« PreviousContinue »
with crosses-the cross of Christ shows itself every where, on the summits of temples, over the crowns of triumphal arches, and upon all of the seven hills that are in sight. Gregory quits the slave-market solemnly musing upon the means of carrying the knowledge of divine truth to the distant and savage land which gave birth to these fair children. Shortly after he determines to be himself the missionary and apostle of the Anglo-Saxons. He even sets off on the journey ; but his friends, thinking that he is going to a certain death among barbarians, induce the pope to command his return. A few years pass away, and the monk Gregory becomes Pope Gregory, and head of the Christian world, although he will only style himself Servus Servorum Domini, or Servant of the Servants of the Lord. Men call him “ The Great," and great is he in his humility and devotion and generosity of soul. He lives in as simple a style as when he was a poor monk ; he is averse to persecution, holding that heretics and even Jews are to be treated with lenity, and are to be converted not by persecution but by persuasion. The wealth which begins to flow in to the Roman Sce he employs in bettering the condition of the poor, in erecting churches and in sending ont missionaries to reclaim the heathen, He cannot go himself to the land of those fair-haired children, but now he sends Augustin, prior of the convent of St. Andrews at Rome, and forty monks as missionaries to England. Augustin and his companions make the coast of Kent, and after many dangers, and fears, and misgivings—for the Anglo-Saxons had been represented to them as the most stubborn and most ferocious of the human species—they land in the isle of Thanet. Ethelbert the King of Kent is a pagan and worshipper of Odin, one who believes that the pleasures of Heaven, or of some future state of existence, consist of fighting all day and feasting and drinking all night ; but his beautiful wife Bertha, a native of some part of the country which we now call France, is a Christian, and has brought with her from her own country a few holy men who reprobate but are afraid of attacking the sanguinary Scandinavian faith and idolatry. These timid priests have built or restored a little church outside the walls of Canterbury ; but it is overshadowed by a pagan temple, wherein is the rude image not of a God of Peace, but of a God of War and destruction ; and the foreigners fear that their humble little church will soon be destroyed by the Pagan priests. But Augustin arrives, and invites King Ethelbert to hear the glad tidings of salvation, the mild voice of the Gospel. The priests of bloody Odin and of the murderous Thor apprehend conjuration and magic, and advise the king to meet the missionaries not under a roof but in the open air, where magic spells will be less dangerous in their operation. Ethelbert, with Queen Bertha by his side, goes forth to one of the pleasant Kentish hills commanding a view of the flowing ocean, which the monks have crossed : his warriors and his pagan priests stand round the king; and there is a solemn expectant silence until the music of many mingled harmonious voices is heard, and Augustin and his forty companions are seen advancing in solemn processional order, singing the psalms and anthems of Rome. The foremost monk in the procession carries a large silver crucifix. Another monk carries a banner on which is painted a picture of the Redeemer. The heart of Ethelbert is touched by the music and by the venerable, devout aspect of the strangers. By means of an interpreter, whose heart and soul are in the office, Augustin briefly expounds to the king the nature of the Christian faith, and implores Ethelbert to receive the holiest and only true religion, and permit him to preach and teach it to bis subjects. The king listens in rapt attention, never once taking his eyes from off the missionary ; the queen blesses the day and happy hour; the priests of Odin seem perplexed and irritated ; but the stalwart warriors leaning on their long, broad swords, or on their ponderous battle-axes, look for the most part as if they would inquire farther, and gladly hear the wonderful words of the stranger again, The Saxon king is more than half-converted; but he thinks it needful to be cautious. He says he has no thought of forsaking the gods of his fathers ; but since the purposes of the strangers are good, and their promises inviting, they shall be suffered to instruct his people ; none shall raise the hand of violence against them, and they shall not know want, for the land is the land of plenty, and he, the King of Kent and Bretwalda of all the Saxon princes, will supply the monks with food and drink and lodging. Upon this Augustin and his companions fall again into order of procession, and direct their steps, solemn and slow, towards the neighbouring city of Canterbury, chaunting their anthems as they go. They reach the ancient city, and as they enter it in the midst of a wondering crowd, they sing with a holy and a cheerful note " Hallelujah ! hallelujah! may the wrath of the Lord be turned from this city and from this holy place !”
“For ever hallowed be this morning fair,
Blest be the unconscious shore on which ye tread,
And blest the Silver Cross, which ye, instead
The pictured Saviour!-By Augustine led,
They come--and onward travel without dread,
Sung for themselves, and those whom they would free:
Rich conquest waits them: the tempestuous sea
And heeded not the voice of clashing swords,
These good men humble by a few bare words,
WORDSWORTH. The work of conversion proceeds rapidly and smoothly. The Italians find the poor Anglo-Saxons of Kent rather gentle and docile than ferocious; many gladly renounce a creed of blood and hatred for a religion of peace and love ; the baptisms become numerous ; and at last, on the day of Pentecost, King Ethelbert himself yields to the arguments of the missionaries and the entreaties of his wife, and is baptized. On the ensuing Christmas ten thousand of the people follow the example of the king. Pope Gregory is transported with joy when these tidings reach Rome; he writes an exulting letter to Eulogius, patriarch of Alexandria, giving an account of the success of his missionaries “in the most remote parts of the world;" and he forthwith appoints Augustin to be primate of all England as well as Archbishop of Canterbury. Such is the origin of our church as related by the venerable Bede.
16.—THE CONVERSION OF EDWIN. Camden describes a place upon the estuary of the Humber which, although a trivial place in modern days, is dear to every one familiar with our old ecclesiastical history:
“In the Roman times, rot far from its bank upon the little river Foulness, (where Wighton, a small town, but well stocked with husbandmen, now stands,) there seems to have formerly stood Delgovitia ; as is probable both from the likeness and the signification of the name. For the British word Delgwe (or rather Ddelw) signifies the statues or images of the heathen gods ; and in a little village not far off there stood an idol-temple, which was in very great honour even in the Saxon times, and, from the heathen gods in it, was then called God-mundingham, and now, in the same sense, Godmanham.” This is the place which witnessed the
conversion to Christianity of Edwin, King of Northumbria. The whole story of this conversion, as told by Bede, is one of those episodes that we call superstitious, in which history reflects the confiding faith of popular tradition, which does not resign itself to the belief that all worldly events depend solely upon material influences. But one portion of this story has the best elements of high poetry in itself, and has therefore gained little by being versified even by Wordsworth. Edwin held a council of his wise men, to inquire their opinion of the new doctrine which was taught by the missionary Paulinus. In this council one thus addressed him : “ The present life of man, O King, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to a sparrow swiftly flying through the room, well warmed with the fire made in the midst of it, wherein you sit at supper in the winter, with commanders and ministers, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad: the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within is not affected with the winter storm ; but after a very brief interval of what is to him fair weather and safety, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, returning from one winter to another. So this life of man appears for a moment ; but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.” Never was a familiar image more beautifully applied ; never was there a more striking picture of ancient manners—the storm without, the fire in the ball within, the king at supper with his great men around, the open doors through which the sparrow can fit. To this poetical counsellor succeeded the chief priest of the idol-worship, Coifi. He declared for the new faith, and advised that the heathen altars should be destroyed. “Who," exclaimed the king, “shall first desecrate their altars and their temples ?” The priest answered, "I; for who can more properly than myself destroy these things that I worshipped through ignorance, for an example to all others, through the wisdom given me by the true God ?"
“ Prompt transformation works the novel lore.
The Council closed, the priest in full career
WORDSWORTH. The altars and images which the priests of Northumbria overthrew have left no monuments in the land. They were not built like the Druidical temples, under the impulses of a great system of faith which, dark as it was, had its foundations in spiritual aspirations. The pagan worship which the Saxons brought to this land was chiefly cultivated under its sensual aspects. The Valhalla, or heaven of the brave, was a heaven of fighting and feasting, of full meals of boar's flesh, and large draughts of mead. Such a future called not for solemn temples, and altars where the lowly and the weak might kneel in the belief that there was a heaven for them, as well as for the mighty in battle. The idols frowned, and the people trembled. But this worship has marked us, even to this hour, with the stamp of its authority. Our Sunday is still the Saxon's Sun's-day ; our Monday the Moon's-day ; our Tuesday Tuisco's-day; our Wednesday Woden’s-day ; our Thursday Thor's-day ; our Friday Friga's-day; our Saturday Seater's-day. This is one of the many examples of the incidental circumstances of institutions surviving the institutions themselves an example of itself sufficient to show the folly of legislating against established customs and modes of thought. The French republicans, with every aid from popular intoxication, could not establish their calendar for a dozen years. The Pagan Saxons have fixed their names of the week-days upon Christian England for twelve centuries, and probably for so long as England shall be a country.
17.-CÆDMON THE POET. In the Fourth Book of Bede's Ecclesiastical History, we find the following narrative:
There was in this Abbess's Monastery a certain brother, particularly remarkable for the Grace of God, who was wont to make pious and religious verses, so that whatsoever was interpreted to him out of Holy Writ, he soon after put the same into poetical expressions of much sweetness and compunction, in his own, that is, the English language. By his verses the minds of many were often excited to despise the world, and to aspire to the heavenly life. Others after him attempted in the English nation to compose religious poems, but none could ever compare with him, for he did not learn the art of poetising of men, but through the Divine assistance ; for which reason he never could compose any trivial or vain poem ; but only those that relate to religion suited his religious tongue ; for having lived in a secular habit, till well advanced in years, he had never learnt any thing of versifying; for which reason being sometimes at entertainments, when it was agreed for the more mirth, that all present should sing in their turns, when he saw the instrument come towards him, he rose up from table, and returned home. Having done so at a certain time, and going out of the house where the entertainment was, to the stable, the care of horses falling to him that night, and composing himself there to rest at the proper time, a person appeared to him in his sleep, and saluting him by his name, said, Cædmon, Sing some song to me. He answered, I cannot sing; for that was the reason why I left the entertainment, and retired to this place, because I could not sing. The other who talked to him, replied, however you shall sing. What shall I sing, rejoined he, Sing the beginning of Creatures, said the other. Hereupon he presently began to sing verses to the praise of God, which he had never heard.
We extract the following remarks on the Poetry of Cædmon, from ‘Old England':
The ode which Cædmon composed under the inspiration thus recorded is preserved in Anglo-Saxon, in King Alfred's translation of Bede's Ecclesiastical History: and the following is an English translation from Alfred's version :
“Now must we praise
The guardian of heaven's kingdom,
second Cædmon; but the best philological antiquaries are not agreed upon this matter. As to its extraordinary merits there is no difference of opinion. Sir Francis Palgrave says, “ The obscurity attending the origin of the Cædmonian poems will perhaps increase the interest excited by them. Whoever may have been their author, their remote antiquity is unquestionable. In poetical imagery and feeling, they excel all the other early remains of the North.” One of the remarkable circumstances belonging to these poems, whether written by the cowherd of Whitby, or some later monk, is that we here find a bold prototype of the fallen angels of Paradise Lost.' Mr. Conybeare says that the resemblance to Milton is so remarkable in that portion of the poem which relates to the Fall of Man, that "much of this portion might be almost literally translated by a cento of lines from that great poet.” The resemblance is certainly most extraordinary, as we may judge from a brief passage or two. Every one is familiar with the noble lines in the first book of Paradise Lost'
“Him the Almighty Power
Confounded though immortal."
“Then was the Mighty angry,
The highest Ruler of heaven
The angels from heaven into hell."
“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime
That we must change for heaven ?" swelled upon Milton's esquisite ear, the first note was struck by the rough harmony of Cædmon ?
“ This parrow place is most unlike
That other that we ere knew