« AnteriorContinuar »
one which had never been made by any Englishman. But the stout-hearted bishop, making, as it should seem, what is now called the Overland journey, went and returned in safety, bringing back with him presents of gems and Indian spices. Hereby was Alfred's fame increased, and the name and existence of England probably heard of for the first time in that remote country, of which, nine centuries after, she was to become the almost absolute mistress.
This Saxon king, who could practise with his own hand the mechanical arts, extended his encouragement to all the humble but useful arts, and always gave a kind reception to mechanics of superior skill, of whom no inconsiderable number came into England from foreign countries. "No man,” says Milton, “could be more frugal of two precious things in man's life, his time and his revenue. His whole annual revenue, which his first care was, should be justly his own, he divided into two equal parts: the first he employed in secular uses, and subdivided those into three ; the first, to pay his soldiers, household servants, and guard; the second, to pay his architects and workmen whom he had got together of several nations, for he was also an elegant builder, above the custom and conceit of Englishmen in those days; the third he had in readiness to relieve or honour strangers, according to their worth, who came from all parts to see him and to live under him. The other equal part of his yearly wealth he dedicated to religious uses, those of four sorts : the first, to relieve the poor ; the second, to build and maintain monasteries ; the third, to a school, where he had persuaded the sons of many noblemen to study sacred knowledge and liberal arts (some say Oxford); the fourth was for the relief of foreign churches, as far as India to the shrine of St. Thomas.”
This great prince was anxious above all things that his subjects should learn how to govern themselves, and how to preserve their liberties; and in his will he declared that he left his people as free as their own thoughts. He frequently assembled his Witenagemot, or parliament, and never passed any law, or took any important step whatsoever, without their previous sanction. Down to the last days of his life he heard all law appeals in person with the utmost patience; and, in cases of importance, he revised all the proceedings with the utmost industry. His manifold labours in the court, the camp, the field, the hall of justice, the study, must indeed have been prodigious. “One canuot help being amazed,” says Burke, “that a prince who lived in such turbulent times, who commanded personally in fiftyfour pitched battles, who had so disordered a province to regulate, who was not only a legislator, but a judge, and who was continually superintending his armies, his navies, the traffic of his kingdom, his revenues, and the conduct of all his officers, could have bestowed so much of his time on religious exercises and speculative knowledge ; but the exertion of all his faculties and virtues seemed to have given a mutual strength to all of them. Thus all historians speak of this prince, whose whole history is one panegyric; and whatever dark spots of human frailty may have adhered to such a character, they are entirely hid in the splendour of his many shining qualities and grand virtues, that throw a glory over the obscure period in which he lived."
Our amazement at all this bodily and mental activity must be increased by the indisputable fact that all these incessant exertions were made in spite of the depressing influences of physical pain and constant bad health. At the age of twenty or twenty-one, he was visited by a tormenting malady, the inward seat and unknown nature of which baffled all the medical skill of his “leeches." The accesses of excruciating pain were frequent—at times almost unintermittent; and then, if by day or by night a single hour of ease was mercifully granted him, that short interval was embittered by the dread of the sure returning anguish. But the good monk Asser, who withdraws the curtain and admits us into the sick room of the great
Saxon sovereign, tells us that Heaven vouchsafed him strength to bear these mortal agonies, and that they were borne with a devout fortitude. The disease never quïtted him, and was no doubt the cause of his death. “The shepherd of his people,” “ the darling of the English,” “ the wisest man in England,” the truly illustrious Alfred, expired in the month of November, on the festival of SS. Simon and Jude, in the year 900, when he was only in the fifty-first year of his age. He was buried at Winchester, in a monastery he had founded.
20.-ALFRED, THE FUGITIVE.
SHERIDAN KNOWLES. Alfred discovered trimming some arrows, with an unfinished bow beside him—Maude
kneading flour for cakes.
Alf. Your will ?
Maude. Would thou could'st do my will
Maude. Bad omen that! He'll bring an empty creel ;
Alf. If the game
Alf. What Heaven sends!
Alf. Its will be done !
Maude. You'd starve ;
Alf. I'll do
Alf. [solus.] This is the lesson of dependence. Will
AY. I'll turn them, dame.
Maude. You will ?
-Know I not your handy ways ?
Alf. So much for poverty! Adversity's
Of nature into ice, to whom each change
By being more a man !
Maude. Is this your care?
Alf. I forgot, good dame.
Maude. Forgot, good dame, forsooth! You ne'er forgot
THIERRY. On the death of the good king Alfred, his son Edward, who had distinguished himself in the war with Hasting, was chosen by the Anglo-Saxon nobles and elders. One of the sons of Alfred's eldest brother, and predecessor, protested against this election, in virtue of his hereditary rights, and in contempt of the rights of the people. The electors of the English kings replied to this insolent and absurd claim, by declaring Ethelwald, the son of Ethelred, a rebel to his country, and condemning him to exile. Instead of submitting to the sentence lawfully passed upon him, this man, with some abettors of his ambition, took possession of the town of Wimburn on the south-west coast, vowing to hold it, or to perish. But he did not keep his oath ; at the approach of the English people, he fled, without coming to an engagement, and betaking himself to the Danes in Northumbria, became a heathen, and a pirate. They appointed him commander of the war against his countrymen. The rejected pretender to the throne made a pillaging inroad upon the lands of those who would not have him for their king, and was killed in the ranks of the foreigners whom he had led. Then king Edward assumed the offensive against the Danes ; he regained from them the eastern coast, from the mouth of the Thames to
the gulf of Boston, and confined them to their northern possessions by a line of fortresses, erected in front of the Humber. His successor Athelstan passed the Humber, took the town of York, and forced the settlers of the Scandinavian race to swear obedience to him. One of the Danish chiefs was conducted with honour to the palace of the Saxon king, and admitted to his table ; but four days of a peaceful life were sufficient to disgust him; he escaped, gained the sea, and reentered a pirate vessel, as incapable, says the ancient historian, as a fish of living but of the water.
The Saxon army advanced as far as the shores of the Tweed, and Northumbria was added to the territories under the dominion of Athelstan, the first of all the English kings who reigned over the whole of England. In the flush of this victory the Anglo-Saxons overleapt their old northern boundary, and made an invasion on the Picts and Scots, and on the colony of ancient Britons, who inhabited the Vale of the Clyde. These various nations allied themselves with the Danes from beyond sea, to deliver their countrymen from the power of the southern men. Olave, or Aulaf, the son of Sigrie, the last Danish king of Northumbria, was made generalissimo of the confederated armics, in which were joined to the men from the Baltic, the Danes of the Orcades, the Gauls of the Hebrides, armed with long twohanded broadswords, which they called glay-mores or great swords, the Gauls from the foot of the Grampian Hills, and the Cambrians of Dumbarton and Galloway, who carried long slender javelins. The two armies came to an engagement north of the Humber, in a place called in the Saxon language Brunan-burh, or the town of springs. The victory was decided in favour of the English, who drove the confederates back to their ships, their islands, and their mountains. The conquerors named this the day of the great fight, and sang of it in the national songs, of which some fragments are still preserved.
(We subjoin this famous song of the battle of Brunanburh, from the translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the “Monumenta Historica." Mr. George Darley, who has written a spirited tragedy on the story of Athelstan (or Ethelstan), says “ The Saxon Ode on Brunanburh Battle has always moved my heart more than a trumpet. That was the hardest-fought field, say our Chronicles, before Hastings, and all but as momentous in its political consequences."]
Here Athelstan, king,