Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

are

he was a herdsman, because on one occasion we told that he slept in a stable to take care of the cattle. Whatever he did, it is clear that he was a plain man who worked at some humble calling. He could not make or recite poetry, and as this was a favorite recreation among his companions, it was his habit to steal away from the feast when the harp was passed from hand to hand, so that he might escape being asked to sing when his turn came. One night when he had left the feast as usual, and gone to the stables, a stranger appeared to him in a dream or a vision and said: “Cædmon, sing me a song.” I cannot sing," Cædmon answered, “and that is why I have just left the feast." “You must, however," said the stranger, "sing for me." What shall I sing?” Cædmon asked, and he was commanded to sing "in the praise of creation.” Immediately Cædmon began to sing some verses, which he had never heard before, in the praise of God the Creator of all things. The matter was brought to the notice of the Abbess; and Cædmon, being taken before her, repeated to her the verses he had composed in his sleep. The Abbess, believing that God had given to this humble man a wonderful gift, induced him to become a monk. He could not read, but the Abbess had the Bible read aloud to him, and Cædmon, ruminating on what he had heard, turned those portions of it that most appealed to him into verse, paraphrasing in this way the Books of Genesis and Exodus, “ and many other histories of holy writ.”

Perhaps the most memorable feature in this old story of Cædmon is the simple goodness and humility of Cædmon himself. The subjects of the old heathen songs fail to inspire him; he cannot or will not learn “ the art of song from men”; to the end of his life he

writes only on religious themes that he may win men from their evil ways. His power springs from his goodness; he makes poems because he is moved to express the feelings that religion has put into his heart. His first song is a hymn of praise to God the Creator, who has hung the bright heavens as a roof over the children of men, and made the earth in its beauty for their use. His last conscious act is to wait for the singing of a song of praise. “How near is it,” he asked of those who watched his death-bed, “to the hour when the brethren are wakened for lauds?” He is told that it is “but a little while.” “Then,” said he, "let us wait for that hour," and making over himself the sign of the cross, he laid his head on the pillow, and falling into a light slumber ended his life in silence.

Cædmon, says the old writer who has preserved his story, was especially distinguished by the grace of God.” It is this that lifts his life out of the ordinary. Religion puts a new song in his mouth, and his work begins, even as his life ends, in a Te Deum, laudamus, “ We praise Thee, O God.” As, then, we see in Aldhelm an example of the native force of the English intellect, and of its quick advance when brought in contact with the world of knowledge, so we may well take Cædmon as an example of the way in which religion wrought upon the naturally devout and earnest English character, and so gave a new song to English literature.

Other Religious Poems. — Cædmon's example was followed by other poets among the Angles, and in consequence many poems on biblical or religious subjects were composed in the north. This religious poetry is on the whole a natural development of the old poetry of heathen times. The manner, or form of the verse, remains: and even the old fighting spirit, and some of

the old ideas survive, but the subjects are new, the poets have found a new source of inspiration, their work is full of a new gentleness and is illuminated by a new hope. A number of poems on biblical subjects, corresponding in a general way to those attributed to Cædmon, have been preserved, but scholars now believe these to be the work of some unknown authors, and think that all of Cædmon's poetry, except his song of praise to God the Creator, has been lost. Some religious poems were undoubtedly written by a poet named CYNEWULF, who is generally supposed to have lived in Northumbria during the latter part of the eighth century. Whoever he was, he was one of the greatest, if not the greatest English poet of his time, and his poems, although not free from sadness, are full of hope and peace.

Scholarship in the North. -- Northumbria, the great kingdom of the Angles, became distinguished not only for its poets but for its scholars. In the southern kingdom of Wessex, literature and learning rapidly declined, for various reasons, after the death of Aldhelm. But the enthusiasm and devotion of Irish missionaries, the favor of kings and nobles, and the spread of the Roman civilization, all worked together to make Northumbria a great center of literature and education. Great schools were founded at York and Durham, rare manuscripts were gathered from the Continent, and great scholars and teachers arose who became leaders in the intellectual life of Europe.

Bede. — The greatest and one of the earliest of these northern scholars was Bæda, or Bede, the most famous man of letters of his time. Bede was born in 673, on the Northumbrian coast near the mouth of the river Wear. Left an orphan when he was only seven years

old, he was placed in the neighboring monastery of St. Peter, to be educated. He was afterward transferred to the associated monastery at Jarrow, which stood not far off, near the mouth of the river Tyne, and here the rest of his life was passed. At nineteen he became a deacon, and at thirty a priest. Thus, from early childhood, the monastery was his home; and for practically all his life he knew no other world. There he was trained and educated; there he taught and wrote and prayed and labored, and there, honored and devoted to the last, he died. He has himself told us the general features and chief interests of his life in a few words. “I wholly applied myself to the study of the Scriptures; and, amidst the observances of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, teaching, and writing.” So far as early training and outside surroundings can form a man, Bede was made what he was by monastic influences. He shows what those influences could accomplish under favorable conditions, and represents the monastic life at its best. To enter into the ory of such a life, we must, then, know something of that little religious community of which he was a part. We must remember that in those days the English monasteries were not merely places where the monks spent all their time in prayer and fasting, still less were they comfortable retreats where men lived in luxury and idleness on the labor of others. Life in these monasteries was full of active, practical duties, for the monks performed with their own hands the necessary tasks of the household or the field. Study, meditation, and religious exercises were not neglected, but religion did not despise or shirk more common tasks, it rather encouraged them. Bede tells us of a thegn, or noble,

in one of the monasteries, who was not ashamed to take his part with the rest in the day's work. “ It was a pleasure to him,” he writes, “to be employed along with the rest of the brethren in winnowing and grinding corn, in milking the ewes and cows, in working in the bakehouse, the garden, and the kitchen, and in every other occupation in the monastery.” Bede's life passed in such a community was full of varied interests, and in this daily round of ceaseless activity, which employed body, soul, and intellect, he was tranquil and content. The abbot under whom Bede began his duties was an able and progressive man, and the library at Jarrow was an unusually good one for an English monastery at that time. Bede made good use of the opportunities thus given him. With the eager love of knowledge, the patient industry, and the broad mind of a great scholar, he absorbed nearly all that was best in the learning of his day. He knew Latin and Greek; quotations from the classical poets are found in his works; and he had even some acquaintance with Hebrew.

His Work as a Writer. Bede wrote about forty books, many of them text-books for the use of his scholars, upon a great variety of subjects. His commentaries on the Bible bear witness to the thoroughness of his studies; his little book on natural science shows that he had mastered the popular science of his day. Besides all this foreign learning, he knew and loved the songs of England, and he was above all a student of her history. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People, his best known and most valuable book, is the chief authority for the period of which it treats. By this book

was at once the founder of medieval history and the first English historian.” Bede wrote in Latin, as all the scholars of Europe did at that time and long

Bede

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »