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ECCLESIASTICAL INFLUENCES ON LITERATURE 57 that of Charlemagne, who “ brought learning to France by drawing to it from Anglia and Italy the best plants for his new fields ;” if on a miniature scale the reason is not that Alfred is a miniature of Charles the Great, but that Anglo-Saxon England is a miniature of the Continent. In both cases we see what we shall not see again for a long time—the secular power coming to the front in intellectual things, and making the spiritual power its instrument and satellite. According to the ideas of the age the process should have been reversed : the transposition was, in fact, only possible when the man of the sword should be a man of the pen also. Alfred was the sole bookman of his family. Many princes of his house approached his fame as a warrior and a ruler, not one showed the slightest disposition to take his place as guide and fosterer of the national culture; offices which the public opinion of the day assigned to the clergy, and which, rescued in some measure by Alfred's exertions from the barbarism which had all but engulphed them, they proceeded to assume.
Whether Alfred, with all his docile piety, would have regarded this Consolidation intellectual domination of the clergy as an ideal may well be doubted;
u; monarchy in but when learning no longer sat upon the throne in his person, the tenth century crozier must take the sceptre's vacant place to prevent his work from perishing. His immediate successors, Edward the Elder and Athelstane, were excellent monarchs who consistently followed up Alfred's policy of the consummation of national unity by the consolidation of Englishmen, whether men of Mercia or
Coin of Edward the Elder men of Wessex, and Danes, whether men of East Anglia or men of Northumbria, into a single state: a policy which received its visible seal and authentication by Edgar's coronation at Bath in 973. While this unifying movement was progressing in the State, another movement of no less importance was transforming the Church. The ignorance of the clergy, and the vices which were its almost inevitable concomitants, had, as we have seen, excited the animadversion of Alfred, and he had endeavoured to remove them by instruction. After his death, the undertaking for which his successors felt no vocation fell into the hands of the ecclesiastical rulers. It would be unjust to charge them with indifference to the morals or the education of the clergy, but they thought much more of reducing them to the pattern of Roman discipline, and in particular of constraining them to celibacy. Their great weapon was the multiplication of monasteries, and the introduction or restoration of the rule of St. Benedict of Nursia, Abbot of Monte Cassino in the sixth century, and the first great organiser of monasticism in Latin Christendom. Hence a contest between the monastic orders and the regular clergy which lasted from about 940
until nearly the end of the century, and was only in some measure appeased for a time by the drastic remedy of a second cycle of Danish invasion. The Crown, more particularly under Edgar, sided with the monks and the archbishops; the truth seems to be that the irregularities of Edgar's dissolute youth had given the churchmen a strong hold upon him. One of these ecclesiastics, moreover, notwithstanding the ill-repute into which he has been brought by unscrupulous miracle-mongers, was a man of commanding genius and noble nature; and Dunstan (924-988), Archbishop of Canterbury from 961, may well have deemed his ideal of
the religious life higher than that of his opponents. At the time the standard both of morals and of learning was unquestionably highest among the monastic orders: it is only when we consider how infinitely more exalted the standard of the nation at large would have been if,
during the centuries between Dunstan and Coin of Edgar
the Reformation, it could have enjoyed the example of the domestic virtues of a married clergy, that we realise how heavy was the misfortune when the ideas of Latin and Oriental races were thrust upon a people to which they were by nature entirely
uncongenial. Ecclesiastical The generally ecclesiastical bent of the tenth century in England spirit of the age
was not unattended by intellectual advantages, but benefited art rather than literature. The erection of forty richly endowed monasteries promoted architecture, and communicated a still more powerful stimulus to the arts upon which the splendour of religious service depends. Music was greatly improved, and representations of minstrelsy and its instruments are frequent in the richly illuminated manuscripts which became common. Two styles of illumination had since the seventh century existed in the country—the Celtic, introduced by Irish monks into Northumbria, and the classical, prevalent in the South of England. In the tenth century this latter definitively triumphed, but was modified into a new style, distinguished by its elegance and grace. Costume, embroidery, the manufacture of gold and silver plate, received a powerful development. Literature, nevertheless, remained nearly barren save for some outbursts of ballad and patriotic poetry, the consideration of which we defer for the present. The religious poetry of the time is either translated, or repeats familiar ideas. The most important poem, which appears to be a translation from the Low German, is another working up of the story of Genesis, called the “later” or “younger” Genesis to distinguish it from the earlier pieces which pass under the name of Caedmon. The resemblance to Milton is often striking; but if Milton, as in a preceding chapter we have admitted not to be impossible, had access through an interpreter to Anglo-Saxon sources, the reference was
LITERATURE IN THE TENTH CENTURY
probably made to the so-called “Genesis B.” The Low German and AngloSaxon poets undoubtedly, Milton less certainly, were not unacquainted with the Latin Christian poet Avitus, Bishop of Vienne, whose poem, De spiritalis historiæ gestis, written towards the end of the fifth century, was very popular in the middle ages. With the Genesis may be classed the three poems known collectively as Christ and Satan, but complete in themselves in so far as they are not mutilated, on the Fall of the Rebel Angels, Christ's Descent into Hell and Ascension, and the Temptation. They have no great poetical pretensions, and their loose structure shows that the severity of the ancient metrical rules was becoming relaxed, but there was no capacity to devise new forms. Some metrical translations from the Latin are only interesting as proofs that AngloSaxon poetry was still read or recited, and Latin poetry here and there understood.
In prose the first half of the tenth century was entirely barren but for the contemporary portions of the Saxon Chronicle to be noticed hereafter. Somewhat later we have a Leech Book of medical recipes; and the Blickling Homilies, for the most part composed about this time, and chiefly interesting as a transition to, and in some measure a contrast with, the more important works of Aelfric, next to be mentioned. The contrast lies in the taste of the Blickling homilists for apocryphal legends and marvels rejected by the sane judgment of Aelfric. The homilies are by different authors. One is dated with the year of delivery, 971 ; others seem to be considerably older. Blickling is in Norfolk, and these discourses are the first Anglo-Saxon compositions that can be directly connected with East Anglia. If composed for the surrounding population, they would seem to indicate that the speech of the Danish settlers had by this time melted into Anglo-Saxon. Very few Danish words are to be found in Anglo-Saxon literature until after the Conquest.
The principal seat, notwithstanding, of the homiletic literature which was Aelfric's for a time to constitute the chief intellectual feature of the age was not in East Anglia but at Winchester. There Ethelwold, Abbot of Abingdon, a more ardent promoter of monasticism and antagonist of clerical marriage than Dunstan himself, became Bishop in 963. He gave the school of Winchester the same position as a centre of ecclesiastical learning as York had formerly enjoyed, and although no book of importance is attributed to him except a liturgical manual in Latin, he was a man of culture as well as of erudition, and instructed his pupils in poetry as well as in grammar. The first act of his episcopate was to expel the secular clergy from the cathedral and fill their places with monks from Abingdon Abbey. Among these probably came Aelfric, the most learned and eloquent man of his time, in whose hands Anglo-Saxon attained not indeed the highest developinent of which it was capable, but the highest permitted by the circumstances of the age. The most important of his original works are two books of homilies, each containing forty sermons, issued respectively in 991 and 992. Even these
are not entirely original, being frequently translated from the Latin ; but they are valuable as examples of the best Anglo-Saxon style of the period, and even more so as decisively proving that the Anglo-Saxon Church did not hold the doctrine of Transubstantiation in Aelfric's time. Translations of the sermon on Easter Sunday, where this point is more particularly developed, have been frequently issued, especially by Archbishop Parker and other bishops in 1566, under the title of A Testimonie of Antiquitie. Aelfric's homilies are further noticeable for their avoidance of apocryphal narratives. The following passage on the birth of the Virgin is characteristic of his mode of thought :-.
“What shall we say in regard to the time of Mary's birth, save that she was begotten by her father and mother like other people, and was born on the day that we call sexta idus Septembris ? Her father was called Joachim and her mother Anna, pious people according to the ancient law, but we will write no more of them lest we fall into some error. The Gospel itself for this day is very hard for laymen to understand ; it is, for the most part, filled out with the names of holy men, and these require a very long explanation of their spiritual meaning. Hence we wiil leave it unsaid.”
Evidently Aelfric preferred the shallows where the child can wade to the deeps where the elephant can swim, and considering the times in which he wrote and the people whom he addressed, his sobriety was eminently judicious. He embodies the best traits of the national character, sturdy veracity and homely common-sense.
Qualities so valuable made Aelfric acceptable to the leading men of his age. He was made Abbot of Cerne, and afterwards of Ensham ; he composed discourses for Archbishop Wulfstan of York, and other great ecclesiastics; and after translating the book of Job, he rendered the first seven books of the Old Testament into the vernacular to gratify his chief patron, the Ealdorman Ethelweald. Part he only gave in abridgment, fearing lest his countrymen should conform themselves too literally to the example of the patriarchs. He also incorporates an older version of the earlier portion of Genesis. He further composed in 996 a volume of homilies on the Passions of the Saints, in which, as in some portions of his Biblical translations, he employs an alliterative prose hardly distinguishable from verse. In Latin he produced a valuable life of his original patron, Bishop Ethelwold ; a Latin grammar on the model of Donatus and Priscian, dedicated to the youth of England; and a Colloquium or exercise in speaking Latin, at the present day the most interesting of all his works for its descriptions of the daily life of men of various classes of society. He was living as late as 1014, when he wrote a pastoral letter, or a portion of one, for Archbishop Wulfstan.
Wulfstan himself has been reckoned among English authors on the strength of a collection of fifty-three homilies composed or translated about the end of the tenth or beginning of the eleventh century, and edited by Professor Napier. Only four are undoubtedly by an author of
Other ecclesiastical writings