Alfred was famed during all his life for the kindness of his heart, and a thousand stories were told in his day of his interpositions to right the wronged, to relieve the distressed, to comfort the afflicted, and to befriend the unhappy. On one occasion, as it is said, when he was hunting in a wood, he heard the piteous cries of a child, which seemed to come from the air above his head. It was found, after much looking and listening, that the sounds proceeded from an eagle’s nest upon the top of a lofty tree. On climbing to the nest, they found the child within, screaming with pain and terror. The eagle had carried it there in its talons for a prey. Alfred brought down the boy, and, after making fruitless inquiries to find its father and mother, adopted him for his own son, gave him a good education, and provided for him well in his future life. The story was all, very probably, a fabrication; but the characters of men are sometimes very strikingly indicated by the kind of stories that are invented concerning them.
[Illustration: PORTRAIT OF ALFRED.]
CHARACTER OF ALFRED’S REIGN.
Perhaps the chief aspect in which King Alfred’s character has attracted the attention of mankind, is in the spirit of humanity and benevolence which he manifested, and in the efforts which he made to cultivate the arts of peace, and to promote the intellectual and social welfare of his people, notwithstanding the warlike habits to which he was accustomed in his early years, and the warlike influences which surrounded him during all his life. Every thing in the outward circumstances in which he was placed tended to make him a mere military hero. He saw, however, the superior greatness and glory of the work of laying the foundations of an extended and permanent power, by arranging in the best possible manner the internal organization of the social state. He saw that intelligence, order, justice, and system, prevailing in and governing the institutions of a country, constitute the true elements of its greatness, and he acted accordingly.