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from its northern neighbours it should have furnished a geographical parallel to the adoption of the name of 'English' by the West Saxons.
27. Wessex had not been entirely destitute of Christian learning during the period of Northumbrian pre-eminence. Aldhelm is the first great name in southern literature. He died in A.D. 709.
He translated the Psalms of David into his native tongue, and composed popular hymns to drive out the old pagan songs. But though we can point to Aldhelm, and one or two other names of cultivated men in Wessex, they are exceptions to the general rudeness of that kingdom before Alfred's time. Wessex had been distinguished for its military rather than for its literary successes. Learning had resided northward. But in the ninth century a great revolution occurred. Northumbria and Mercia fell into the hands of the heathen Danes, and culture was obliterated in those parts which had hitherto been most enlightened. It was Alfred's first care, after he had won the security of his kingdom, to plant learning. We have it in his own words, that at his accession there were few south of Humber who could understand their ritual, or translate a letter from Latin into Englisc; 'and,' he adds, ‘I ween there were not many beyond Humber either'-pointing to the heathen darkness in which the north was then shrouded.
This famous passage occurs in a circular preface, addressed to the several bishops, and serving as an introduction to Alfred's version of Gregory's Cura Pastoralis. I quote it in the original, with Mr. Henry Sweet's translation :
ĐEOS BOC SCEAL TO WIOGORA CEASTRE.
THIS BOOK IS FOR WORCESTER.
Ælfred kyning hated gretanWærferð King Alfred bids reet bishop biscep his wordum lufice and freond- Wærferth with his words lovingly and lice; and de cyðan hate Pæt me com with friendship; and I let it be known swide oft ón gemynd, hwelce wiotan to thee that it has very often come into iu wäron giond Angelcynn, ægðer ge my mind, what wise men there for. godcundra hada geworuldcundra; and merly were throughout England, both hu gesæliglica tida da wäron giond of sacred and secular orders; and Angelcynn; and hu da kyningas de how happy times there were then done onwald hæfdon Jæs folces on throughout England; and how the Ham dagum Gode and his ærend- kings who had power over the nation wrecum hersumedon; and hie ægder in those days obeyed God and his ge hiora sibbe ge hiora siodo ge hiora ministers; and they preserved peace, onweald innanbordes gehioldon, and morality, and order at home, and at eac út hiora eðel gerymdon; and hu the same time enlarged their territory him da speow ægðer ge mid wige ge abroad; and how they prospered both mid wisdome; and eac da godcundan with war and with wisdom; and also hadas hu giorne hie wäron ægter the sacred orders how zealous they ge ymb lare ge ymb liornunga, ge were both in teaching and learning, jmb ealle 8a Giowotdomas de hie and in all the services they owed to Gode scoldon; and hu man utan- God; and how foreigners came to bordes wisdom and lare hieder ôn this land in search of wisdom and lond sohte, and hu we hie nu sceoldon instruction, and how we should now ute begietan gif we hie habban sceol- have to get them from abroad if we don. Swæ clæne hio wæs o&feallenu were to have them. So general was ôn Angelcynne tæt swide feawa its decay in England that there were wæron behionan Humbre de hiora very few on this side of the Humber Peninga cuden understondan Ôn who could understand their rituals in Englisc, odde furðum ân ærendgewrit English, or translate a letter from of Lædene ôn Englisc areccean; and Latin into English; and I believe ic wene ðæt noht monige begiondan that there were not many beyond the Humbre næren. Swæ feawa hiora Humber. There were so few of them wäron 8æt ic furðum anne anlepne that I cannot remember a single one ne mæg gedencean besuðan Temese south of the Thames when I came to Pa da ic to rice feng. Gode æl- the throne. Thanks be to God Almihtegum sie donc 8æt we nu ænigne mighty that we have any teachers on stal habbað lareowa.
among us now.
28. Alfred inaugurated a new era for his country. With him, that is to say, in the last quarter of the ninth century, Saxon literature starts up almost full-grown. It seems as if it grew up suddenly, and reached perfection at a bound without preparation or antecedents. It has been too much the habit to suppose that this phenomenon is sufficiently accounted for by the introduction of scholars from other countries who helped to translate the most esteemed books into Saxon. So the reign of Alfred is apt to get paralleled with those rude tribes among whom our missionaries introduce a translated literature at the same time with the arts of reading and writing. It has not been sufficiently considered that such translations are dependent on the previous exercise of the native tongue, and that foreign help can only bring up a wild language to eloquence by very slow degrees. There is a vague idea among us that our language was then in its infancy, and that its compass was almost as narrow as the few necessary ideas of savage life. A modern Italian, turning over a Latin book, might think it looked very barbarous; and perhaps even some moderate scholars have never appreciated to how great a power the Latin tongue had attained long before the Augustan era. Great languages are not built in a day. The fact is that Wessex inherited a cultivated language from the north, and that when they called their translations Englisc and not Seaxisc, they acknowledged that debt. The cultivated Anglian dialect became the literary medium of hitherto uncultured Wessex; just as the dialect of the Latian cities set the form of the imperial language of Rome, and that language was called Latin.
29. Of this literary Englisc the Lord's Prayer offers the readiest illustration.
THE LORD'S PRAYER.
Fæder ure, þu pe eart on heofenum
Si þin nama gehalgod
To becume thin rice
Come thy kingdom
loaf give us to day
And forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we forgifaþ urum gyltendum
The period of West-Saxon leadership extends from Alfred to the Conquest, about A.D. 880 to A.D. 1066. These figures represent also the interval at which Saxon literature was strongest; but its duration exceeds these limits at either end. We have poetry, laws, and annals before 880, and we have large and important continuations of Saxon Chronicles after 1066. Perhaps the most natural date to adopt as the close of Saxon literature would be A.D. 1154, the year of King Stephen's death, the last year that is chronicled in Saxon.
$ 4. Characteristics of Anglo-Saxon.
30. The Saxon differed from modern English most conspicuously in being what is called an inflected language. An inflected language is one that joins words together, and makes them into sentences, not so much by means of small secondary and auxiliary words, but rather by means of changes made in the main words themselves. If we look at a page of modern English, we see not only substantives, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, the great words of conspicuous importance, but also a sprinkling of little interpreters among the greater words; and the relations of the great words to one another are expressed by the little ones that fill the spaces between them. Such are the pronouns, articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. In more general terms it may be said that the essence of an inflected language is, to express by modifications of form that which an uninflected language expresses by arrangement of words. So that in the inflected language more is expressed by single words than in the noninflected. Take as an example these words of the Preacher, and see how differently they are constructed in English and in Latin :
Eccles. iii. Tempus nascendi, et tempus mo- A time to be born, and a time to riendi; tempus plantandi, et tempus die; a time to plant, and a time to evellendi quod plantatum est.
pluck up that which is planted.
Tempus occidendi, et tempus sanandi; tempus destruendi, et tempus ædificandi.
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to
Tempus fendi, et tempus ridendi ; A time to weep, and a time to tempus plangendi, et tempus saltandi. laugh; a time to mourn, and a time
Tempus spargendi lapides, et tenipus colligendi.
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.
There are no words in the Latin answering to the words which are italicised in the English version-a, to, be, up, that, away, together—yet the very sense of the passage depends upon them in English, often to such a degree that if one of these were to be changed, the sense would be completely overturned. The Latin has no words corresponding to these symbols, but it has an equivalent of another kind. The terminations of the Latin words undergo changes which are expressive of all these modifications of sense; and these changes of form are called Inflections.
31. The following piece may serve to illustrate the Saxon inflections:
Upahafenum eagum on þa heah- With uplifted eyes to the height nysse and aþenedum earmum ongan and with outstretched arms she begebiddan mid þæra welera styrung- gan to pray with stirrings of the lips um on stilnesse.