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never can finish, whereby they may have so much harm that it may never
come into their hearts to devise anything against their ruler. And above
all this, have tyrants ever striven to make spoil of the strong and to
destroy the wise; and have forbidden fellowship and assemblies of men in
their land, and striven always to know what men said or did; and do
trust their counsel and the guard of their person rather to foreigners,
who will serve at their will, than to them of the land, who serve from
oppression. And moreover, we say that though any man may have gained
mastery of a kingdom by any of the lawful means whereof we have spoken
in the laws going before this, yet, if he use his power ill, in the ways
whereof we speak in this law, him may the people still call tyrant; for
he turneth his mastery which was rightful into wrongful, as Aristotle
hath said in the book which treateth of the rule and government of

From 'Las Siete Partidas,' quoted in Ticknor's 'Spanish Literature.'


The ancient histories which describe the early inhabitants of the East
and their various languages show the origin of each tribe or nation, or
whence they came, and for what reason they waged war, and how they were
enabled to conquer the former lords of the land. Now in these histories
it is told that the Turks, and also the allied race called Turcomans,
were all of one land originally, and that these names were taken from
two rivers which flow through the territory whence these people came,
which lies in the direction of the rising of the sun, a little toward
the north; and that one of these rivers bore the name of Turco, and the
other Mani: and finally that for this reason the two tribes which dwelt
on the banks of these two rivers came to be commonly known as Turcomanos
or Turcomans. On the other hand, there are those who assert that because
a portion of the Turks lived among the Comanos (Comans) they
accordingly, in course of time, received the name of Turcomanos; but the
majority adhere to the reason already given. However this may be, the
Turks and the Turcomans belong both to the same family, and follow no
other life than that of wandering over the country, driving their herds
from one good pasture to another, and taking with them their wives and
their children and all their property, including money as well
as flocks.

The Turks did not dwell then in houses, but in tents made of skins, as
do in these days the Comanos and Tartars; and when they had to move
from one place to another, they divided themselves into companies
according to their different dialects, and chose a _cabdillo_ (judge),
who settled their disputes, and rendered justice to those who deserved
it. And this nomadic race cultivated no fields, nor vineyards, nor
orchards, nor arable lands of any kind; neither did they buy or sell for
money: but traded their flocks among one another, and also their milk
and cheese, and pitched their tents in the places where they found the
best pasturage; and when the grass was exhausted, they sought fresh
herbage elsewhere. And whenever they reached the border of a strange
land, they sent before them special envoys, the most worthy and
honorable of their men, to the kings or lords of such countries, to ask
of them the privilege of pasturage on their lands for a space; for which
they were willing to pay such rent or tax as might be agreed upon. After
this manner they lived among each nation in whose territory they
happened to be.

From 'La Gran Conquista de Ultramar,' Chapter xiii.


From the 'Cantigas'

Welcome, O May, yet once again we greet thee!
So alway praise we her, the Holy Mother,
Who prays to God that he shall aid us ever
Against our foes, and to us ever listen.
Welcome, O May! loyally art thou welcome!
So alway praise we her, the Mother of kindness,
Mother who alway on us taketh pity,
Mother who guardeth us from woes unnumbered.
Welcome, O May! welcome, O month well favored!
So let us ever pray and offer praises
To her who ceases not for us, for sinners,
To pray to God that we from woes be guarded.
Welcome, O May! O joyous month and stainless!
So will we ever pray to her who gaineth
Grace from her Son for us, and gives each morning
Force that by us the Moors from Spain are driven.
Welcome, O May, of bread and wine the giver!
Pray then to her, for in her arms, an infant
She bore the Lord! she points us on our journey,
The journey that to her will bear us quickly!



In the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford may be seen an antique jewel,
consisting of an enameled figure in red, blue, and green, enshrined in a
golden frame, and bearing the legend "Alfred mec heht gewyrcean" (Alfred
ordered me made). This was discovered in 1693 in Newton Park, near
Athelney, and through it one is enabled to touch the far-away life of a
thousand years ago. But greater and more imperishable than this archaic
gem is the gift that the noble King left to the English nation - a gift
that affects the entire race of English-speaking people. For it was
Alfred who laid the foundations for a national literature.

Alfred, the younger son of Ethelwulf, king of the West Saxons, and
Osberga, daughter of his cup-bearer, was born in the palace at Wantage
in the year 849. He grew up at his father's court, a migratory one, that
moved from Kent to Devonshire and from Wales to the Isle of Wight
whenever events, raids, or the Witan (Parliament) demanded. At an early
age Alfred was sent to pay homage to the Pope in Rome, taking such gifts
as rich vessels of gold and silver, silks, and hangings, which show that
Saxons lacked nothing in treasure. In 855 Ethelwulf visited Rome with
his young son, bearing more costly presents, as well as munificent sums
for the shrine of St. Peter's; and returning by way of France, they
stopped at the court of Charles the Bold. Once again in his home, young
Alfred applied himself to his education. He became a marvel of courage
at the chase, proficient in the use of arms, excelled in athletic
sports, was zealous in his religious duties, and athirst for knowledge.
His accomplishments were many; and when the guests assembled in the
great hall to make the walls ring with their laughter over cups of mead
and ale, he could take his turn with the harpers and minstrels to
improvise one of those sturdy bold ballads that stir the blood to-day
with their stately rhythms and noble themes.

Ethelwulf died in 858, and eight years later only two sons, Ethelred and
Alfred, were left to cope with the Danish invaders. They won victory
after victory, upon which the old chroniclers love to dwell, pausing to
describe wild frays among the chalk-hills and dense forests, which
afforded convenient places to hide men and to bury spoils.

Ethelred died in 871, and the throne descended to Alfred. His kingdom
was in a terrible condition, for Wessex, Kent, Mercia, Sussex, and
Surrey lay at the mercy of the marauding enemy. "The land," says an old
writer, "was as the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a
desolate wilderness." London was in ruins; the Danish standard, with its
black Raven, fluttered everywhere; and the forests were filled with
outposts and spies of the "pagan army." There was nothing for the King
to do but gather his men and dash into the fray to "let the hard steel
ring upon the high helmet." Time after time the Danes are overthrown,
but, like the heads of the fabled Hydra, they grow and flourish after
each attack. They have one advantage: they know how to command the sea,
and numerous as the waves that their vessels ride so proudly and well,
the invaders arrive and quickly land to plunder and slay.

Alfred, although but twenty-five, sees the need for a navy, and in 875
gathers a small fleet to meet the ships of the enemy, wins one prize,
and puts the rest to flight. The chroniclers now relate that he fell
into disaster and became a fugitive in Selwood Forest, while Guthrum and
his host were left free to ravage. From this period date the legends of
the King's visit in disguise to the hut of the neat-herd, and his
burning the bread he was set to watch; his penetrating into the camp of
the Danes and entertaining Guthrum by his minstrelsy while discovering
his plans and force; the vision of St. Cuthbert; and the fable of his
calling five hundred men by the winding of his horn.

Not long after he was enabled to emerge from the trials of exile in
Athelney; and according to Asser, "In the seventh week after Easter, he
rode to Egbert's Stone in the eastern part of Selwood or the Great Wood,
called in the old British language Coit-mawr. Here he was met by all the
neighboring folk of Somersetshire, Wiltshire, and Hampshire, who had not
for fear of the Pagans fled beyond the sea; and when they saw the king
alive after such great tribulation, they received him, as he deserved,
with joy and acclamations and all encamped there for the night." Soon
afterward he made a treaty with the Danes, and became king of the whole
of England south of the Thames.

It was now Alfred's work to reorganize his kingdom, to strengthen the
coast defenses, to rebuild London, to arrange for a standing army, and
to make wise laws for the preservation of order and peace; and when all
this was accomplished, he turned his attention to the establishment of
monasteries and colleges. "In the mean-time," says old Asser, "the King,
during the frequent wars and other trammels of this present life, the
invasions of the Pagans, and his own daily infirmities of body,
continued to carry on the government, and to exercise hunting in all its
branches; to teach his workers in gold and artificers of all kinds, his
falconers, hawkers, and dog-keepers, to build houses majestic and good,
beyond all the precedents of his ancestors, by his new mechanical
inventions, to recite the Saxon books, and more especially to learn by
heart the Saxon poems, and to make others learn them also; for he alone
never desisted from studying, most diligently, to the best of his
ability; he attended the mass and other daily services of religion: he
was frequent in psalm-singing and prayer, at the proper hours, both of
the night and of the day. He also went to the churches, as we have
already said, in the night-time, to pray, secretly and unknown to his
courtiers; he bestowed alms and largesses both on his own people and on
foreigners of all countries; he was affable and pleasant to all, and
curious to investigate things unknown."

As regards Alfred's personal contribution to literature, it may be said
that over and above all disputed matters and certain lost works, they
represent a most valuable and voluminous assortment due directly to his
own royal and scholarly pen. History, secular and churchly, laws and
didactic literature, were his field; and though it would seem that his
actual period of composition did not much exceed ten years, yet he
accomplished a vast deal for any man, especially any busy sovereign
and soldier.

An ancient writer, Ethelwerd, says that he translated many books from
Latin into Saxon, and William of Malmesbury goes so far as to say that
he translated into Anglo-Saxon almost all the literature of Rome.
Undoubtedly the general condition of education was deplorable, and
Alfred felt this deeply. "Formerly," he writes, "men came hither from
foreign lands to seek instruction, and now when we desire it, we can
only obtain it from abroad." Like Charlemagne he drew to his court
famous scholars, and set many of them to work writing chronicles and
translating important Latin books into Anglo-Saxon. Among these was the
'Pastoral Care of Pope Gregory,' to which he wrote the Preface; but with
his own hand he translated the 'Consolations of Philosophy,' by
Boethius, two manuscripts of which still exist. In this he frequently
stops to introduce observations and comments of his own. Of greater
value was his translation of the 'History of the World,' by Orosius,
which he abridged, and to which he added new chapters giving the record
of coasting voyages in the north of Europe. This is preserved in the
Cotton MSS. in the British Museum. His fourth translation was the
'Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation,' by Bede. To this last
may be added the 'Blossom Gatherings from St. Augustine,' and many minor
compositions in prose and verse, translations from the Latin fables and
poems, and his own note-book, in which he jots, with what may be termed
a journalistic instinct, scenes that he had witnessed, such as Aldhelm
standing on the bridge instructing the people on Sunday afternoons; bits
of philosophy; and such reflections as the following, which remind one
of Marcus Aurelius: - "Desirest thou power? But thou shalt never obtain
it without sorrows - sorrows from strange folk, and yet keener sorrows
from thine own kindred." and "Hardship and sorrow! Not a king but would
wish to be without these if he could. But I know that he cannot."
Alfred's value to literature is this: he placed by the side of
Anglo-Saxon poetry, - consisting of two great poems, Caedmon's great song
of the 'Creation' and Cynewulf's 'Nativity and Life of Christ,' and the
unwritten ballads passed from lip to lip, - four immense translations
from Latin into Anglo-Saxon prose, which raised English from a mere
spoken dialect to a true language. From his reign date also the famous
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Anglo-Saxon Gospels; and a few scholars
are tempted to class the magnificent 'Beowulf' among the works of this
period. At any rate, the great literary movement that he inaugurated
lasted until the Norman Conquest.

In 893 the Danes once more disturbed King Alfred, but he foiled them at
all points, and they left in 897 to harry England no more for several
generations. In 901 he died, having reigned for thirty years in the
honor and affection of his subjects. Freeman in his 'Norman Conquest'
says that "no other man on record has ever so thoroughly united all the
virtues both of the ruler and of the private man." Bishop Asser, his
contemporary, has left a half-mythical eulogy, and William of
Malmesbury, Roger of Wendover, Matthew of Westminster, and John Brompton
talk of him fully and freely. Sir John Spellman published a quaint
biography in Oxford in 1678, followed by Powell's in 1634, and
Bicknell's in 1777. The modern lives are by Giles, Pauli, and Hughes.


Comment in his Translation of Boethius's 'Consolations of Philosophy'

The mind then answered and thus said: O Reason, indeed thou knowest that
covetousness and the greatness of this earthly power never well pleased
me, nor did I altogether very much yearn after this earthly authority.
But nevertheless I was desirous of materials for the work which I was
commanded to perform; that was, that I might honorably and fitly guide
and exercise the power which was committed to me. Moreover, thou knowest
that no man can show any skill nor exercise or control any power,
without tools and materials. There are of every craft the materials
without which man cannot exercise the craft. These, then, are a king's
materials and his tools to reign with: that he have his land well
peopled; he must have prayer-men, and soldiers, and workmen. Thou
knowest that without these tools no king can show his craft. This is
also his materials which he must have besides the tools: provisions for
the three classes. This is, then, their provision: land to inhabit, and
gifts and weapons, and meat, and ale, and clothes, and whatsoever is
necessary for the three classes. He cannot without these preserve the
tools, nor without the tools accomplish any of those things which he is
commanded to perform. Therefore, I was desirous of materials wherewith
to exercise the power, that my talents and power should not be forgotten
and concealed. For every craft and every power soon becomes old, and is
passed over in silence, if it be without wisdom: for no man can
accomplish any craft without wisdom. Because whatsoever is done through
folly, no one can ever reckon for craft. This is now especially to be
said: that I wished to live honorably whilst I lived, and after my life,
to leave to the men who were after me, my memory in good works.


King Alfred bids greet Bishop Waerferth with his words lovingly and with
friendship; and I let it be known to thee that it has very often come
into my mind, what wise men there formerly were throughout England, both
of sacred and secular orders; and what happy times there were then
throughout England; and how the kings who had power of the nation in
those days obeyed God and his ministers; and they preserved peace,
morality, and order at home, and at the same time enlarged their
territory abroad; and how they prospered both with war and with wisdom;
and also the sacred orders, how zealous they were, both in teaching and
learning, and in all the services they owed to God; and how foreigners
came to this land in search of wisdom and instruction, and how we should
now have to get them from abroad if we would have them. So general was
its decay in England that there were very few on this side of the Humber
who could understand their rituals in English, or translate a letter
from Latin into English; and I believe there were not many beyond the
Humber. There were so few that I cannot remember a single one south of
the Thames when I came to the throne. Thanks be to God Almighty that we
have any teachers among us now. And therefore I command thee to do as I
believe thou art willing, to disengage thyself from worldly matters as
often as thou canst, that thou mayst apply the wisdom which God has
given thee wherever thou canst. Consider what punishments would come
upon us on account of this world if we neither loved it (wisdom)
ourselves nor suffered other men to obtain it: we should love the name
only of Christian, and very few of the virtues.

When I considered all this I remembered also how I saw, before it had
been all ravaged and burnt, how the churches throughout the whole of
England stood filled with treasures and books, and there was also a
great multitude of God's servants; but they had very little knowledge of
the books, for they could not understand anything of them, because they
were not written in their own language. As if they had said, "Our
forefathers, who formerly held these places, loved wisdom, and through
it they obtained wealth and bequeathed it to us. In this we can still
see their tracks, but we cannot follow them, and therefore we have lost
both the wealth and the wisdom, because we would not incline our hearts
after their example."

When I remembered all this, I wondered extremely that the good and wise
men, who were formerly all over England, and had perfectly learnt all
the books, did not wish to translate them into their own language. But
again, I soon answered myself and said, "They did not think that men
would ever be so careless, and that learning would so decay; therefore
they abstained from translating, and they trusted that the wisdom in
this land might increase with our knowledge of languages."

Then I remember how the law was first known in Hebrew, and again, when
the Greeks had learnt it, they translated the whole of it into their own
language, and all other books besides. And again, the Romans, when they
had learnt it, they translated the whole of it through learned
interpreters into their own language. And also all other Christian
nations translated a part of them into their own language. Therefore it
seems better to me, if ye think so, for us also to translate some books
which are most needful for all men to know, into the language which we
can all understand, and for you to do as we very easily can if we have
tranquillity enough; that is, that all the youth now in England of free
men, who are rich enough to be able to devote themselves to it, be set
to learn as long as they are not fit for any other occupation, until
that they are well able to read English writing: and let those be
afterward taught more in the Latin language who are to continue learning
and be promoted to a higher rank. When I remember how the knowledge of
Latin had formerly decayed throughout England, and yet many could read
English writing, I began among other various and manifold troubles of
this kingdom, to translate into English the book which is called in
Latin 'Pastoralis,' and in English 'Shepherd's Book,' sometimes word by
word and sometimes according to the sense, as I had learnt it from
Plegmund, my archbishop, and Asser, my bishop, and Grimbold, my
mass-priest, and John, my mass-priest. And when I had learnt it as I
could best understand it, and as I could most clearly interpret it, I
translated it into English; and I will send a copy to every bishopric in
my kingdom; and on each there is a clasp worth fifty mancus. And I
command, in God's name, that no man take the clasp from the book or the
book from the minister: it is uncertain how long there may be such
learned bishops as now, thanks be to God, there are nearly everywhere;
therefore, I wish them always to remain in their place, unless the
bishop wish to take them with him, or they be lent out anywhere, or any
one make a copy from them.


In every tree I saw something there which I needed at home, therefore I
advise every one who is able and has many wains, that he trade to the
same wood where I cut the stud shafts, and there fetch more for himself
and load his wain with fair rods, that he may wind many a neat wall and
set many a comely house and build many a fair town of them; and thereby
may dwell merrily and softly, so as I now yet have not done. But He who
taught me, to whom the wood was agreeable, He may make me to dwell more
softly in this temporary cottage, the while that I am in this world, and
also in the everlasting home which He has promised us through St.
Augustine, and St. Gregory, and St. Jerome, and through other holy
fathers; as I believe also that for the merits of all these He will make
the way more convenient than it was before, and especially the carrying
and the building: but every man wishes after he has built a cottage on
his lord's lease by his help, that he may sometimes rest him therein
and hunt, and fowl, and fish, and use it every way under the lease both
on water and on land, until the time that he earn book-land and
everlasting heritage through his lord's mercy. So do enlighten the eyes
of my mind so that I may search out the right way to the everlasting
home and the everlasting glory, and the everlasting rest which is
promised us through those holy fathers. May it be so! ...

It is no wonder though men swink in timber working, and in the wealthy
Giver who wields both these temporary cottages and eternal homes. May He
who shaped both and wields both, grant me that I may be meet for each,
both here to be profitable and thither to come.


From 'Boethius'

Oh! It is a fault of weight,
Let him think it out who will,
And a danger passing great
Which can thus allure to ill
Careworn men from the rightway,
Swiftly ever led astray.

Will ye seek within the wood
Red gold on the green trees tall?
None, I wot, is wise that could,
For it grows not there at all:
Neither in wine-gardens green
Seek they gems of glittering sheen.

Would ye on some hill-top set,
When ye list to catch a trout,
Or a carp, your fishing-net?
Men, methinks, have long found out
That it would be foolish fare,
For they know they are not there.

In the salt sea can ye find,
When ye list to start an hunt,
With your hounds, the hart or hind?
It will sooner be your wont
In the woods to look, I wot,
Than in seas where they are not.

Is it wonderful to know
That for crystals red or white
One must to the sea-beach go,
Or for other colors bright,
Seeking by the river's side
Or the shore at ebb of tide?

Likewise, men are well aware
Where to look for river-fish;
And all other worldly ware
Where to seek them when they wish;
Wisely careful men will know
Year by year to find them so.

But of all things 'tis most sad
That they foolish are so blind,

Online LibraryUnknownLibrary of the World's Best Literature, Ancient and Modern — Volume 1 → online text (page 37 of 46)