« AnteriorContinuar »
Irish, St. Patrick, from whose pen we have the composition styled his Confession; his friend and fellow-labourer the Irish Bishop Secundums, of whom there is extant a Latin poem in praise of St. Patrick; and the poet Sedulius, or Shiel, who, although an Irishman by birth, appears to have resided on the Continent, and whose various works have been repeatedly printed.* All these wrote only in Latin, although St. Patrick, in his Confession, apologizes for the rudeness of phrase with which he expressed himself in that language, owing to his long habit of speaking Irish.
Gildas, our earliest historian, also wrote in Latin. St. Gildas the Wise, as he is styled, was a son of Caw, prince of Strathclyde, in the capital of which kingdom, the town of Alcluyd, now Dunbarton, he was born, about the end of the fifth or beginning of the sixth century. Caw was also the father of the famous bard Aneurin ; and one theory, indeed, is that Aneurin and Gildas were the same person. In his youth Gildas is recorded to have gone over to Ireland, and to have studied in the schools of the old national learning that still flourished there; and, like his brother Aneurin (if Aneurin was his brother), he also commenced his career as a bard, or composer of poetry in his native tongue. He afterwards, however, was converted to Christianity, and became a zealous preacher of his new religion. The greater part of his life he appears to have spent in his native island; but he at last retired to Armorica, or Little Britain, on the Continent, and died there. He is said to lie buried in the cathedral of Vannes. He is the author of two declamatory effusions—the one entitled a 'History of the * See an article on Sedulius in Bayle.
Britons,' the other an ' Epistle to the Tyrants of Britain,' which have heen often printed. The latest and best edition is that of Mr. Joseph Stevenson, published by the Historical Society: 8vo., Lond., 1838. They consist principally of violent invectives directed both against the Saxons and the author's own countrymen; but they also contain a few historical notices respecting the obscure period to which they relate that are of some value.
The immediate successor of Gildas among our historians is Nennius, said to have been one of the monks of Bangor, from the massacre of whom in 613 he escaped, and to have written his 'History of the Britons' a fewyears afterwards. His native name is Supposed to have been Ninian, and he was, like Gildas, of Welsh or Cumbrian origin. But there is much obscurity and confusion in the accounts we have of Nennius; and it appears to be most probable that there were at least two early historical writers of that name. The author of a late ingenious work, entitled 'Britannia after the Romans,' supposes that the true work of the ancient Nennius only came down to the invasion of Julius Caesar, and is now lost, although we probably have an abridgment of it in the work published under the name of Nennius, by Gale, in the ' Histories Britannicae, Saxonicee, Anglo-Danicaa Scriptores Quindecim' (fol. Oxon. 1691), and commonly referred to as his British History.* That performance i
* Britannia after the Romans, being an Attempt to illustrate the Religious and Political Revolutions of that Province in the Fifth and succeeding Centuries, vol. i., 4to., Lond. 183C, pp. 21, 22. (Understood to be by the Hon. Algernon Herbert.)
stated, in the preface by the author himself, to have been written in the year 858. A very valuable edition of 'The Historia Brittonum, commonly attributed to Nennius, from a MS. lately discovered in the Library of the Vatican Palace at Rome,' was published in 8vo. at London, in 1819, by the Rev. W. Gunn, B.D., Rector of Irstead, Norfolk; and his greatly improved text has been chiefly followed in a subsequent edition by Mr. Stevenson, published by the Historical Society, 8vo. Lond. 1838.
Contemporary with the original Nennius was the Irish Saint Columbanus, distinguished for his missionary labours among the Gauls and Germans. Columbanus died in 615, at the monastery of Bobbio, in northern Italy, of which he was the founder. "The writings of this eminent man that have come down to us," says the distinguished living historian of Ireland, "display an extensive and various acquaintance not merely with ecclesiastical, but with classical literature. From a passage in his letter to Boniface, it appears that he was acquainted both with the Greek and Hebrew languages; and when it is recollected that he did not leave Ireland till he was nearly fifty years of age, and that his life afterwards was one of constant activity and adventure, the conclusion is obvious that all this knowledge of elegant literature must have been acquired in the schools of his own country. Such a result from a purely Irish education, in the middle of the sixth century, is, it must be owned, not a little remarkable. Among his extant works are some Latin poems, which, though not admissible of course to the honours of comparison with any of the writings of a classic age, shine out in this twilight period of Latin
literature with no ordinary distinction."* Another learned Irishman of this age was St. Cummian, the author of an epistle, still extant, addressed to Segienus, abbot of Iona, in defence of the 'Roman mode of computing Easter, in which he shows a very extensive acquaintance both with the subject of chronology andwith the works of the fathers, Greek as well as Latin. "The various learning, indeed," observes Mr. Moore, "which this curious tract displays, implies such a facility and range of access to books, as proves the libraries of the Irish students, at that period, to have been, for the times in which they lived, extraordinarily well furnished."t To the Irish scholarship of this age may also be regarded as belonging the two Latin lives of Columba: the first by Cuminius, who succeeded him as abbot of Iona in 657; the second, which is of much greater length, by Adomnan, who succeeded Cuminius in the same ofiice in 679. Both these productions, the second of which in particular is highly curious, have been printed. Their authors, although they resided in one of the North British islands, were probably Irishmen by birth. The school of Iona was at least an Irish foundation.
Of the Latin writers among the Anglo-Saxons, any of whose works remain, the most ancient is Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury, and afterwards the first bishop of Sherborn, who died in 709, and has left various writings both in prose and verse. Aldhelm received his education chiefly from Maildulf, Meildulf, or Meldun, an Irishman, the founder of the monastery of Malmesbury, by whom he tells us he was thoroughly instructed both in Latin
* Moore, History of Ireland, i. 267.
and Grock. Among the studies of his after life, he mentions the Roman law, the rules of Latin prosody, arithmetic, astronomy, and astrology. He also wrote a tract on the great scientific question of the age—the proper method of computing Easter. But Aldhelm's favourite subject seems to have been the virtue of virginity, in praise of which he wrote first a copious treatise in prose, and then a long poem. Both these performances have been printed. Aldhelm long enjoyed the highest reputation for learning; but his writings are chiefly remarkable for their elaborately unnatural and fantastic rhetoric. His Latin style bears a strong resemblance to the pedantic English, full of alliteration and all sorts of barbarous quaintness, that was fashionable among our theological writers in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I.
But the Anglo-Saxon name most distinguished in literature is that of Beda, or Bede, upon whom the epithet of the "Venerable" has been justly bestowed by the respect and gratitude of posterity. All that Bede has written, like the other works already mentioned, is in Latin. He was born some time between the years 672 and 677, at Jarrow, a village near the mouth of the Tyne, in the county of Durham, and was educated in the neighbouring monastery of Wearmouth, under its successive abbots Benedict and Ceolfrid. He resided here, as he tells us himself, from the age of seven to that of twelve, during which time he applied himself with all diligence, he says, to the meditation of the Scriptures, the observance of regular discipline, and the daily practice of singing in the church. "It was always sweet to me," he adds, "to learn, to teach, and to write." In his nineteenth year he took deacon's orders, and in his thirtieth