English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

CHAPTER IV.

THE VENERABLE BEDE AND THE SAXON CHRONICLE.

   Biography.  Ecclesiastical History.  The Recorded Miracles.  Bede’s Latin. 
   Other Writers.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:  its Value.  Alfred the Great. 
   Effect of the Danish Invasions.

BIOGRAPHY.

Bede was a precocious youth, whose excellent parts commended him to Bishop Benedict.  He made rapid progress in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; was a deacon at the unusual age of nineteen, and a priest at thirty.  It seems probable that he always remained in his monastery, engaged in literary labor and offices of devotion until his death, which happened while he was dictating to his boy amanuensis, “Dear master,” said the boy, “there is yet one sentence not written.”  He answered, “Write quickly.”  Soon after, the boy said, “The sentence is now written.”  He replied.  “It is well; you have said the truth.  Receive my head into your hands, for it is a great satisfaction to me to sit facing my holy place where I was wont to pray, that I may also sitting, call upon my Father.”  “And thus, on the pavement of his little cell, singing ’Glory be unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost,’ when he had named the Holy Ghost he breathed his last, and so departed to the heavenly kingdom.”

HIS ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY.—­His ecclesiastical history opens with a description of Britain, including what was known of Scotland and Ireland.  With a short preface concerning the Church in the earliest times, he dwells particularly upon the period, from the arrival of St. Augustine, in 597, to the year 731, a space of one hundred and thirty-four years, during nearly one-half of which the author lived.  The principal written works from which he drew were the natural history of Pliny, the Hormesta of the Spanish priest Paulus Orosius, and the history of Gildas.  His account of the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, “being the traditions of the Kentish people concerning Hengist and Horsa,” has since proved to be fabulous, as the Saxons are now known to have been for a long period, during the Roman occupancy, making predatory incursions into Britain before the time of their reputed settlement.[9]

For the materials of the principal portions of his history, Bede was indebted to correspondence with those parts of England which he did not visit, and to the lives of saints and contemporary documents, which recorded the numerous miracles and wonders with which his pages are filled.

BEDE’S RECORDED MIRACLES.—­The subject of these miracles has been considered at some length by Dr. Arnold,[10] in a very liberal spirit; but few readers will agree with him in concluding that with regard to some miracles, “there is no strong a priori improbability in their occurrence, but rather the contrary.”  One of the most striking of the historical lessons contained in this

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