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Cædmon was a monk of Whitby, and was originally of so comparatively low and obscure circumstances, as to be a menial in public service. In this capacity he was engaged when his talents were first developed, according to the narrative of the venerable Bede, in the following marvelous and extraordinary manner.
“Cadmon,' we are told by this `author, ‘was so much less instructed than most of his equals, that he had not even learned any poetry; so that he was frequently obliged to retire, in order to hide his shame, when the harp was moved toward him in the hall, where at supper it was customary for each person to sing in turn. On one of these occasions, it happened to be Cædmon's turn to keep guard at the stable during the night, and overcome with vexation, he quitted the table, and retired to his post of duty, where, laying himself down, he fell into a sound slumber. In the midst of his sleep, a stranger appeared to him, and saluting him by his name, said, “Cædmon, sing me something.' Cædmon answered, “I know nothing to sing, for my incapacity in this respect was the cause of my leaving the hall to come hither.' \Nay,' said the stranger, “but thou hast something to sing.' • What must I sing ? said Cædmon. 'Sing the creation,' was the reply,—and thereupon Cædmon began to sing verses
which he had never 'leard before,' and which are said to have been as follows:
Now we shall praise
the Almighty master. Cædmon then awoke ; and he was not only able to repeat the lines which he had made in his sleep, but he continued them in a strain of admirable versification. In the morning, he hastened to the bailiff of Whitby, who carried him before the abbess Hilda; and there, in the presence of some of the learned men of the place, he told his story, and they were all of opinion that he had received the gift of song from heaven. They then expounded to him, in his mother tongue, a portion of Scripture, which he was required to repeat in verse. Cædmon went home with his task, and the next morning he produced a poem which excelled in beauty, all that they were accus
tomed to hear. He afterward yielded to the earnest solicitation of the abbess Hilda, and became a monk of her house; and she ordered him to transfer into verse the whole of the sacred history. We are told that he was continually occupied in repeating to himself what he heard, and, like a clean animal, ruminating it, he turned it into most sweet verse.'
Cædmon thus composed many poems on the Bible histories, and on miscellaneous religious subjects, and some of these have been preserved. His account of the Fall of Man is not unlike that which is given in ‘Paradise Lost,' and the following passage in it might almost be supposed to have been the foundation of a corresponding passage in Milton's sublime Epic. It is that in which Satan is described as reviving from the consternation of his overthrow, and in English is as follows:
Boiled within him
my strong seat;
Here is a vast fire
where I had power of my hands. The specimen of Cædmon's writing here given, may serve as a general one of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It will be observed that it is neither in measured feet, like Latin verse, nor rhymed, but that the only peculiarity which distinguishes it from prose, is a regular alliteration in the original, so arranged that in every couplet there should be two principal words in the line beginning with the same letter, and that this letter must also be the initial of the first word on which the stress of the voice falls in the second line.
A few more names of inferior order, such as Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmsberry, Coilfrid, Abbot of Wearmouth, and Felix of Croyland, bring down the hist of Anglo-Saxon writers to the celebrated John of Beverly, and the venerable Bede.
John of BEVERLY was descended from a noble family, and was born at Harpham in Northumberland, near the middle of the seventh century. The evidence of genius which he early evinced, attracting the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was instructed in the learned languages by that prelate in person; and such was the rapidity of his attainments, that he soon came to be esteemed one of the first scholars of the age. On his return to his native country, 685, he was preferred by Alfred, king of Northumberland, to the see of Haxam; and in 687, two years after
ward, he was translated by the same prince to the Archbishopric of York. In this exalted position, Beverly continued for many years to exert all the energies of his capacious and accomplished mind toward the improvement of the see over which he presided, and the clergy who were under his control.
In 704, Beverly, in order that he might the more effectually further the great objects of instruction which he had in view, founded, in the town of Beverly, a college for secular priests, which soon rose to great importance, and was endowed with unusual immunities. Among other privileges attached to this college, was an asylum or sanctuary for debtors, and for persons suspected of capital crimes. Within this sanctuary was placed a stone chair, which contained upon it the following inscription :The chair of peace, to which what criminal soever flies, has full protection.'
After having governed the see of York during thirty-four successive years, he divested himself of his Episcopal character, and died four years after on the seventh of May, 721.
Many years after Beverly's death, Alfric, Archbishop of York, caused his body to be disinterred, and placed in a new shrine, richly adorned with silver, gold, and precious stones; and such was the respect which the place of his repose universally inspired, that when William the Conqueror desolated Northumberland with a numerous army, he spared Beverly alone-out of veneration for the memory of the eminent prelate.
Bede, and many other monkish writers, unhesitatingly attribute to Beverly the performance of many miracles; but this, when we consider the superstition of the times, is not at all to be wondered at, as the extreme sanctity of his life and character must have elevated him far above all his contemporaries.
Beverly was the author of several literary productions, many of which were works of much merit, but as they were all written in the Latin language, a more particular notice of them does not fall within our present province.
BEDE, the next writer of this period, in the order of time, was born 672, at Wearmouth, on a family estate, situated near the mouth of the Tyne. His precocious intellect induced his parents to send him in 679, when he was only seven years of age, to the monastery of St. Peters, to receive his education. He remained at this monastery twelve years; and during that period his literary attainments were so remarkable, that attracting the attention of Beverly, now Archbishop of York, he was ordained by that prelate into the order of deacon at the early age of nineteen.
Bede did not, however, immediately enter upon his religious functions, but still remained attached to his monastery, prosecuting his literary studies with such ardor, that within comparatively a few years, he became one of the most eminent scholars of the age.
In the thirtieth year of his age, Beda was elevated to the priestly office;
and his scholastic fame having already spread over the continent, a mandate was sent by Pope Sergius from Rome, ordering him immediately to repair to the papal see, in order that his opinion and advice might be obtained upon some critical and important subjects, which at that period required the attention of the Pope's counsellors. Bede, however, resisted an order so flattering to his fame, and still remained in his cell for many years, ardently prosecuting his studies, until he had rendered himself inaster of every branch of learning then cultivated. His whole life was that of a religious recluse; and at his death, which occurred on the 26th of May, 735, he was buried in his own monastery, but his remains were afterward removed to Durham, where they were allowed in uninterrupted quiet to repose.
The literary productions of Bede were very numerous, comprising no less than forty-four distinct works, among what were a translation of the Gospel by John into the Saxon language, Scriptural Commentaries, Religious Treatises, Biographies, and an Ecclesiastical History of the Anglo-Saxons, which is the only history of the subject of which it treats, at all useful at the present time. In the collecting of the materials for this work, Bede occupied many laborious years, drawing them from the lives of eminent saints, from the annals of convents, and from religious chronicles written before his own time. The work was presented to the public 731, when the author was in the fifty-ninth year of his age, and its reception among the learned was such, as at once to place the writer upon a parallel with the early fathers of the church. The last literary performance of Bede was a letter to the Archbishop of York, which contains a very singular and interesting account of the state of the church at that time, and which was finished by an amanuensis at the moment of the venerable author's death.
Of this interesting author Camden remarks, that, for his profound learning, in a most barbarous age, we may more easily admire than sufficiently praise him ;' and Bale also says, 'that there is scarcely any thing in all antiquity worthy to be read, which is not to be found in Bede, though he traveled not out of his own country; and that if he had flourished in the times of St. Augustine, Jerome, or Chrysostom, he would undoubtedly have equaled them, since even in the midst of a superstitious age, he wrote so many excellent treatises.' Testimonials equally flattering might also be drawn from the learned Seldon, the great antiquarian Spelman, and the famous Stillingfleet.
The two centuries which followed the death of Bede, were perhaps, with regard to literature, the darkest period that ever shrouded the British Isles, and the amiable and intrepid king Alfred, to whom our remarks have now brought us down, must therefore be emphatically regarded as a bright light in the midst of the surrounding gloom. In this prince, learning and authorship graced the royal state, without interfering with its proper duties,
ALFRED was the sixth king of the Saxon dynasty, and was born 848,