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When a Saxon warrior, travelling through the country, stopped to quench his thirst with a glass of mead at the nearest ton he might pass on his road, he was exposed to the danger of assassination by unsuspected enemies. The Saxon drinking-cups were large and horn-shaped, and required to be held in both hands. While the hands were thus in use, and the head raised in the act of drinking, a warrior offered a fine opportunity to the assassin. Hence a custom was introduced as a protection to life. A Saxon about to drink, asked his companion to be his pledge, or guardian, while so doing. The pledger, accordingly, drew his sword and protected the drinking man, who, in his turn, guarded his companion while he drank. When personal security became better ensured this practice died out, and the sword gave place to the various substitutes of modern times.
As an instance of the survival, in England, of this custom in the social usages of the present day, we may mention the passing of the “ Loving Cup,” which is observed at many of the more formal functions at the English Universities; and more particularly at the Lord Mayor's banquets at the Mansion House, where both the customs and dress of an earlier age are scrupulously maintained. At such entertainments, when the Loving Cup is passed
around, the ceremony brings vividly to mind the Anglo-Saxon custom of olden times. whose turn it is to drink, rises from his scat, and receiving the Loving Cup in both hands from the guest on his left hand, turns to the guest on his right, who removes the massive lid; the guest on either side standing guard while he drinks the accustomed toast, in accordance with the traditions of an
To the student of language, of literature, and of social observances, this study is all-important. But it has practical bearings as well. A strong and steady light may be reflected from this quarter on many points of municipal and common law; the theory of our political constitution ; and the internal history of our Church polity. The Saxon charters and laws throw a strong light upon the Saxon political and religious institutions, and enable us to gain a tolerably clear insight into Saxon times. They show the rank, the rights, and the duties of the several orders of society; they disclose to us the mode in which our ancestors punished public wrongs or redressed civil injuries; they explain the constitution and jurisdiction of the several courts; they discover interesting facts respecting the tenure of land; and they show the amount of authority possessed by the Anglo-Saxon Church. The whole
fabric of our laws, indeed, ecclesiastical as well as civil, is built upon an Anglo-Saxon foundation. To the lawyer who is not content with simply the practical knowledge of modern law requisite for the every-day business of life, but who aspires to a thorough mastery of any particular branch of his profession, a knowledge of Anglo-Saxon law is as indispensable as a knowledge of Roman law. “Where,” asks an eminent authority on this subject, “is the lawyer who will not derive an accession of solid information from a perusal of the Anglo-Saxon laws published by Lambard, Wheloc, and Wilkins, not to mention the various charters and legal instruments that are still extant, together with the ancient records of our county courts, on the foundation of which is erected the whole superstructure of our forensic practice? What patriot is there whose heart does not burn within him while he is reading the language in which the immortal Alfred, and other Saxon kings, composed the elements of our envied code of laws, and portrayed the grand outlines of our free constitution ?” And yet how few even of our most prominent members of the Bar have ever read one line of these, although the contents of the Corpus Juris Civilis may be as familiar to them as Blackstone or Kent! The lawyer who possesses this intimate acquaintance with his subject
will not only have the personal satisfaction arising from a consciousness of superior knowledge, but will possess, in addition, a power of illustration and argument not attainable by the student whose attainments are confined to a knowledge of the principles of modern forensic practice only.
Moreover, our political institutions, which excite the admiration of all who have devoted attention to the subject, although they have been modified by Norman feudalism; although they have been rendered more secure by baronial or popular opposition to royal tyranny or absolutism; and although they have been improved and perfected by the wisdom of succeeding ages, still, even nowadays, are essentially Anglo-Saxon in all their main features. The originals of most of these institutions upon which the English race most prides itself at the present day, no less than the beginnings of many of the best principles of national constitutional government, and local self-government, to which both England and America owe so much of their greatness, are to be found in the charters and laws of the pre-Norman era. The statesman who has clearly before his mind the history of the grand constitutional principles of his country, and who can trace them back to a time when they existed only in germ, will have a broader view of the bearings of any attempt at
innovation or reform, and be better entitled to an opinion upon any important question of statesmanship, than those who are prevented by ignorance from casting their observation beyond the narrow circumference of their own age.
At the present day, too, when questions of Church discipline, Church doctrine, and Church practice are commanding the attention of intelligent men—the laity as well as the clergy—they who can turn to the religious writings of the Anglo-Saxons may gain from them an insight into the doctrine and polity of the early Anglican Church which those cannot possess who take the Tudor period as their starting point. And where is the clergyman who will not derive advantage from a perusal of the ecclesiastical laws, the ecclesiastical history, the homilies, and the various works of piety and devotion of Anglo-Saxon England, of which so many specimens are extant?
But, perhaps, the crowning advantage of a knowledge of Anglo-Saxon consists in the pleasure it affords the lover of English literature, by enabling him to enjoy the earlier, no less than the more modern, writings of England's greatest writers. Let the student, who has mastered the Anglo-Saxon stage of our language as it passes sluggishly through Saxon times, follow it through the so-called Semi-Saxon, as it begins in Layamon's Brut to break loose from