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after, but his last book, the closing words of which he dictated to his scribes almost with his dying breath, was an English translation of the Gospel of St. John.
Work as Teacher. As a teacher Bede holds an important place in the educational history of Europe. At one time six hundred scholars, including strangers from a distance, are said to have attended his school at
Jarrow. He helped to mold the great school at York. His pupil Egbert became the head of the school, and Egbert's great pupil, ALCUIN (735-804), went to the Continent and organized the schools of Charlemagne, “ on which the culture of the Middle Ages was based."
Character. Bede did a great work, but the man himself was even greater than his books. His life in its simplicity, its singleness of purpose, its lofty aim,
has a singular unity and completeness. Gentle, hating a lie, or the least inaccuracy or slovenliness in work, and remarkably free from the prejudices of his age, the character of Bede is exceedingly lovable and noble. The stern submission to an unknown weird is lost in the joyous acceptance of a larger hope. Well might he repeat in his last illness that noble sentence of St. Ambrose: “I have not lived so as to be ashamed to live among you; nor am I afraid to die, because we have a good God." The meaning and influence of such a life grows clearer, as we read in the unaffected words of one of his disciples the story of the master's death. With failing breath he had toiled through the day, dictating his translation of St. John's Gospel, and as the day closed, his work was done. At twilight, amid his weeping scholars, his face turned toward the oratory where he was wont to pray, with "great tranquility” his soul went out from among them.
II. FROM KING ALFRED TO THE NORMAN CONQUEST
Coming of the Danes. We have seen that the first great historic event which directed the course of literature in England was the coming of St. Augustine; the second was the coming of the Danes. Augustine, and the teachers who succeeded him, brought religion, learning, and industry, literature, and the arts; they started England on the path of progress. The Danes were heathen; vikings or pirates, from the creeks and fiords of Scandinavia and Denmark, as bloody and pitiless as the English themselves had been when they first invaded Britain. They belonged to the stern, hard world of the past, and the civilization which the Christian teachers had labored to build up, the heathen Danes set them
selves to pull down and destroy. Under the influence of Christian civilization English literature had gone rapidly forward. At the end of the sixth century, when St. Augustine landed, England was heathen and illiterate, by the end of the seventh century it had produced Aldhelm and Cædmon, and by the beginning of the eighth century Northumbria was preëminent in the intellectual and religious life of western Europe. Towards the end of the eighth century (787) this steady progress was threatened by a new danger. The Danish pirates began their raids on the English coasts, and successive waves of heathenism and savagery threatened to break through all defenses and cover the land. Coming from a rocky and barren region, these northern adventurers were fascinated by the comparative richness and fertility of the more southern lands. The wealth of the great religious houses, rich in gold and silver plate and embroidered vestments, made them an especial object of attack, and so it happened that the very places which were the chief sources and centers of literature were the first to be destroyed. In 793 the Danes plundered the monastery of Lindisfarne; in 794 they sacked and burnt the monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow, which had once sheltered Bede. In the eighth century they came to plunder and to sail away; in the ninth they came and conquered. They captured York, where Alcuin had taught (867), and Christian Northumbria became the land of the heathen Dane. They sacked abbeys and churches, they burned the libraries and broke up the schools. Streoneshalh, where Cædmon chanted his sacred songs, was left a heap of ruins. They plundered the abbeys of Peterborough, Crowland, and Ely, the great religious houses of the fenland to the north of London. All England was in danger of
sinking back into the ignorance and heathenism out of which it had so lately climbed.
King Alfred. — The man who saved England at this crisis was King Alfred (871-901), the only one of all their rulers that the English people have called “The Great.” Alfred, at the age of twenty-two, became King of Wessex, when the Danes were already masters of a great part of England. Learning and literature had been wiped out in Northumbria, as you would wipe a picture off a slate, and Alfred's own kingdom of Wessex seemed about to go down under the same force. But at last, after years of patient and stubborn heroism, Alfred gained a great victory over the Danes at Edington (878), and Alfred's right to rule over all of the south and a part of central England was acknowledged. Alfred's success not only saved England, it saved English literature also. Wherever the Danes ruled, hear .enism was triumphant, and if the Danes had conquered Wessex, religion and learning must have perished there, as they had done in the north. But while Alfred had saved southern England from the Danes, his work was hardly half done. Not only must he keep what he had won, and hold his land safe from the Danes beyond the border, he must establish law and order, and in countless ways improve the condition of the people within his own kingdom. The Danes were a danger from without, but there were other dangers within, for during the long years of war the people had grown ignorant, and the land had suffered from the lack of a strong and settled government. Alfred's first duty was to strengthen the defenses of his kingdom, and to give his people a firm government and good laws. But Alfred did not stop here. After proving himself a soldier, he proved himself a statesman; and after prov
ing himself a statesman, he showed that he was a true lover of literature and learning.
It had been right for Alfred to fight, to fortify his towns, organize a navy, improve his army, administer justice but Alfred saw that even peace, security, and order were not enough; something more and even higher than these things was now needed to make his people all that he wished them to be. The King felt that it was righteousness which exalted a nation, that the only true foundation for his people's welfare was that they should think noble thoughts and do the things that were right. He saw that the great supports to this higher life of a nation were religion and education, but when he looked around him he saw that the Church had grown weak, and that the people were ignorant. He often looked back, he tells us, to the earlier and happier days in England, and thought what wise men there were then, how the kings “Cheyed God and His messengers," and "how it went well with them both in war and wisdom.” Now all this was over. Students no longer came to England from abroad to study in her famous schools. Once, the great scholars among the Angles were the teachers of Europe, but now the priests hardly understood their own Latin service-books, or were able to translate from Latin into English. Ships and armies could not exalt a people whose very teachers were ignorant; churches, monasteries, and schools needed to be rebuilt as well as the walls of London. Accordingly, after he had concluded a second peace with the Danes (886), Alfred felt free at last to turn to one part of his great work which the dangers and pressing needs of his kingdom had so far obliged him to postpone. He set himself to encourage religion and learning, which in those days we must remember went