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Boetius had said
"You know that the ambition of mortal things governed us but little, but we desired materials for acting, that virtue might not grow old in silence."
On these few words Alfred has thus expatiated, to express from himself, and on his own situation, his views and feelings as a king, and his principles of conduct. We cannot avoid remembering on reading this, that he hesitated about accepting the crown at his accession. He seems to allude to this circumstance.
On his principles of government.
"O Reason! thou knowest that covetousness and the possession of this earthly power, I did not well like, nor strongly desired at all this earthly kingdom, but, Oh ! I desired materials for the work that I was commanded to do. This was that I might unfractiously and becomingly steer and rule the power that was committed to me - What! thou knowest that no man may show any craft or rule, nor steer any power without tools and materials. There are materials for every craft, without which a man cannot work in that craft.
"These are the materials of a king's work, and his tools to govern with; that he have his land fully peopled; that he should have prayer-men, and army-men, and workmen. What! thou knowest that without these tools no king may show his skill.
"These are also his materials, that with these tools he should have provision for these three classes; and their provision then is, land to inhabit, and gifts, and weapons, and meat, and ale, and clothes, and what else that these three classes need; nor can he without these keep his tools; nor without these tools can he work any of those things that it is commanded to him to do.
"For this purpose I desired materials to employ that power with, that my skill and power might not be given up and concealed. But every virtue and every power will soon become oldened and silenced if they be without wisdom. Therefore no man can bring forth any virtue without wisdom; hence whatsoever is done through folly, man can never make that to be virtue.
"This I can now most truly say, that I HAVE DESIRED TO LIVE WORTHILY WHILE I LIVED, AND AFTER MY LIFE TO LEAVE TO THE MEN THAT SHOULD BE AFTER ME MY REMEMBRANCE IN GOOD WORKS (1). "
It may amuse us to read Alfred's picture of the Golden Age, in which he has added some marking circumstances of his own sentiments to his author's description.
Alfred on the
"Oh, how happy was the first age of this world, when golden age. every man thought he had enough in the fruits of the earth (2)! There were no rich homes, nor various sweet dainties, nor
(1) Alfred, p. 36, 37.
(2) Boetius's lines are: "Too happy was the prior age, contented with their faithful ploughs, nor lost in sluggish luxury: it was accustomed to end its late fasts with the ready acorn; nor knew how to confuse the present of Bacchus with liquid honey; nor to mingle the bright fleece of the Seres with the Tyrian poison. The grass gave them healthful slumbers. The gliding river their drink. The loftiest pines their shades. They did not yet cut the depths of the sea; nor did the stranger
drinks. They required no expensive garments, because there were none then; they saw no such things, nor heard of them. They cared not for luxury; but they lived naturally and temperately. They always ate but once a day, and that was in the evening. They ate the fruits of trees and herbs. They drank no pure wine. They knew not to mix liquor with their honey. They required not silken cloathing with varied colours. They always slept out under the shade of trees. The water of the clear springs they drank. They saw no merchant from island or shore, nor did any one hear of shiparmies, nor speak of battle, nor was the earth yet stained with the blood of slain men, nor were men then wounded, nor did they behold evil-willing men, nor had they any dignities, nor did men love them. Oh, that our times now might be such ! but now man's rapacity is as burning as flame, in that hell which is in the mount called Ætna, in the island named Sicilia. That mountain is always burning with sulphur, and it consumes all the places near and about it. Oh! the first covetous man was he that the earliest began to delve the earth after gold, and after gems; and found those dangerous valuables which before were hidden and covered by the earth (1).
This sentence of Boetius
"There is one thing which can seduce even minds excellent in their nature, but not yet brought to the full perfection of their virtues, that is the desire of glory, and the fame of the greatest merit towards the state; consider how slender and light a thing this is (2). "
Alfred has thus amplified :
"Oh, mind! one! oh! one evil is very much to be shunned. His thoughts on This is that which very unceasingly and very heavily deceiveth the mind of all those men who in their nature are select, and yet be not come to the roof of their full-framed virtues. This is then the desire of false glory, and of unrighteous power, and of immoderate fame of good works above all people; for many men desire power that they may have a good fame, though they be unworthy of it; and even the worst of all desire the same. But he that will wisely and diligently seek after this fame, let him very truly perceive how little it is, and how slight and how tender and how distinct from every good (3)!"
Boetius, after remarking that but a fourth part of the earth was inhabited, continues :
"And that many nations, differing in language, manners, and all the habits of life, inhabit this small inclosure, which, from the difficulty of the journey, as well as from the diversity of their speech, and want of commerce, the fame not only of each man, but even of cities, cannot reach (4). "
Alfred has thus enlarged upon this sentiment, with the inser
see new shores with his merchandise collected from every side. The cruel trumpets were silent; nor did the effused blood with bitter hatred tinge horrid arms. Why should an ancient fury move any army against enemies, when no cruel wounds, and no rewards of blood were seen? I wish our times could return to the ancient manners. But the raging love of possessing burns fiercer than the fires of Ætna. Alas! who was he that first dug up the weight of the covered gold and gems, desiring to be hid,—those precious dangers?" Boet. lib. ii. met. 5.
(2) Boetius, lib. ii. pr. 7.
(1) Alfred, p. 29, 30. (3) Alfred, p. 37, 38.
(4) Boetius, lib. ii. pr. 7.
tion of more knowledge as to the number of the languages of the world.
"Why desire ye, then, so immoderately, that you should spread your name over the tenth part? for with the sea, with fens, and with all else, there is not more.
"Bethink ye, also, that in this little park many nations dwell, and various ones; and very unlike, both in speech and customs, and in all their manners, are all these nations, that you now so immoderately desire that you should spread your name over. This you can never do; because their speech is divided into two and seventy languages, and each of these is divided among many nations. They are distinguished and separated by sea, and by woods, and by mountains, and by fens, and by many and various wastes and unfrequented lands, so that merchants indeed do not go to them.
"But how can then the name of any powerful man come there separately, when they do not indeed hear there the name of his city, nor of the people where his home is fixed. This I know, with what folly you are yearning, when you would extend your name over the whole earth. This you can never do, nor indeed never nearly so (1). "
Boetius having said, from Cicero, that the Roman name had not passed Mount Caucasus, Alfred, exhibiting his own study of geography, adds:
"Nor among the Scythians who dwell on the other side of these mountains: where they had not heard of the names of the cities nor of the people of Rome (2).
"No man hath the like praise in every land; because that which they do not like in some lands, they like in others.
Writers, from their negligence and from carelessness, have left unwritten the manners and deeds of those men, who, in their days, were the worthiest and most illustrious (3).
Boetius having said
"What is there that attaches from fame to the eminent men who seek glory by virtue, after the dissolution of their body(4)? "
Alfred thus dilates the thought :
"What then has it profited the best men that have been before us, that they so very much desired this idle glory and this fame after their death: or what will it profit those who now exist?
"There is more need to every man that he should desire good qualities than false fame. What will he have from that fame, after the separation of the body and the soul? How do we not know, that all men die bodily, and yet their soul will be living? But the soul departs very free-like to Heaven. Then the mind will itself be a witness of God's will (5). ”
Boetius in the accompanying metrum had impressively sung :'Why do the proud strive to raise their necks from this mortal yoke in
(1) Alfred, p. 39.
(3) Ibid. p. 40.
(2) Ibid. p. 39.
(4) Boetius, lib. ii. pr. 2. met. 7.
vain! Though their diffused fame, pervading many people, should be expressed in their languages, and the great family should shine with illustrious titles, death spurns the lofty glory; alike involves the high and humble head, and equals the lowest with the greatest. Where now lie the bones of the faithful Fabricius, or Brutus, or the rigid Cato (1) ? "
Alfred has thus expanded, and added to these suggestions, with a little error as to Brutus and Cassius :
"Oh, ye proud! why do you desire to put this death-like yoke upon your neck? or, why regard such idle toil, to spread your name among so many people?
Though it now should happen that the uttermost nations should upheave your name, and celebrate you in many countries, and though any one should increase his birth with much nobility, and flourish in all wealth, and in all honours, yet death careth not for such: but he despiseth the noble, and devoureth alike the rich and the poor, and thus equals the powerful with the low.
"Where are now the illustrious and the wise Goldsmith's bones, those of Weland? I call him the wise man, because the skilful can never lose his skill; nor can men take it away from him easier than they can turn the sun from his place.
"Where are now the bones of Weland, or who knows now where they were? or, where is now the illustrious and recorded Roman citizen, the heretoga, that was called Brutus, his other name Cassius? or, the wise and steadfast Cato? he was also a Roman heretoga: he was openly a philosopher. How did they not anciently die, and no man knoweth where they now are (2)? "
He exclaims from himself in another part :
"Oh, glory of this world! why do silly men with a false voice call thee glory? Now thou art not so; for more men have much pomp, and much glory, and much worship, from the opinion of foolish people, than they have from their own works (3). "
Alfred adds on adverse fortune :
"I dread it not myself; for it often happens, that deceitful fortune can neither give man any help, nor take any away (4).
Adverse fortune is the true happiness, though one does not think so; for it is to be depended upon, and always promises what is true (5).
Boetius remarks :
Departing fortune takes away her own creatures and leaves thine. For how much would you, when entire, and as you seemed to yourself, fortunate, have bought this? Cease now to seek after your lost wealth; you have found friends, which are the most precious kind of wealth (6). "
Alfred reiterates the thought; and, by the emphasis of his repe
(1) Boetius, lib. ii. met. 7.
(3) Ibid. p. 66.
(5) Ibid. p. 43, 44.
(2) Alfred, p. 42, 43.
(4) Ibid. p. 43.
(6) Boetius, lib. ii. pr. 2. met. 8.
titions, displays strongly his own sensibility, and probably his own experience of the different value of false and real friends.
"But the false riches, when they depart from thee, they take away their men with them, and leave thy few true ones with thee. How wouldest thou now have bought this, when thou wert happy, and thought that thy fortune went most to thy will? With how much property wouldst thou have purchased this, that thou mightest manifestly know thy friends from thine enemies? I know, that with great property, thou wouldest have bought this, that thou mightest know to discriminate them well. Although thou thinkest that thou hast now lost a precious property, yet thou hast bought with it one much more valuable. These are true friends. These thou mayest now know, and thou perceivest what thou hast of them. This is of all things the dearest possession (1).
In another part he takes occasion to add to his original the same feelings.
"True friends! I say then, that this is the most precious of all the riches of the world. They are not even to be reckoned among the goods of the world, but as divine ones; because false fortune can neither bring them nor take them away.
"Nature attracts and limes friends together with inseparable love. But with the riches of this world, and by our present prosperity, men oftener make an enemy than a friend (2).
"The friends that loved him before for his wealth, they depart away with that wealth, and then become enemies; but the few that loved him from affection, and with truth, they would love him still, though he were needy. They would remain with him (3). ”
Alfred, from the text of the eighth metre of Boetius, has taken occasion to enlarge upon it, to express his philosophical views of the divine government of nature.
His ideas of the
"One Creator is beyond any doubt; and he is also the Gosystem of nature. vernor of heaven, and earth, and of all creatures visible and invisible. This is GOD ALMIGHTY. All things serve Him that serve thee; both those that know thee and those that do not know thee; both they which understand that they serve Him, and they which do not perceive it. The same has appointed unchangeable laws and customs, and also a natural harmony among all His creatures, that they should now stand in the world as He hath willed, and as long as He wills.
"The motions of all active creatures cannot be stilled, nor even altered from their course, and from the arrangement which is provided for them. But He hath power over all His creatures; and, as with his bridle, confines, restrains, and admonishes them; so that they can neither be still, nor more strongly stir, than the space of His ruling reins permits. The Almighty God hath so coerced all his creatures with his dominion, that each of them striveth against the other; and yet is so wreathed with it, that they may not slide away from each other, but are turned again to that same course that they ran before, and thus become again renewed. He so varies it, that although the elements of a contrary kind contend betwixt themselves, yet
(1) Alfred, p. 45.
(2) Ibid. p. 51.
(3) Ibid. p. 88.