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fortified houses. It was a privilege which was considered dangerous to the liberties of the people, and was reserved, therefore, only for the officers of the crown. But the times were too rough for these nice respects, and every nobleman took advantage of the opportunity to assume a position which it was too easy for him to abuse.
The discipline of the clergy fell slack. After Swithun died, Alfred tells us, there was no one left in all West Saxony who could teach him to read a book in his own language. We are now emerging on the sounder portions of Asser, and are better able to make out the story. Closely following Asser, Dr. Pauli proceeds
We are scarcely in a position to form a notion of the difficulties which in those days lay in the way of acquiring knowledge. Undeterred, however, the boy faced and overcame them, and soon began to read for himself in his mother tongue, what till then he had only learnt by rote at others' dictation. So the old poetry grew more dear to him as it became more accessible; and at the same time he began to give his attention to the hymns and offices of the church. He made a collection for himself of the Psalms and Hymns, and the Services for the Hours, and this he always carried about with him, parting from it neither day nor night. Asser had himself seen this little book, and the king had spoken to him of the help
and comfort which it had been to him in some of his hardest straits.
Dr. Pauli scarcely thinks this can really refer to his boyhood; but it stands on very tolerable evidence, and it is only another exhibition of that warm and eager devotedness which a very curious story, certainly authentic, proves to have early characterized him-a story which, from its character, belongs obviously to the age when the boy is changing into the man. What the monks call the flesh' had begun to grow unruly; his nature was altogether strong and vehement, and thoughts and inclinations began to obtrude themselves, from which his higher self recoiled. There is no mo beautiful instance in histo young boy's unassisted self-mastery than what have done to conquer the miraculous par
nothing to do. It is he who is really interesting; what happened to him may have been what it would. In the dead of the night he would leave his bed, and creep away to the cold, lonely chapel, and kneel and pray there; and at last he prayed that God would send him some disorder which would cure him. .. The prayer was strangely answered... A disease fell upon him: what it was we do not know, further than that it was intermittent, and its paroxysms were so agonizing, that for years his life was despaired of.... He believed that it was really sent him because he had asked for it, but perhaps he doubted whether he had been right in asking. At any rate, when he was about nineteen, on a hunting party in Cornwall, he passed near the well of Saint Gueryr, the water of which had medicinal properties, and where, in consequence, a small chapel had been erected. He dismounted from his horse, and going in (whether he drank the water is not told us), he prayed again that God would take pity on him, and exchange the disease which he had given him for some other which he could more easily bear, or which, at least, would not disable him from doing his duty as a prince. This petition was again answered; his more acute sufferings ceased, and ever after till his death he was subject to epileptic fits.
No doubt all this may be 'accounted for by natural causes,' &c., &c., although that is not to our purpose; but it serves to show what a deep, earnest heart there must have been
in the boy a superstitious one, it may be said, and many other such adjectives. Yet we may not use such adjectives wisely: the religion of one era is the superstition of the next; the grown Alfred was as superstitious as the boy, and believed in the pope, in relics, chips of wood, witchcraft, priesteraft, saints, miracles, and the mass; they were light to his eyes and food to his soul; and yet we will not stumble at it. Such gs are but a language, a dead the letter of them
days a faith so expressed would promise little good: but it was in virtue of it, and because of it, that Alfred grew into a strong, valiant, and noble man.
In 869-he was then twentyAlfred married Elswitha, daughter of a Mercian thane. A story lies in the father's name - Ethelred the Mickle: some mighty fighter, we may see easily, who had won Alfred's friendship on many a hard battlefield: for many such he had already seen. In 865, the Danes had wintered in Thanet; for years after the Chronicles are full of nothing but battle after battle; and the Saxon victories, however frequently they are claimed, could never have been decisive enough to be profitable. Ethelbert died, and then only Ethelred and Alfred were left; and the work was fast thickening round and over them. By 868, the whole of England north of the Ouse had been decisively conquered, and became the permanent possession of the Danes, from which they were never dislodged. The Saxon inhabitants either submitted on terms or were made slaves; and the conquerors, as owners of the soil which they had won, settled down on it, took wives of the country, and, speaking the same, or nearly the same, language, merged so swiftly in the old population, that in half a century hardly a difference remained to be traced. But they had determined to be satisfied with nothing less than the entire island. Reinforced by fresh hordes, and gathering up their force in East Anglia and Northumberland, they swarmed out round Norfolk, and, landing in thousands on the Kentish coast, they pressed inwards, as they always did when conquest, not plunder, was their object, and, ascending the valley of the Thames, seized and fortified themselves in Reading.
Pauli supposes that they chose Reading, because the river gave them an open access to the sea, and that they had ascended it in their war-ships; but the windings of the Thames would put such an adventure out of the question, even if without
ks the river had been navile, which it was not. Reading in the centre of Wessex, and asily fortified, it formed an
excellent basis of operations in carrying out their plans of conquest, which they intended to make as conclusive in the southern as they had already made it in the northern counties. And then began a struggle which, with slight intermissions, lasted ten bitter years: all depended on it. If the Saxons had lost, they could never have recovered their ground. It was a conflict between two families of the same race, so like each other, with all their difference of creed and habit, that the weaker would, as a matter of course, take its character from the stronger. As it was, the Danes were beaten and became Saxons. But it might have fallen the other way, and what would have happened then? The battle was, in literal truth, pro aris et focis-for God and for home.
Ethelred, the last remaining brother, died a few days after a desperate battle with these Reading Danes, probably of his wounds; and Alfred, on the 23rd of April, 871, succeeded to the precarious and unenvied throne. He was then only twenty-one. For two years he had been incessantly fighting, and in the year of his accession himself fought nine pitched engagements, with doubtful success, as the event proved, for, at the end of it, he had to buy off the Danes with a large present. In the preface to one of his own writings he has left us a sad and disdainful account of the people on whom he had to depend; and above all things he had to gain time at all costs, to send them to school where they might learn to be men. In this way he secured to himself five years' quiet. It was at his neighbours' cost, but he could not help it. The army' moved north from Reading into Mercia, which did not even attempt a resistance. Burrhed, Alfred's brother-in-law. who called himself its king, fled for his life, and died in a cloister at Rome, the strange ending-place of so many of the Saxon kings-saint and sinner, pagan and Christian; and Mercia became part of the Danish kingdom. When the five years were over, Alfred had again to defend himself. In 876, Danish ships were swarming on the coasts of Dorsetshire and Devonshire, and
in 878 he was himself alone, a fugitive hiding in the marshes about Bridgewater.
It is round this part of his life that romance has been most busy. Alfred, rated by the cowherd's wife for letting the cakes burn, has been the favourite story in English nurseries for many hundred years; and it is at least certain that the scene
in which the legend says it happened is given rightly, a gold ornament having been found there a century and a half ago, bearing Alfred's name. A facsimile of it is given in Dr. Pauli's work, and it is a fair specimen of the art of the day. Some doubt has been recently thrown upon its genuineness, but entirely gratuitously. The language of the inscription contains a peculiarity in the form of one of the words which is not to be found in later Saxon.
How much else may be true it is impossible to say. All that we are decidedly bound to throw away and fling from us-if with disgust and execration, all the better-are the stories which the writers of St. Neot's Lives dared to spread about, of certain profligacies on the part of Alfred, which had provoked the Divine displeasure.
It is a fair specimen of the unscrupulousness with which these worthy people went about their work, the one object being to make a situation for their saint, as a Nathan by a modern David. But the flight, the concealment, and the re-appearance are all made too much of, if the dates are given correctly, and Dr. Pauli follows his authorities in this with too little hesitation. The tone in which they speak is one which would imply a long disappearance-years long at the very least: and yet the invasion before which Alfred had to yield took place in January, 878; in March of the same year Hubba was killed in Devonshire, and the Raven Standard taken; and in May the king is at the head of an army, fights the deciding battle of Ethendun, and saves England. It is out of place to speak of a kingdom prostrated, settled under a Danish yoke, and only a King Alfred left unsubdued, when the entire period
of their superiority was not more than four months. Under pres
sure, the story will scarcely yield more than that he would not risk an engagement till he was certain of victory, and the marshes of Somersetshire offered a safe and convenient spot to collect his people about him. Yet the legend may be taken to prove that all did really depend on Alfred-that, if he had yielded, it was lost; and Dr. Pauli, in a very successful passage, shows clearly enough what it was which was at issue.
If, at that moment, his faith in God had failed him; if he had desperately rushed upon death; if he had again trusted the word of these perjured heathen; if, like the last king of the Mercians, he had fled away to hide himself and die at Rome, with him the hope would have passed away that England could remain true to the Christian faith. The old Britons had not preserved it when they were conquered; the monks who had wandered forth from among the ashes of their cloisters, and gone up and down the land, or made homes for themselves in the woods and wastes, with all their preaching had made no impression on the mind of those fierce barbarians, who, trained up amidst ice and storm, held fast by their own awful gods of Asgard and Valhalla. On the ancient sites of the deserted Woden worship, bloody offerings of their own apostate worshippers had once again steamed up to Odin and to Thor, and the fallen Christian population, who still retained among themselves large elements of the old superstition, having lost their leaders and their teachers, were gradually losing hold of the faith of their conversion, and turning again to the idol altars on which their conquerors offered.
After the battle of Ethendun, Alfred could have destroyed the Danish army; but he chose a wiser course. He dismissed them, and sent them back to East Anglia Christians. He converted them, it is true, not with sermon and Bible, but with sword and spear: but it is true also, and no one knew it better than Alfred, that to tempers such as theirs, sword and spear are the true convincing preachers. Children, as they called themselves, of Thor and Odin, strength was their real god; they were trying the strength of these Asgard gods
against the God of the Christians, and they were not men to halt between two opinions. They would bow before whichever proved the strongest. That is the higher faith which makes men higher, nobler, braver.
But what was the king now to do? By what idea was he to guide himself? He must have experienced, to his sorrow, the collapse of the old fabric of which his grandfather had been so proud; but which his father had done so much to undermine. Was
it not natural, that now when he was firmly seated again, he should draw the rein of government tighter than before, and gather up the loose and crumbling fragments in a strong, firm whole? A few hints only of his measures have survived all these centuries, but we have enough left to show that he did take some steps of this kind. Indeed, lately he has been reproached with having begun the work of despotism, and narrowed the liberties of his people. This is not the place to meet such a charge. We should rather remember the higher necessity which at that time was busy, uniting and centralizing in all the great Teutonic families. What we mean by freedom is removed far as heaven from earth from independence in half-barbarous communities, and again and again in history has been found really to have been furthered even by tyrants. Now what Alfred undertook was, gently and effectively to change the whole existing relations of men and things, and thus to prepare the way to a far different, but wiser and better polity than he had inherited from his ancestors.
Very unconstitutional' doctrine this, yet very wholesome too, especially at this time, when there is a cry rising for local self-g - government, &c. Local self-government is good when there is local virtue; else it is local tyranny, local corruption, local iniquity. Centralization is a symptom of decline an unerring one; no doubt of it. But to suppose that the character of a people can be restored by decentralizing, is like supposing a people can be made orderly by dismissing the police force. If Dr. Pauli means by the last paragraph which we quoted, that despotic central authority is absolutely the best for us to live under, we do not agree with him the least. But in Alfred's time, as in Cæsar's, there was nothing else possible; we may be
sorry for it, but there was no help for it. The first great change was in the mode of appointment of the public officers. The old plan was popular election; but popular election no longer bore good fruit, and had to be done away. Henceforward the king, on his own authority, undertook the appointment of the sheriffs, the town reeves or mayors, the judges, the lords-lieutenant of the counties; if the popular form was preserved, it was but like a modern congé d'elire. For indeed the substance of a popular election was no longer even possible. The peasant occupants of small holdings were everywhere diminishing; the commons were being enclosed, and falling to the thanes; the small estates swallowed by the large; everywhere that wretched, because false and hollow, system prevailing, under which masses of men lose the substanceoffreedom, and live and act only as the lords of the land allow them. The king had to seize for himself the old local rights which had once belonged to the people, in order to exercise them for the people's benefit. Men placed in high authority (of course by those who had the real power in their hands) Alfred found unable to read or write, and unacquainted with the commonest principles of justice; and so iniquitous had the administration become in consequence, that complaints poured in from all parts of the country. In the old Mirrour for Magistrates, there is a story that he had to hang forty-four judgesand there is nothing more likely. So, again, the fine old liberties of feud, by which men who had been deeply injured were allowed, under restrictions, to be their own avengers, had become a mere plea for fawlessness, and could not be any longer permitted. He did not venture, indeed, entirely to abolish it, but he fenced it round more and more with difficulties. All injuries had first to be referred to his officers, or to himself; and crimes, which under the older system had been of man against man, became, under the legislation of Alfred, crimes rather against the law, against himself, and against God.
Dr. Pauli does not like the story of the hanged judges, and prefers
another, which to us has but an insipid monastic flavour. Asser, or the pseudo-Asser, says that the king summoned them into his presence, and read them a homily on the advantages of learning, forthwith obliging them either to go to school with the little boys and learn, or else lay down their high offices. "Then for that they would not resign might be seen bearded men at lesson, in one form, with the youngest children,' &c. It may be true; but if it be true, let no man ever more plead internal improbability in the criticism of history. In such grim days as those, there was scarcely time or leisure for such feeble experimentalizing. There is rare virtue in your gallows; and from what we know of King Alfred, and that deep, earnest Christianity of his to which Dr. Pauli appeals, there never was king with whom an unjust judge would have run a better chance of finding it.
His Church reforming was a less successful affair. Church discipline, as Asser says, went against the grain of the Saxons; and the king had to depend altogether on foreigners to carry it out: Asser, a Welshman, Grimbald, a French priest at St. Omer, John, perhaps Erigena, at any rate, not an Englishman-these were his ecclesiastical reformers, and the work hung upon his hands. It was eft for Dunstan, whose taste it suited better, to finish this. Alfred could never throw himself into it as an end in itself. With him the Church was valuable as the educator of the people, and it was mainly as such that he cared to keep it in activity.
Nothing (writes Pauli) is more delightful than to read what Alfred, with the help of these fellow-workmen, was trying to do for the laity. His own words show it most clearly.
'My desire is (he says), that the entire freeborn youth of this kingdom, who have means thereto, and so long as there be no other occupation which hinders them, shall receive so much instruction as shall enable them to read without difficulty in their own tongue; and that whosoever are to hold offices in the Church shall go on to learn the Latin.'
Golden words: such as were rarely heard from the great men of those ages, and only long after came to be spoken
out again with equal vigour by the Protestant Reformers.
It is very grand. This brave, heroic man, slaving alone at so dead a labour. He saw the people were sliding down and down, and education was the only hope. But quis custodiat custodes, and who was to educate the educators? The history of Alfred is the history of a dead lift at the souls of a lazy race, in whom he knew there lay the seeds of rare virtue, if he could quicken them. But perhaps even his heart would have sunk in him, if he could have seen their descendants, after a life and death struggle of a thousand years, only now imperfectly winning back the lost ground, and still fighting for the boon which he believed he could confer himself.
So many years was Alfred before his time, as the phrase goes. Whatever time has brought out as most excellent in the English nature, either actively or in germ is found antedated in him. We have seen him the soldier, the statesman, the Church reformer, the schoolmaster; besides these, he was the architect of his age, and the inventor of a new order. Ships of his designing were the swiftest and strongest in the channel. He was jeweller, clockmaker, engineer. There was work done, or necessary to be done, high or low, in England, but Alfred was king and master there and everywhere. His navigators cruised in the Mediterranean. He sent exploring parties to Palestine and even to India. One thing more remained, one work which, if any other person had proposed it to himself as the exclusive labour of his life, might well make us smile at his presumption; but to the gigantic Alfred it was the amusement of his leisure. It was nothing less than to form a national literature. His people were to be taught to read in their native language, and there were no books for them; none, at least, except the poems, and these would serve but indifferently for the sole spiritual food of a people half actual heathens, and the other half of a very weak Christianity. So Alfred seriously set himself to create a prose Saxon literature; not to write new books, but to translate good old books,