exeter. But the great epic of Beowulf, a work composed when the English and the Danes were still living in close connexion with one another by the shores of the Baltic, has been handed down to us entire, thanks to the kind intervention of some Northumbrian monk, who, by Christianising the most flagrantly heathen portions, has saved the entire work from the fate which would otherwise have overtaken it. As a striking representation of early English life and thought, this great epic deserves a fuller description.[2]

[2] It is right to state, however, that many scholars regard Beowulf as a late translation from a Danish original.

Beowulf is written in the same short alliterative metre as that of the Brunanburh ballad, and takes its name from its hero, a servant or companion of the mighty Hygelac, king of the Geatas (Jutes or Goths). At a distance from his home lay the kingdom of the Scyldings, a Danish tribe, ruled over by Hrothgar. There stood Heorot, the high hall of heroes, the greatest mead-house ever raised. But the land of the Danes was haunted by a terrible fiend, known as Grendel, who dwelt in a dark fen in the forest belt, girt round with shadows and lit up at eve by flitting flames. Every night Grendel came forth and carried off some of the Danes to devour in his home. The description of the monster himself and of the marshland where he had his lair is full of that weird and gloomy superstition which everywhere darkens and overshadows the life of the savage and the heathen barbarian. The terror inspired in the rude English mind by the mark and the woodland, the home of wild beasts and of hostile ghosts, of deadly spirits and of fierce enemies, gleams luridly through every line. The fen and the forest are dim and dark; will-o'-the-wisps flit above them, and gloom closes them in; wolves and wild boars lurk there, the quagmire opens its jaws and swallows the horse and his rider; the foeman comes through it to bring fire and slaughter to the clan-village at the dead of night. To these real terrors and dangers of the mark are added the fancied ones of superstition. There the terrible forms begotten of man's vague dread of the unknown—elves and nickors and fiends—have their murky dwelling-place. The atmosphere of the strange old heathen epic is oppressive in its gloominess. Nevertheless, its poetry sometimes rises to a height of great, though barbaric, sublimity. Beowulf himself, hearing of the evil wrought by Grendel, set sail from his home for the land of the Danes. Hrothgar received him kindly, and entertained him and his Goths with ale and song in Heorot. Wealtheow, Hrothgar's queen, gold-decked, served them with mead. But when all had retired to rest on the couches of the great hall, in the murky night, Grendel came. He seized and slew one of Beowulf's companions. Then the warrior of the Goths followed the monster, and wounded him sorely with his hands. Grendel fled to his lair to die. But after the contest, Grendel's mother, a no less hateful creature—the "Devil's dam" of our mediaeval legends—carries on the war against the slayer of her son. Beowulf descends to her home beneath the water, grapples with her in her cave, turns against her the weapons he finds there, and is again victorious. The Goths return to their own country laden with gifts by Hrothgar. After the death of Hygelac, Beowulf succeeds to the kingship of the Geatas, whom he rules well and prosperously for many years. At length a mysterious being, named the Fire Drake, a sort of dragon guarding a hidden treasure, some of which has been stolen while its guardian sleeps, comes out to slaughter his people. The old hero buckles on his rune-covered sword again, and goes forth to battle with the monster. He slays it, indeed, but is blasted by its fiery breath, and dies after the encounter. His companions light his pyre upon a lofty spit of land jutting out into the winter sea. Weapons and jewels and drinking bowls, taken from the Fire Drake's treasure, were thrown into the tomb for the use of the ghost in the other world; and a mighty barrow was raised upon the spot to be a beacon far and wide to seafaring men. So ends the great heathen epic. It gives us the most valuable picture which we possess of the daily life led by our pagan forefathers.

But though these poems are the oldest in tone, they are not the oldest in form of all that we possess. It is probable that the most primitive Anglo-Saxon verse was identical with prose, and consisted merely of sentences bound together by parallelism. As alliteration, at first a mere memoria technica, became an ornamental adjunct, and grew more developed, the parallelism gradually dropped out. Gnomes or short proverbs of this character were in common use, and they closely resembled the mediaeval proverbs current in England to the present day.

With the introduction of Christianity, English verse took a new direction. It was chiefly occupied in devotional and sacred poetry, or rather, such poems only have come down to us, as the monks transcribed them alone, leaving the half-heathen war-songs of the minstrels attached to the great houses to die out unwritten. The first piece of English literature which we can actually date is a fragment of the great religious epic of Caedmon, written about the year 670. Caedmon was a poor brother in Hild's monastery at Whitby, and he acquired the art of poetry by a miracle. Northumbria, in the sixth and seventh centuries, took the lead in Teutonic Britain; and all the early literature is Northumbrian, as all the later literature is West Saxon. Caedmon's poem consisted in a paraphrase of the Bible history, from the Creation to the Ascension. The idea of a translation of the Bible from Latin into English would never have occurred to any one at that early time. English had as yet no literary form into which it could be thrown. But Caedmon conceived the notion of paraphrasing the Bible story in the old alliterative Teutonic verse, which was familiar to his hearers in songs like Beowulf. Some of the brethren translated or interpreted for him portions of the Vulgate, and he threw them into rude metre. Only a single short excerpt has come down to us in the original form. There is a later complete epic, however, also attributed to Caedmon, of the same scope and purport; and it retains so much of the old heathen spirit that it may very possibly represent a modernised version of the real Caedmon's poem, by a reviser in the ninth century. At any rate, the latter work may be treated here under the name of Caedmon, by which it is universally known. It consists of a long Scriptural paraphrase, written in the alliterative metre, short, sharp, and decisive, but not without a wild and passionate beauty of its own. In tone it differs wonderfully little from Beowulf, being most at home in the war of heaven and Satan, and in the titanic descriptions of the devils and their deeds. The conduct of the poem is singularly like that of Paradise Lost. Its wild and rapid stanzas show how little Christianity had yet moulded the barbaric nature of the newly-converted English. The epic is essentially a war-song; the Hebrew element is far stronger than the Christian; hell takes the place of Grendel's mere; and, to borrow Mr. Green's admirable phrase, "the verses fall like sword-strokes in the thick of battle."

In all these works we get the genuine native English note, the wild song of a pirate race, shaped in early minstrelsy for celebrating the deeds of gods and warriors, and scarcely half-adapted afterward to the not wholly alien tone of the oldest Hebrew Scriptures. But the Latin schools, set up by the Italian monks, introduced into England a totally new and highly-developed literature. The pagan Anglo-Saxons had not advanced beyond the stage of ballads; they had no history, or other prose literature of their own, except, perhaps, a few traditional genealogical lists, mostly mythical, and adapted to an artificial grouping by eights and forties. The Roman missionaries brought over the Roman works, with their developed historical and philosophical style; and the change induced in England by copying these originals was as great as the change would now be from the rude Polynesian myths and ballads to a history of Polynesia written in English, and after English prototypes, by a native convert. In fact, the Latin language was almost as important to the new departure as the Latin models. While the old English literary form, restricted entirely to poetry, was unfitted for any serious narrative or any reflective work, the old English tongue, suited only to the practical needs of a rude warrior race, was unfitted for the expression of any but the simplest and most material ideas. It is true, the vocabulary was copious, especially in terms for natural objects, and it was far richer than might be expected even in words referring to mental states and emotions; but in the expression of abstract ideas, and in idioms suitable for philosophical discussion, it remained still, of course, very deficient. Hence the new serious literature was necessarily written entirely in the Latin language, which alone possessed the words and modes of speech fitted for its development; but to exclude it on that account from the consideration of Anglo-Saxon literature, as many writers have done, would be an absurd affectation. The Latin writings of Englishmen are an integral part of English thought, and an important factor in the evolution of English culture. Gradually, as English monks grew to read Latin from generation to generation, they invented corresponding compounds in their own language for the abstract words of the southern tongue; and therefore by the beginning of the eleventh century, the West Saxon speech of AElfred and his successors had grown into a comparatively wealthy dialect, suitable for the expression of many ideas unfamiliar to the rude pirates and farmers of Sleswick and East Anglia. Thus, in later days, a rich vernacular literature grew up with many distinct branches. But, in the earlier period, the use of a civilised idiom for all purposes connected with the higher civilisation introduced by the missionaries was absolutely necessary; and so we find the codes of laws, the penitentials of the Church, the charters, and the prose literature generally, almost all written at first in Latin alone. Gradually, as the English tongue grew fuller, we find it creeping into use for one after another of these purposes; but to the last an educated Anglo-Saxon could express himself far more accurately and philosophically in the cultivated tongue of Rome than in the rough dialect of his Teutonic countrymen. We have only to contrast the bald and meagre style of the "English Chronicle," written in the mother-tongue, with the fulness and ease of Baeda's "Ecclesiastical History," written two centuries earlier in Latin, in order to see how great an advantage the rough Northumbrians of the early Christian period obtained in the gift of an old and polished instrument for conveying to one another their higher thoughts.

Of this new literature (which began with the Latin biography of Wilfrith by AEddi or Eddius, and the Latin verses of Ealdhelm) the great representative is, in fact, Baeda, whose life has already been sufficiently described in an earlier chapter. Living at Jarrow, a Benedictine monastery of the strictest type, in close connection with Rome, and supplied with Roman works in abundance, Baeda had thoroughly imbibed the spirit of the southern culture, and his books reflect for us a true picture of the English barbarian toned down and almost obliterated in all distinctive features by receptivity for Italian civilisation. The Northumbrian kingdom had just passed its prime in his days; and he was able to record the early history of the English Church and People with something like Roman breadth of view. His scientific knowledge was up to that of his contemporaries abroad; while his somewhat childish tales of miracles and visions, though they often betray traces of the old heathen spirit, were not below the average level of European thought in his own day. Altogether, Baeda may be taken as a fair specimen of the Romanised Englishman, alike in his strength and in his weakness. The samples of his historical style already given will suffice for illustration of his Latin works; but it must not be forgotten that he was also one of the first writers to try his hand at regular English prose in his translation of St. John's Gospel. A few English verses from his lips have also come down to us, breathing the old Teutonic spirit more deeply than might be expected from his other works.

During the interval between the Northumbrian and West Saxon supremacies—the interval embraced by the eighth century, and covered by the greatness of Mercia under AEthelbald and Offa—we have few remains of English literature. The laws of Ine the West Saxon, and of Offa the Mercian, with the Penitentials of the Church, and the Charters, form the chief documents. But England gained no little credit for learning from the works of two Englishmen who had taken up their abode in the old Germanic kingdom: Boniface or Winfrith, the apostle of the heathen Teutons subjugated by the Franks, and Alcuin (Ealhwine), the famous friend and secretary of Karl the Great. Many devotional Anglo-Saxon poems, of various dates, are kept for us in the two books preserved at Exeter, and at Vercelli in North Italy. Amongst them are some by Cynewulf, perhaps the most genuinely poetical of all the early minstrels after Caedmon. The following lines, taken from the beginning of his poem "The Phoenix" (a transcript from Lactantius), will sufficiently illustrate his style:—

I have heard that hidden Afar from hence On the east of earth Is a fairest isle, Lovely and famous. The lap of that land May not be reached By many mortals, Dwellers on earth; But it is divided Through the might of the Maker From all misdoers. Fair is the field, Full happy and glad, Filled with the sweetest Scented flowers. Unique is that island, Almighty the worker Mickle of might Who moulded that land. There oft lieth open To the eyes of the blest, With happiest harmony, The gate of heaven. Winsome its woods And its fair green wolds, Roomy with reaches. No rain there nor snow, Nor breath of frost, Nor fiery blast, Nor summer's heat, Nor scattered sleet, Nor fall of hail, Nor hoary rime, Nor weltering weather, Nor wintry shower, Falleth on any; But the field resteth Ever in peace, And the princely land Bloometh with blossoms. Berg there nor mount Standeth not steep, Nor stony crag High lifteth the head, As here with us, Nor vale, nor dale, Nor deep-caverned down, Hollows or hills; Nor hangeth aloft Aught of unsmooth; But ever the plain, Basks in the beam, Joyfully blooming. Twelve fathoms taller Towereth that land (As quoth in their writs Many wise men) Than ever a berg That bright among mortals High lifteth the head Among heaven's stars.

Two noteworthy points may be marked in this extract. Its feeling for natural scenery is quite different from the wild sublimity of the descriptions of nature in Beowulf. Cynewulf's verse is essentially the verse of an agriculturist; it looks with disfavour upon mountains and rugged scenes, while its ideal is one of peaceful tillage. The monk speaks out in it as cultivator and dreamer. Its tone is wholly different from that of the Brunanburh ballad or the other fierce war-songs. Moreover, it contains one or two rimes, preserved in this translation, whose full significance will be pointed out hereafter.

The anarchy of Northumbria, and still more the Danish inroads, put an end to the literary movement in the North and the Midlands; but the struggle in Wessex gave new life to the West Saxon people. Under AElfred, Winchester became the centre of English thought. But the West Saxon literature is almost entirely written in English, not in Latin; a fact which marks the progressive development of vocabulary and idiom in the native tongue. AElfred himself did much to encourage literature, inviting over learned men from the continent, and founding schools for the West Saxon youth in his dwarfed dominions. Most of the Winchester works are attributed to his own pen, though doubtless he was largely aided by his advisers, and amongst others by Asser, his Welsh secretary and Bishop of Sherborne. They comprise translations into the Anglo-Saxon of Boethius de Consolatione, the Universal History of Orosius, Baeda's Ecclesiastical History, and Pope Gregory's Regula Pastoralis. But the fact that AElfred still has recourse to Roman originals, marks the stage of civilisation as yet mainly imitative; while the interesting passages intercalated by the king himself show that the beginnings of a really native prose literature were already taking shape in English hands.

The chief monument of this truly Anglo-Saxon literature, begun and completed by English writers in the English tongue alone, is the Chronicle. That invaluable document, the oldest history of any Teutonic race in its own language, was probably first compiled at the court of AElfred. Its earlier part consists of mere royal genealogies of the first West Saxon kings, together with a few traditions of the colonisation, and some excerpts from Baeda. But with the reign of AEthelwulf, AElfred's father, it becomes comparatively copious, though its records still remain dry and matter-of-fact, a bare statement of facts, without comment or emotional display. The following extract, giving the account of AElfred's death, will show its meagre nature. The passage has been modernised as little as is consistent with its intelligibility at the present day:—

An. 901. Here died AElfred AEthulfing [AEthelwulfing—the son of AEthelwulf], six nights ere All Hallow Mass. He was king over all English-kin, bar that deal that was under Danish weald [dominion]; and he held that kingdom three half-years less than thirty winters. There came Eadward his son to the rule. And there seized AEthelwold aetheling, his father's brother's son, the ham [villa] at Winburne [Wimbourne], and at Tweoxneam [Christchurch], by the king's unthank and his witan's [without leave from the king]. There rode the king with his fyrd till he reached Badbury against Winburne. And AEthelwold sat within the ham, with the men that to him had bowed, and he had forwrought [obstructed] all the gates in, and said that he would either there live or there lie. Thereupon rode the aetheling on night away, and sought the [Danish] host in Northumbria, and they took him for king and bowed to him. And the king bade ride after him, but they could not outride him. Then beset man the woman that he had erst taken without the king's leave, and against the bishop's word, for that she was ere that hallowed a nun. And on this ilk year forth-fared AEthelred (he was ealdorman on Devon) four weeks ere AElfred king.

During the Augustan age the Chronicle grows less full, but contains several fine war-songs, of the genuine old English type, full of savagery in sentiment, and abrupt or broken in manner, but marked by the same wild poetry and harsh inversions as the older heathen ballads. Amongst them stand the lines on the fight of Brunanburh, whose exordium is quoted above. Its close forms one of the finest passages in old English verse:—

Behind them they Left, the Lych to devour, The Sallow kite and the Swart raven, Horny of beak,— and Him, the dusk-coated, The white-afted Erne, the corse to Enjoy, The Greedy war-hawk, and that Grey beast, The Wolf of the Wood. No such Woeful slaughter Aye on this Island Ever hath been, By edge of the Sword, as book Sayeth, Writers of Eld, since of Eastward hither English and Saxons Sailed over Sea, O'er the Broad Brine,— landed in Britain, Proud Workers of War, and o'ercame the Welsh, Earls Eager of fame, Obtaining this Earth.

During the decadence, in the disastrous reign of AEthelred, the Chronicle regains its fulness, and the following passage may be taken as a good specimen of its later style. It shows the approach to comment and reflection, as the compilers grew more accustomed to historical writing in their own tongue:—

An. 1009. Here on this year were the ships ready of which we ere spake, and there were so many of them as never ere (so far as books tell us) were made among English kin in no king's day. And man brought them all together to Sandwich, and there should they lie, and hold this earth against all outlanders [foreigners'] hosts. But we had not yet the luck nor the worship [valour] that the ship-fyrd should be of any good to this land, no more than it oft was afore. Then befel it at this ilk time or a little ere, that Brihtric, Eadric's brother the ealdorman's, forwrayed [accused] Wulfnoth child to the king: and he went out and drew unto him twenty ships, and there harried everywhere by the south shore, and wrought all evil. Then quoth man to the ship-fyrd that man might easily take them, if man were about it. Then took Brihtric to himself eighty ships and thought that he should work himself great fame if he should get Wulfnoth, quick or dead. But as they were thitherward, there came such a wind against them such as no man ere minded [remembered], and it all to-beat and to-brake the ships, and warped them on land: and soon came Wulfnoth and for-burned the ships. When this was couth [known] to the other ships where the king was, how the others fared, then was it as though it were all redeless, and the king fared him home, and the ealdormen, and the high witan, and forlet the ships thus lightly. And the folk that were on the ships brought them round eft to Lunden, and let all the people's toil thus lightly go for nought: and the victory that all English kin hoped for was no better. There this ship-fyrd was thus ended; then came, soon after Lammas, the huge foreign host, that we hight Thurkill's host, to Sandwich, and soon wended their way to Canterbury, and would quickly have won the burg if they had not rather yearned for peace of them. And all the East Kentings made peace with the host, and gave it three thousand pound. And the host there, soon after that, wended till it came to Wightland, and there everywhere in Suth-Sex, and on Hamtunshire, and eke on Berkshire harried and burnt, as their wont is. Then bade the king call out all the people, that men should hold against them on every half [side]: but none the less, look! they fared where they willed. Then one time had the king foregone before them with all the fyrd as they were going to their ships, and all the folk was ready to fight them. But it was let, through Eadric ealdorman, as it ever yet was. Then, after St. Martin's mass, they fared eft again into Kent, and took them a winter seat on Thames, and victualled themselves from East-Sex and from the shires that there next were, on the twain halves of Thames. And oft they fought against the burg of Lunden, but praise be to God, it yet stands sound, and they ever there fared evilly. And there after mid-winter they took their way up, out through Chiltern, and so to Oxenaford [Oxford], and for-burnt the burg, and took their way on to the twa halves of Thames to shipward. There man warned them that there was fyrd gathered at Lunden against them; then wended they over at Stane [Staines]. And thus fared they all the winter, and that Lent were in Kent and bettered [repaired] their ships.

We possess several manuscript versions of the Chronicle, belonging to different abbeys, and containing in places somewhat different accounts. Thus the Peterborough copy is fullest on matters affecting that monastery, and even inserts several spurious grants, which, however, are of value as showing how incapable the writers were of scientific forgery, and so as guarantees of the general accuracy of the document. But in the main facts they all agree. Nor do they stop short at the Norman Conquest. Most of them continue half through the reign of William, and then cease; while one manuscript goes on uninterruptedly till the reign of Stephen, and breaks off abruptly in the year 1154 with an unfinished sentence. With it, native prose literature dies down altogether until the reign of Edward III.

As a whole, however, the Conquest struck the death-blow of Anglo-Saxon literature almost at once. During the reigns of AElfred's descendants Wessex had produced a rich crop of native works on all subjects, but especially religious. In this literature the greatest name was that of AElfric, whose Homilies are models of the classical West Saxon prose. But after the Conquest our native literature died out wholly, and a new literature, founded on Romance models, took its place. The Anglo-Saxon style lingered on among the people, but it was gradually killed down by the Romance style of the court writers. In prose, the history of William of Malmesbury, written in Latin, and in a wider continental spirit, marks the change. In poetry, the English school struggled on longer, but at last succumbed. A few words on the nature of this process will not be thrown away.

The old Teutonic poetry, with its treble system of accent, alliteration, and parallelism, was wholly different from the Romance poetry, with its double system of rime and metre. But, from an early date, the English themselves were fond of verbal jingles, such as "Scot and lot," "sac and soc," "frith and grith," "eorl and ceorl," or "might and right." Even in the alliterative poems we find many occasional rimes, such as "hlynede and dynede," "wide and side," "Dryht-guman sine drencte mid wine," or such as the rimes already quoted from Cynewulf. As time went on, and intercourse with other countries became greater, the tendency to rime settled down into a fixed habit. Rimed Latin verse was already familiar to the clergy, and was imitated in their works. Much of the very ornate Anglo-Saxon prose of the latest period is full of strange verbal tricks, as shown in the following modernised extract from a sermon of Wulfstan. Here, the alliterative letters are printed in capitals, and the rimes in italics:—

No Wonder is it that Woes befall us, for Well We Wot that now full many a year men little care what thing they dare in word or deed; and Sorely has this nation Sinned, whate'er man Say, with Manifold Sins and with right Manifold Misdeeds, with Slayings and with Slaughters, with robbing and with stabbing, with Grasping deed and hungry Greed, through Christian Treason and through heathen Treachery, through guile and through wile, through lawlessness and awelessness, through Murder of Friends and Murder of Foes, through broken Troth and broken Truth, through wedded unchastity and cloistered impurity. Little they trow of marriage vow, as ere this I said: little they reck the breach of oath or troth; swearing and for-swearing, on every side, far and wide, Fast and Feast they hold not, Peace and Pact they keep not, oft and anon. Thus in this land they stand, Foes to Christendom, Friends to heathendom, Persecutors of Priests, Persecutors of People, all too many; spurners of godly law and Christian bond, who Loudly Laugh at the Teaching of God's Teachers and the Preaching of God's Preachers, and whatso rightly to God's rites belongs.

The nation was thus clearly preparing itself from within for the adoption of the Romance system. Immediately after the Conquest, rimes begin to appear distinctly, while alliteration begins to die out. An Anglo-Saxon poem on the character of William the Conqueror, inserted in the Chronicle under the year of his death, consists of very rude rimes which may be modernised as follows—

Gold he took by might, And of great unright, From his folk with evil deed For sore little need. He was on greediness befallen, And getsomeness he loved withal. He set a mickle deer frith, And he laid laws therewith, That whoso slew hart or hind Him should man then blinden. He forbade to slay the harts, And so eke the boars. So well he loved the high deer As if he their father were. Eke he set by the hares That they might freely fare. His rich men mourned it And the poor men wailed it. But he was so firmly wrought That he recked of all nought. And they must all withal The king's will follow, If they wished to live Or their land have, Or their goods eke, Or his peace to seek. Woe is me, That any man so proud should be, Thus himself up to raise, And over all men to boast. May God Almighty show his soul mild-heart-ness, And do him for his sins forgiveness!

From that time English poetry bifurcates. On the one hand, we have the survival of the old Teutonic alliterative swing in Layamon's Brut and in Piers Plowman—the native verse of the people sung by native minstrels: and on the other hand we have the new Romance rimed metre in Robert of Gloucester, "William of Palerne," Gower, and Chaucer. But from Piers Plowman and Chaucer onward the Romance system conquers and the Teutonic system dies rapidly. Our modern poetry is wholly Romance in descent, form, and spirit.

Thus in literature as in civilisation generally, the culture of old Rome, either as handed down ecclesiastically through the Latin, or as handed down popularly through the Norman-French, overcame the native Anglo-Saxon culture, such as it was, and drove it utterly out of the England which we now know. Though a new literature, in Latin and English, sprang up after the Conquest, that literature had its roots, not in Sleswick or in Wessex, but in Greece, in Rome, in Provence, and in Normandy. With the Normans, a new era began—an era when Romance civilisation was grafted by harsh but strong hands on to the Anglo-Saxon stock, the Anglo-Saxon institutions, and the Anglo-Saxon tongue. With the first step in this revolution, our present volume has completed its assigned task. The story of the Normans will be told by another pen in the same series.



Perhaps the best way of summing up the results of the present inquiry will be by considering briefly the main elements of our existing life and our actual empire which we owe to the Anglo-Saxon nationality. We may most easily glance at them under the five separate heads of blood, character, language, civilisation, and institutions.

In blood, it is probable that the importance of the Anglo-Saxon element has been generally over-estimated. It has been too usual to speak of England as though it were synonymous with Britain, and to overlook the numerical strength of the Celtic population in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland. It has been too usual, also, to neglect the considerable Danish, Norwegian, and Norman element, which, though belonging to the same Low German and Scandinavian stock, yet differs in some important particulars from the Anglo-Saxon. But we have seen reason to conclude that even in the most purely Teutonic region of Britain, the district between Forth and Southampton Water, a considerable proportion of the people were of Celtic or pre-Celtic descent, from the very first age of English settlement. This conclusion is borne out both by the physical traits of the peasantry and the nature of the early remains. In the western half of South Britain, from Clyde to Cornwall, the proportion of Anglo-Saxon blood has probably always been far smaller. The Norman conquerors themselves were of mixed Scandinavian, Gaulish, and Breton descent. Throughout the middle ages, the more Teutonic half of Britain—the southern and eastern tract—was undoubtedly the most important: and the English, mixed with Scandinavians from Denmark or Normandy, formed the ruling caste. Up to the days of Elizabeth, Teutonic Britain led the van in civilisation, population, and commerce. But since the age of the Tudors, it seems probable, as Dr. Rolleston and others have shown, that the Celtic element has largely reasserted itself. A return wave of Celts has inundated the Teutonic region. Scottish Highlanders have poured into Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London: Welshmen have poured into Liverpool, Manchester, and all the great towns of England: Irishmen have poured into every part of the British dominions. During the middle ages, the Teutonic portion of Britain was by far the most densely populated; but at the present day, the almost complete restriction of coal to the Celtic or semi-Celtic area has aggregated the greatest masses of population in the west and north. If we take into consideration the probable large substratum of Celts or earlier races in the Teutonic counties, the wide area of the undoubted Celtic region which pours forth a constant stream of emigrants towards the Teutonic tract, the change of importance between south-east and north-west, since the industrial development of the coal country, and the more rapid rate of increase among the Celts, it becomes highly probable that not one-half the population of the British Isles is really of Teutonic descent. Moreover, it must be remembered that, whatever may have been the case in the primitive Anglo-Saxon period, intermarriages between Celts and Teutons have been common for at least four centuries past; and that therefore almost all Englishmen at the present day possess at least a fraction of Celtic blood.

"The people," says Professor Huxley, "are vastly less Teutonic than their language." It is not likely that any absolutely pure-blooded Anglo-Saxons now exist in our midst at all, except perhaps among the farmer class in the most Teutonic and agricultural shires: and even this exception is extremely doubtful. Persons bearing the most obviously Celtic names—Welsh, Cornish, Irish, or Highland Scots—are to be found in all our large towns, and scattered up and down through the country districts. Hence we may conclude with great probability that the Anglo-Saxon blood has long since been everywhere diluted by a strong Celtic intermixture. Even in the earliest times and in the most Teutonic counties, many serfs of non-Teutonic race existed from the very beginning: their masters have ere now mixed with other non-Teutonic families elsewhere, till even the restricted English people at the present day can hardly claim to be much more than half Anglo-Saxon. Nor do the Teutons now even retain their position as a ruling caste. Mixed Celts in England itself have long since risen to many high places. Leading families of Welsh, Cornish, Scotch, and Irish blood have also been admitted into the peerage of the United Kingdom, and form a large proportion of the House of Commons, of the official world, and of the governing class in India, the Colonies, and the empire generally. These families have again intermarried with the nobility and gentry of English, Danish, or Norman extraction, and thus have added their part to the intricate intermixture of the two races. At the present day, we can only speak of the British people as Anglo-Saxons in a conventional sense: so far as blood goes, we need hardly hesitate to set them down as a pretty equal admixture of Teutonic and Celtic elements.

In character, the Anglo-Saxons have bequeathed to us much of the German solidity, industry, and patience, traits which have been largely amalgamated with the intellectual quickness and emotional nature of the Celt, and have thus produced the prevailing English temperament as we actually know it. To the Anglo-Saxon blood we may doubtless attribute our general sobriety, steadiness, and persistence; our scientific patience and thoroughness; our political moderation and endurance; our marked love of individual freedom and impatience of arbitrary restraint. The Anglo-Saxon was slow to learn, but retentive of what he learnt. On the other hand, he was unimaginative; and this want of imagination may be traced in the more Teutonic counties to the present day. But when these qualities have been counteracted by the Celtic wealth of fancy, the race has produced the great English literature,—a literature whose form is wholly Roman, while in matter, its more solid parts doubtless owe much to the Teuton, and its lighter portions, especially its poetry and romance, can be definitely traced in great measure to known Celtic elements. While the Teutonic blood differentiates our somewhat slow and steady character from the more logical but volatile and unstable Gaul, the Celtic blood differentiates it from the far slower, heavier, and less quick or less imaginative Teutons of Germany and Scandinavia.

In language we owe almost everything to the Anglo-Saxons. The Low German dialect which they brought with them from Sleswick and Hanover still remains in all essentials the identical speech employed by ourselves at the present day. It received a few grammatical forms from the cognate Scandinavian dialects; it borrowed a few score or so of words from the Welsh; it adopted a small Latin vocabulary of ecclesiastical terms from the early missionaries; it took in a considerable number of Romance elements after the Norman Conquest; it enriched itself with an immense variety of learned compounds from the Greek and Latin at the Renaissance period: but all these additions affected almost exclusively its stock of words, and did not in the least interfere with its structure or its place in the scientific classification of languages. The English which we now speak is not in any sense a Romance tongue. It is the lineal descendant of the English of AElfred and of Baeda, enlarged in its vocabulary by many words which they did not use, impoverished by the loss of a few which they employed, yet still essentially identical in grammar and idiom with the language of the first Teutonic settlers. Gradually losing its inflexions from the days of Eadgar onward, it assumed its existing type before the thirteenth century, and continuously incorporated an immense number of French and Latin words, which greatly increased its value as an instrument of thought. But it is important to recollect that the English tongue has nothing at all to do in its origin with either Welsh or French. The Teutonic speech of the Anglo-Saxon settlers drove out the old Celtic speech throughout almost all England and the Scotch Lowlands before the end of the eleventh century; it drove out the Cornish in the eighteenth century; and it is now driving out the Welsh, the Erse, and the Gaelic, under our very eyes. In language at least the British empire (save of course India) is now almost entirely English, or in other words, Anglo-Saxon.

In civilisation, on the other hand, we owe comparatively little to the direct Teutonic influence. The native Anglo-Saxon culture was low, and even before its transplantation to Britain it had undergone some modification by mediate mercantile transactions with Rome and the Mediterranean states. The alphabet, coins, and even a few southern words, (such as "alms") had already filtered through to the shores of the Baltic. After the colonisation of Britain, the Anglo-Saxons learnt something of the higher agriculture from their Romanised serfs, and adopted, as early as the heathen period, some small portion of the Roman system, so far as regarded roads, fortifications, and, perhaps buildings. The Roman towns still stood in their midst, and a fragment, at least, of the Romanised population still carried on commerce with the half-Roman Frankish kingdom across the Channel. The re-introduction of Christianity was at the same time the re-introduction of Roman culture in its later form. The Latin language and the Mediterranean arts once more took their place in Britain. The Romanising prelates,—Wilfrith, Theodore, Dunstan,—were also the leaders of civilisation in their own times. The Norman Conquest brought England into yet closer connection with the Continent; and Roman law and Roman arts still more deeply affected our native culture. Norman artificers supplanted the rude English handicraftsmen in many cases, and became a dominant class in towns. The old English literature, and especially the old English poetry, died utterly out with Piers Plowman; while a new literature, based upon Romance models, took its origin with Chaucer and the other Court poets. Celtic-Latin rhyme ousted the genuine Teutonic alliteration. With the Renaissance, the triumph of the southern culture was complete. Greek philosophy and Greek science formed the starting-point for our modern developments. The ecclesiastical revolt from papal Rome was accompanied by a literary and artistic return to the models of pagan Rome. The Renaissance was, in fact, the throwing off of all that was Teutonic and mediaeval, the resumption of progressive thought and scientific knowledge, at the point where it had been interrupted by the Germanic inroads of the fifth century. The unjaded vigour of the German races, indeed, counted for much; and Europe took up the lost thread of the dying empire with a youthful freshness very different from the effete listlessness of the Mediterranean culture in its last stage. Yet it is none the less true that our whole civilisation is even now the carrying out and completion of the Greek and Roman culture in new fields and with fresh intellects. We owe little here to the Anglo-Saxon; we owe everything to the great stream of western culture, which began in Egypt and Assyria, permeated Greece and the Archipelago, spread to Italy and the Roman empire, and, finally, now embraces the whole European and American world. The Teutonic intellect and the Teutonic character have largely modified the spirit of the Mediterranean civilisation; but the tools, the instruments, the processes themselves, are all legacies from a different race. Englishmen did not invent letters, money, metallurgy, glass, architecture, and science; they received them all ready-made, from Italy and the AEgean, or more remotely still from the Euphrates and the Nile. Nor is it necessary to add that in religion we have no debt to the Anglo-Saxon, our existing creed being entirely derived through Rome from the Semitic race.

In institutions, once more, the Anglo-Saxon has contributed almost everything. Our political government, our limited monarchy, our parliament, our shires, our hundreds, our townships, are considered by the dominant school of historians to be all Anglo-Saxon in origin. Our jury is derived from an Anglo-Saxon custom; our nobility and officials are representatives of Anglo-Saxon earls and reeves. The Teuton, when he settled in Britain, brought with him the Teutonic organisation in its entirety. He established it throughout the whole territory which he occupied or conquered. As the West Saxon over-lordship grew to be the English kingdom, and as the English kingdom gradually annexed or coalesced with the Welsh and Cornish principalities, the Scotch and Irish kingdoms,—the Teutonic system spread over the whole of Britain. It underwent some little modification at the hands of the Normans, and more still at those of the Angevins; but, on the whole, it is still a wide yet natural development of the old Germanic constitution.

Thus, to sum up in a single sentence, the Anglo-Saxons have contributed about one-half the blood of Britain, or rather less; but they have contributed the whole framework of the language, and the whole social and political organisation; while, on the other hand, they have contributed hardly any of the civilisation, and none of the religion. We are now a mixed race, almost equally Celtic and Teutonic by descent; we speak a purely Teutonic language, with a large admixture of Latin roots in its vocabulary; we live under Teutonic institutions; we enjoy the fruits of a Graeco-Roman civilisation; and we possess a Christian Church, handed down to us directly through Roman sources from a Hebrew original. To the extent so indicated, and to that extent only, we may still be justly styled an Anglo-Saxon people.


AElfheah of Canterbury, 168

AElfred the West Saxon, 136; his life, 139; his death, 140; his writings, 216

AElle of Sussex, 24, 30

AEsc the Jute, 29

AEthelbald of Mercia, 117

AEthelberht of Kent, 85

AEthelberht of Wessex, 129

AEthelflaed of Mercia, 142

AEthelfrith of Northumbria, 53, 62

AEthelred of Wessex, 130

AEthelred the Unready, 164

AEthelstan of Wessex, 144

AEthelwulf of Wessex, 124

Aidan of Lindisfarne, 95

Akerman, Mr., on survival of Celts, 59

Anderida, 30, 41

Anglo-Saxons, 8; their religion, 16; language, 174

Architecture, 155

Aryans, 1

Augustine, St., of Canterbury, arrives in England, 85; colloquy with Welsh bishops, 93

Baeda, 61; his life, 109; his writings, 213, and passim

Bamborough built, 34; princes of, 134, 144

Bayeux, Saxon settlement at, 22

Benedict Biscop, 109

Beowulf, 185, 206, and passim

Bercta, queen of Kentmen, 85

Bernicia settled, 34; coalesces with Deira, 35

Boulogne, Saxon settlement at, 22

Brunanburh, battle of, 145 ballad on, 204, 218

Burhred of Mercia, 131

Cadwalla, 92, 94

Caedmon the poet, 103; his epic, 209

Cerdic the Briton, 31, 67

Cerdic the West Saxon, 24, 31

Chester, battle of, 58

Chronicle, English, 63; its origin and nature, 216; quoted, passim

Clans, 8, 43; meanings of their names, 80; occurrence in different shires, 81

Cnut, 169

Coifi the priest, 89

Count of the Saxon Shore, 22

Cuthberht of Lindisfarne, 97

Cuthwine of Wessex, 51

Cuthwulf of Wessex, 50

Cynewulf the poet, 214

Cynewulf of Wessex, 119

Danish invasions, 123 et seq.

Dawkins, Prof. Boyd, 2

Deira settled, 34

Deorham, battle of, 51

Dunstan, 147

Eadgar of Wessex, 147

Eadmund of East Anglia, 130

Eadward (the Elder), 141

Eadward (the Confessor), 170

Eadwine of Northumbria, 63; converted, 88

East Anglia colonised, 36; conquered by Danes, 130

Ecgberht of Wessex, 120

Elmet, 35; conquered by English, 67

English (or Anglians), 5; their language, see Anglo-Saxons

English Chronicle, see Chronicle, English

Essex colonised, 36

Felix converts East Anglia, 96

Freeman, Dr. E.A., 57, 64, 65, 69, and passim

Frisians, 5; as slave merchants, 75; ships, 123; employed by AElfred, 139

Germanic race, 4

Gewissas, 37

Gildas, 28, 47; his book, 60

Gregory the Great sends mission to England, 85

Grimm's Law, 175

Guthrum the Dane, 137

Gyrwas, 49

Haesten the pirate, 138, 141

Harold, 170

Hastings, battle of, 171

Heathendom, 16, 71

Hengest, 28

Horsa, 28


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