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their own language; but I soon answered myself and said, they never thought that men would be so reckless, and that learning would be so fallen. They intentionally omitted it, and wished that there should be more wisdom in the land, by many languages being known.
"I then recollected how the law was first revealed in the Hebrew tongue, and that after the Greeks had learned it, they turned it all into their own language, and also other books; and the Latin men likewise, when they had learned it, they, by wise foreigners, turned it into their tongue; and also every other Christian nation translated some part (1).
The wise, the active-minded, but unassuming king, proceeds modestly to say to the bishop he addresses, "Therefore I think it better, if you think so, that we also translate some books, the most necessary for all men to know, into our own language, that we all may know them; and we may do this, with God's help, very easily, if we have stillness; so that all the youth that now are in England, who are free men, and have so much wealth as that they may satisfy themselves, be committed to learning, so that for a time they may apply to no other duty till they first well know to read English writing. Let them learn further the Latin language, they who will further learn, and will advance to a higher condition (2). "When I remembered how the learning of the Latin tongue, before this was fallen through the English nation, and yet many could read English, then began I, among much other manifold business of this kingdom, to turn into English the book named Pastoralis, or the Herdsman's Book, sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense, so as I had learned of Plegmund, my archbishop; and of Asser, my bishop; of Grimbold, my mass priest; and of John, my mass priest; and as I understood and could most intellectually express it, I have turned it into English (3). "
What a sublime, yet unostentatious, character appears to us in these artless effusions! A king, though in nation, age, and education, almost a barbarian himself, yet not merely calmly planning to raise his people from their ignorance, but amid anxiety, business, and disease, sitting down himself to level the obstacles by his own personal labour, and to lead them, by his own practice, to the improvements he wished!
We proceed to notice the translations of Alfred. The preceding
(1) Wise, p. 84.
(2) Ibid. p. 85.
(3) Wise, p. 85. He concludes with, "I will send one copy to every bishop's seat in my kingdom: and on every one there shall be an æstel that shall be of fifty manscuses; and I entreat in God's name, that no man take the æstel from the book, nor the book from the minister. It is uncertain how long there may be learned bishops such as now they are, thank God, every where. Hence I wish that they should always be at these places, unless the bishops should desire to have it with them, or to lend it any where, or to write another from it." Ibid. p. 86. What the æstel meant that was to be so costly is not precisely known.
preface mentions his determination to translate some books. The life of St. Neot says, that he made many books (1). Malmsbury affirms, that he put into English a great part of the Roman compositions (2); and the more ancient Ethelwerd declares, that the number of his versions was not known (3). The first of these, which we shall consider as the most expressive exhibition of his own genuine mind, is his translation of Boetius.
Alfred's Translation of Boetius's Consolations of Philosophy. - Alfred considered as a Moral Essayist. His Thoughts, Tales, and Dialogues on various Subjects.
Boetius flourished at the close of the fifth century (4). His translation of He was master of the offices to Theodoric, king of the Goths, who had the discernment to appreciate his intellectual acquisitions (5), but who at last destroyed him, from a political suspicion, in 524 (6). While he was in prison on this charge, he wrote his celebrated book, de Consolatione Philosophiæ, whose object is to diminish the influence of riches, dignity, power, pleasure, or glory; and to prove their inadequacy to produce happiness.
He fancies that philosophy visits him in prison, and by expanding these views, reconciles his mind to the adversity he was suffering. The Author of existence is suggested to be the sovereign good (7), and all that the reasonings of a Cicero could supply is adduced to show that worldly prosperity is, of itself, as inferior in value and comfort as it is uncertain in its duration, and capricious in its favours.
The book of Boetius is praised by the Erigena, whom Alfred ad
(1) "Eac is to wytene tha se king Ælfred manega bæc thurh Godes gart gedyhte." Vita Sancti Neoti, p. 147. MSS. Cot. Vesp. D. 14.
(2) Malmsb. p. 45.
(3) Nam ex Latino rhetorico fasmate in propriam verterat linguam volumina, numero ignoto, etc. Ethelwerd, 847.
(4) See Gibbon on the character, studies, honours, and death of Boetius, vol. iv. p. 33-39.
(5) The letter of Theodoric to Boetius, full of panegyric on his studies, yet exists among the Ep. Cassiod. lib. i. ep. 45. p. 33.
(6) Fab. Bib. Med. vol. i. p. 687.
(7) The first and last part of his address to the Supreme is thus beautifully translated by our great moralist and critic :
mitted into his friendship (1). That the king translated it is stated by Ethelwerd (2), who was his kinsman, and almost his contemporary; by Malmsbury (3), and by other chroniclers (4); and by the Saxon preface to the work itself, which reads like the king's own language (5). A MS, of the Anglo-Saxon translation exists in the Bodleian library, with the metrums rendered in prose (6). Another copy existed in the Cotton library with the metrums in AngloSaxon verse (7), the preface to which also mentions Alfred as the translator (8).
In this translation of Boetius there is a value which ed as a moral es- has been hitherto unnoticed. It is that Alfred has taken occasion to insert in various parts many of his own thoughts and feelings. He has thus composed several little moral essays, and by them has transmitted himself to posterity in his own words and manner.
It is highly interesting, at the distance of nearly one thousand years, to hear, as it were, our most revered sovereign speaking to us in his own language, on some of the most important topics of human life. Right feeling and true wisdom appear in all these cffusions, and entitle him to be deemed the first moral essayist of our island. As this is new ground, which has been hitherto unexplored, we will extract and translate literally several of the passages which Alfred has added to his version.
(1) See his Div. Natura, p. 32. 34. 113. and 174. Gibbon calls the book of Boetius a golden volume, not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or Tully." Hist. Decl. vol. iv. p. 38.
(2) Ethel. Hist. p. 847.
(3) Malm. p. 45. and 248.
(4) Henry de Silgrave; MSS. Cott. Cleop. A. xii. p. 15., and Joh. Bever, MSS. Harl. 641. p. 21.
(5) Its literal translation is:
"Alfred, king, was the translator of this book; and from book-latin into English turned it, as it now is done. A while he put down word for word: a while sense for sense, so as he the most manifestly and intellectually might explain it for the various and manifold worldly occupations that oft, both in mind and in body, busied him. These occupations are very difficult for us to number, which in his days came on this kingdom which he had undertaken. He learned this book, and turned it from Latin to the English phrase, and made it again into song, so as it is now done.
"And now may it be, and for God's name let him beseech every one of those that desire to read this book, that they pray for him, and do not blame him if they should more rightly understand it than he could because that every man should, according to the condition of his understanding, and from his leisure, speak what he speaks, and do that which he doeth." See the original in Rawlinson's edition. (6) See Wanley's Catal. p. 64. 85. work.
From this Rawlinson published his printed
(7) It was MS. Otho. A. 6., when it was collated by Rawlinson. It has been since burnt. Wanley thought this MS. was one written in Alfred's life time. The versification of the metrums seems to be what the prose preface alludes to—" and made it again into song." The plan of Boetius is to add to each division of his prose dialogue a metrum on the same subject in Latin verse.
(8) See Rawlinson.
His feeling of
Boetius had made philosophy call upon him to remember that amidst his misfortunes, he had comfort yet connubial felicity, left him-a celebrated father-in-law, his wife, and children.
Alfred, after adding, "It is untrue, as thou thinkest, that thou art unhappy," proceeds to enlarge on the short description of Boetius with such emphatic repetition, that it may be read as his own feeling of the value of an affectionate wife.
The passages in italics are the additions of Alfred.
"Liveth not thy wife also? She is exceedingly prudent, and very modest. She has excelled all other women in purity. I may, in a few words, express all her merit: this is, that in all her manners she is like her father. She lives now for thee; thee alone. Hence she loves nought else but thee. She has enough of every good in this present life, but she has despised it all for thee alone. She has shunned it all because only she has not thee also. This one thing is now wanting to her. Thine absence makes her think that all which she possesses is nothing. Hence for thy love she is wasting, and full nigh dead with tears and sorrow (1). "
Alfred dwells on the "vivit tibi" of Boetius with manifest delight, and dilates upon the thought as if with fond recollections of the conduct of his own wife, who shared his adversity with him.
Congenial with this subject is the narration which he has given of Orpheus and Eurydice. Boetius, in a metrum of Latin verses, has in a more general manner described the incident. But Alfred tells the story so completely in his own way, and with so many of his own little touches and additions, as to make his account an original tale.
His story of Or
"It happened formerly, that there was an harper in that nation which is called Thracia. It was a country in Greece. pheus and EuryThis harper was inconceivably good. His name was Orpheus : he had an incomparable wife : she was called Eurydice.
"Men then began to say of that harper, that he could harp so, that the woods danced, and the stones moved, from its sound. The wild deer would run to him, and stand as if they were tame; so still, that though men or hounds came against them, they would not shun them.
'They mention also that this harper's wife died, and her soul was led into hell. Then the harper became very sorry, so that he could not be among other men. But he withdrew to the woods, and sat upon the mountains both day and night, and wept and harped. Then the woods trembled, and the rivers stopped, and no hart shunned the lion, nor hare the hound. No cattle knew any mistrust or fear of others, from the power of his songs.
"Then the harper thought that nothing pleased him in this world. Then he thought that he would seek the gods of hell, and begin to soothe them with his harp, and pray that they would give him his wife again.
"When he came there, that hell-hound, whose name was Cerverus, came against him. He had three heads, but he began to sport with his tail, and to play with him for his harping. There was also a very terrible gate
(1) Alfred's Boet. p. 17. Rawl. Ed. Boet. lib. ii. prosa 4.
warder; his name should be Caron: he had also three heads, and he was very fierce. Then began the harper to supplicate him for his protection while he was there, and that he should be brought out from thence sound. Caron promised him this, because he was pleased with his uncommon song.
"Then he went on further, till he met the grim goddesses that the multitude call Parcas. They say that they will give honour to none, but punish every man according to his deserts, and that they govern every man's fortune.
"Then he began to intreat their mercy, and they began to weep with him. Then he went further, and all the citizens of hell ran toward him, and led him to their king. And all began to talk with him, and to ask what he prayed.
"The restless wheel that Ixion was bound to, the king of Laiusta, for his guilt, stood still for his harping; Tantalus, the king that in this world was immoderately covetous, and whom the same evil passion followed, his covetousness was stayed; and the vulture forbore to tear the liver of Titius, the king that before was thus punished; and all hell's citizens rested from their torments while he harped before the king.
"When he had long harped, the king of the citizens of hell called him and said, 'Let us give this slave his wife, for he hath earned her by his harping. Bid him, then, that he may well know, that he must never look back after he is gone from hence;' and he said, 'If he look back, he shall lose this woman.'
"But men can with great difficulty repress love. Wel-a-way! What! Orpheus then led his wife with him, till he came to the boundary of light and darkness, then his wife went after him: then he came forth into the light: then he looked back towards the woman, and she died away from him (1).
In another part we have his sentiments on riches. He has added to the reflections of Boetius the several following passages.
(1) P. 100. I bave made the translation strictly literal; and will add as literal a one of the original of Boetius, that the reader may observe for himself what Alfred has made his own :-" Formerly the Thracian poet, mourning the death of his wife, afterwards compelled, by his plaintive measures, the woods to run, and the moveable rivers to stand; the hind joined her intrepid side to the cruel lion's; nor did the hare fear the visible dog, made placid by the song. When the interior fervour of his bosom burnt more violent, those strains which subdued all could not soothe their master. Complaining of the cruel deities, he went to the infernal regions. There attempering his bland lays to the sounding strings, whatever he had imbibed from the chief fountains of the goddess mother; what impotent grief gave; what love, groaning in grief, wept, he expressed; and moving Tanarus, solicited with a sweet prayer the lords of the shades. Caught by the new song, the threefold porter was stupified. The guilty, whom the goddesses, avengers of crimes, agitate with fear, now sorrowful, dissolve in tears. The swift wheel revolves not the head of Ixion; and Tantalus, perishing with thirst, despises the long streams. The vulture, satisfied with the harmony, drew not the liver of Titius. At length, We are conquered!' exclaims the pitying arbiter of the shades: Let us give the man his companion, his wife, ught by his song.' But a law restricted the gift, that while he should leave Tartarus he should not bend Who shall give a law to lovers? Love is a greater law to itself. borders of night, Orpheus saw, lost, and killed his Eurydice"
back his eyes. Alas! near the Lib. iii. met. 12.