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erature produced in the presence of a sterile soil and rigorous climate must necessarily be different in tone and coloring from that produced in the midst of fruitful fields and under sunny skies. And, in like manner, its quantity and quality will be affected, to a greater or less degree, by a state of war or peace, intelligence or ignorance, wealth or poverty, freedom or persecution.
It is not enough to be acquainted with the isolated facts of a literature; we should study them in connection with the various causes by which they were moulded and by which they are bound together in unity. This study of causes and influences gives us a philosophy of literature, without which an acquaintance with separate authors will leave us superficial. But it is a mistake to suppose that race, epoch, and surroundings will explain everything in literature; there is a personal element of great importance. From time to time men of great genius appear, and rising by native strength high above the level of their age, become centres of a new and weighty influence in literature. This truth is exemplified by Luther in Germany, and Bacon in England, each of whom profoundly affected the subsequent literary development of his country.
English literature embodies the results of English thought and feeling. It shares in the greatness of the English people. It combines French vivacity with German depth. If Germany excels in scholarship, and France in taste, England has produced a literature that in comprehensive scope and general excellence is second to none. No department of literature has been left uncultivated. Poets have sung in sweet and lofty strains; novelists have artistically portrayed every phase of society; orators have
convinced the judgment and moved the heart; scientists have revealed the laws of the physical world; and philosophers have deeply pondered the mysteries of existence.
This literature is a heritage in which English-speaking people may feel a just pride, a subject to which they should give careful study. Only through literature can we obtain an adequate acquaintance with the best products of the English mind a knowledge that is indispensable to liberal culture. English literature begins with Bede in the seventh century, and extends through the long period of twelve hundred years to the present time. Its course has been an ever-widening stream.
The original inhabitants of the British Isles, within historic times, were Celts - a part of the first great Aryan wave that swept over Europe. They were partially conquered by the Romans, 55 B.C., and Britain continued under Roman dominion, as a province of the Empire, for nearly five hundred years. Then followed, in the fifth and sixth centuries of our era, the invasion by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes Teutonic tribes that inhabited Schleswig, Jutland, and adjacent territory on the continent. They supplanted the native Celts as completely as their descendants exterminated the American Indians. In the following centuries they laid the foundation of England - a word signifying the land of the Angles.
In the character of these Teutonic tribes are to be found the fundamental traits of the English people and of English literature. In their continental home they led a semi-barbarous and pagan life. The sterile soil and dreary climate fostered a serious disposition and developed great physical strength. Courage was esteemed a leading virtue, and cowardice was punished with drowning. No
other men were ever braver. They welcomed the fierce excitement of danger; and in rude vessels they sailed from coast to coast on expeditions of piracy, war, and pillage. Laughing at storms and shipwrecks, these daring sea-kings sang: "The blast of the tempest aids our oars; the bellowing of heaven, the howling of the thunder, hurts us not; the hurricane is our servant, and drives us whither we wish to go.'
With an unconquerable love of independence, they preferred death to slavery. Refined tastes and delicate instincts were crushed out by their inhospitable surroundings; and their pleasures, consisting chiefly of drinking, gambling, and athletic sports, were coarse and repulsive. Yet under their coarsest enjoyments we discover a sturdy, masculine strength. They felt the presence of the mysterious forces of nature, and deified them in a colossal mythology. Traces of their religion are seen in the names of the days of the week. Their sense of obligation and duty was strong; and having once pledged fidelity to a leader or cause, they remained loyal to death. They honored woman and revered virtue. In a word, the
Anglo-Saxons possessed a native virtue and strength which, ennobled by Christianity, and refined by culture, raised their descendants to a pre-eminent position among the nations of the earth.
The Anglo-Saxon invasion swept away the British. church which had been established under Christian Rome. A reign of paganism was once more introduced, and held sway for a hundred and fifty years. Then occurred an event that changed the character of English history. In 597 Gregory, who filled the papal chair at Rome, sent St.
Augustine with a band of missionaries to labor among the Anglo-Saxons. While yet an abbot, Gregory's interest had been awakened by the fair faces and flaxen hair of a group of Saxon youths exposed for sale in the slave-market at Rome. "Who are they?" he asked. 'Angles," was the reply. "It suits them well," he said, "with faces so angel-like. From what country do they come?" "From Deiri," said the merchant. "De ira!"1 exclaimed the pious monk, "then they must be delivered from the wrath of God. What is the name of their king?" "Aella," he was told. "Aella!" he replied, seizing on the word as of good omen, "then shall Alleluia be sung in his land."
Augustine proceeded to Kent, where he was kindly received by Ethelbert. The king had married Bertha, a Frankish princess of Christian training, through whose influence his pagan prejudices had been largely overcome. When, by means of interpreters, Augustine had set forth the nature of Christianity in a lengthy address, the king said: "Your words and promises are very fair; but as they are new to us, and of uncertain import, I can not approve of them so far as to forsake that which I have so long followed with the whole English nation. But because you are come from far into my kingdom, and, as I conceive, are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true and most beneficial, we will not molest you, but give you favorable entertainment, and take care to supply you with your necessary sustenance; nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion."2
1 Latin, meaning "from the wrath."
'Bede, Ecclesiastical History, B. I. ch. xxv.
The missionaries took up their residence at Canterbury. Christianity made rapid progress. Within a year from the landing of Augustine upon the shores of Kent, Ethelbert and thousands of his people became Christians. Missionary zeal carried the new religion to other parts of England. Edwin, the powerful king of Northumbria, was led to call a council for the purpose of considering its adoption. An aged ealderman arose and spoke as follows: "So seems life, O King, as a sparrow's flight through the hall where a man is sitting at meat in winter-tide with the warm fire lighted on the hearth, but the chill rain-storm without. The sparrow flies in at one door and tarries for a moment in the light and heat of the hearthfire, and then flying forth from the other, vanishes into the wintry darkness whence it came. So tarries for a moment the life of man in our sight, but what is before it and what after it, we know not. If this new teaching tell us aught certainly of these, let us follow it."
The native seriousness of the Anglo-Saxon character offered a favorable soil for the growth of Christianity. The gospel was peculiarly adapted to the needs of this people. In restraining brutal pleasures, inculcating benevolent affections, and promoting intellectual culture, it supplied what was wanting in English character, and imparted an element essential to the highest development of the national life. England was once more brought in line with the highest European civilization; and the culture, arts, and sciences, that had fled before the pagan conquerors, returned with Christianity.
The Anglo-Saxons were too much engaged in the active employments of life to have either inclination or leisure