But the noblest proof of his love of England lies in the work which immortalizes his name. In his ’Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation,’ Baeda was at once the founder of medieval history and the first English historian. All that we really know of the century and a half that follows the landing of Augustine, we know from him. Wherever his own personal observation extended, the story is told with admirable detail and force. He is hardly less full or accurate in the portions which he owed to his Kentish friends, Alewine and Nothelm. What he owed to no informant was his own exquisite faculty of story-telling, and yet no story of his own telling is so touching as the story of his death. Two weeks before the Easter of 735 the old man was seized with an extreme weakness and loss of breath. He still preserved, however, his usual pleasantness and gay good-humour, and in spite of prolonged sleeplessness continued his lectures to the pupils about him. Verses of his own English tongue broke from time to time from the master’s lip—rude rhymes that told how before the “need-fare,” Death’s stern “must-go,” none can enough bethink him what is to be his doom for good or ill. The tears of Baeda’s scholars mingled with his song. “We never read without weeping,” writes one of then. So the days rolled on to Ascension-tide, and still master and pupils toiled at their work, for Baeda longed to bring to an end his version of St. John’s Gospel into the English tongue, and his extracts from Bishop Isidore. “I don’t want my boys to read a lie,” he answered those who would have had him rest, “or to work to no purpose, after I am gone.” A few days before Ascension-tide his sickness grew upon him, but he spent the whole day in teaching, only saying cheerfully to his scholars, “Learn with what speed you may; I know not how long I may last.” The dawn broke on another sleepless night, and again the old man called his scholars round him and bade them write. “There is still a chapter wanting,” said the scribe, as the morning drew on, “and it is hard for thee to question thyself any longer.” “It is easily done,” said Baeda; “take thy pen and write quickly.” Amid tears and farewells the day wore on to eventide. “There is yet one sentence unwritten, dear master,” said the boy. “Write it quickly,” bade the dying man. “It is finished now,” said the little scribe at last. “You speak truth,” said the master; “all is finished now.” Placed upon the pavement, his head supported in his scholar’s arms, his face turned to the spot where he was wont to pray, Baeda chaunted the solemn “Glory to God.” As his voice reached the close of his song, he passed quietly away.
J. R. GREEN.
[Note: Baeda. The father of literature and learning in England (656-735 A.D.).]
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