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now brought, will give undoubtedly great facility to such an attempt. But this is not all that is requisite. There are dates and brief notes in that repository most undoubtedly, from which many popular errors may be rectified : for, though not strictly, it may, with some little latitude, be said, “ that the Saxon Chronicle contains the original and authentic testimony of contemporary writers to the most important transactions of our forefathers both by sea and land, from their first arrival in this country to the year 1154.” We say, with some little latitude: for the assertion of the modern translator is somewhat too broad and general. It cannot be presumed or pretended,
their annalists and historiographers to record their exploits; or that any part of the Saron Chronicle, as it now stands, is contemporary with the events of the first century, or century and half, of the Saxon era. Previous to the introduction of Christianity by St. Augustine, (one hundred and fifty years after the first arrival of the Jutes and Angles, &c., now commonly confounded, under the general name of Saxons,) very little, we suspect, of what by any license of language can be called historic literature had any existence among our ancestors; and any narration of their exploits must rather have been sought in the songs and traditions of the Skalds, or ancient Minstrels, who accompanied the respective adventurers, than from any thing in the shape of regular archives or annals. ' “ The Saxons,” as Gibbon observes, “ who excelled in the use of the oar or the battle-axe, were ignorant of the art which could alone perpetuate the fame of their exploits : the provincials (the mixed race of Britons and Romans, to whom the Saxons were opposed,) relaxing into barbarism, neglected to describe the ruin of their country; and the doubtful tradition was almost extinguished, before the missionaries of Rome restored
torian of our island, of whom we have any vestige, or any knowledge, is Gildas (and he not a Saxon but a British writer) who flourished in the latter part of the sixth century (more than a hundred years after the arrival of the Saxons); and who “ has left us, amidst a cumbrous mass of pompous rhapsody
be regarded as favourable symptoms of a more popular attention to this important subject. And perhaps the time may not be distant when some attempt may be made to do justice to Saxon story, in a shape accommodated to general circulation. We hope, however, if it should be so, that it will not be done in the mere hasty book-making spirit; but with a fair reference to all accessible materials, and with a genuine view to the actual information of the public.
and querulous declamation, some curious descriptions of the character and manners, not only of the Britons and Saxons, but the Picts and Scots.” It may reasonably be doubted, whether we had any Saxon annalists contemporary even with him. Indeed, the almost absolute ignorance of our primitive Saxon ancestors of the use of letters, seems to be at least insinuated, if not actually recorded, in the very name ( Boclæden) given by them to the Romans: as if they were the only people with whom those northern settlers had any acquaintance, who were familiar with the use of books.* Not but that the runic alphabet (even though we should not ascribe its invention to the deified Woden), and even the Saxon character, which seems (though with a considerable admixture of the Roman) to have been derived from it, must have been of higher antiquity than the period of which we are speaking ; but, in the then existing state of society, of the small number who can be supposed acquainted with the magical art of putting these together for any intelligible purpose, few, if any, it may be concluded, (with exception, perhaps, to the fabling Skalds, who, in their rude songs, were to magnify the exploits, and embellish the genealogies of their chieftains, at their still ruder banquets and intemperate carousals) would be found among the bands of piratical invaders, who sought for plunder on the shores of the Western Ocean. At any rate, we cannot look for any regular series of successive annalists contemporary with the events of Saxon history, prior, as we have already said, to the establishment of Christianity. And as the use of letters appears for some time to have been confined almost exclusively to the clergy, it is not even to the earliest age of Christian conversion that we are to look for chroniclers in the Saxon language.
“ The first person on record, who is celebrated for his learning (and knowledge of the Saxon] is Tobias, the ninth
*« There are in Brytene igland,” says the Chronicle, “ five nations -Ænglise, and Bryt-Wilise (Welch Britons), and Scyttise (Scythians, or Scots), and Pyhittise (Picts), and Bocleden.” This last then is evidently the name by which the Romans (a part of whose colonists still remained in the island) had been primitively distinguished by the Saxon settlers, and still continued to be denominated at the time when the Saxon Chronicle began to assume its present form; and the evidence of their exclusive familiarity with the use of letters at the time when this name was given to them appears to be decisive. The Welch, beyond all doubt, had the start of us in historic literature; though (as Mr. Ingram observes) notwithstanding the authority of Bale, and of the writers whom he follows, we cannot persuade ourselves to rank Joseph of Arimathea, Arviragus, and Bonduca, or even the Emperor Constantine, among the illustrious writers of Great Britain.
bishop of Rochester, who succeeded to that see in 693"_two hundred years after the commencement of the Saxon era; and Bertwald, who succeeded to the illustrious Theodore of Tarsus, was, says our authority; the first English or Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury
“A. D. 690. This year Archbishop Theodore, who had been bishop twenty-two winters, departed this life, and was buried within the city of Canterbury, Beorhtwald, who before was Abbot of Reculver, on the calends of July succeeded him in the see; which was ere this filled by Romish bishops, but thenceforth by English.”
“ From this period, consequently,” Mr. Ingram observes, “we may date that cultivation of the vernacular tongue, which would lead to a composition of brief chronicles, &c. The first chronicles were perhaps those of Kent or Wessex; which seem to have been regularly continued, at intervals, by the archbishops of Canterbury, or by their direction, at least as far as the year 1001, or even 1070." There can be little doubt, however, that many of the materials, though not regularly arranged, might be traced to a much higher source: or, at least, that such more ancient documents must have been at his time in existence. The venerable Bede, indeed, who seems to have availed himself of his labours, speaks of the former of these ecclesiastics, “ as not only furnished with an ample store of Greek and Latin literature, but skilled also in the Saxon language and erudition;" a phrase which necessarily supposes the prior existence of some literature in our primitive language; and there is evidently good reason to believe, that some preceding records, in the shape perhaps of Anglo-Saxon annals, were extant even before the age of Nennius—who is supposed to have flourished in the seventh century. At any rate, it may confidently be said, that the series of contemporary records preserved in the Saxon Chronicle goes back to a period of very high antiquity; almost, though not entirely, coeval with the first establishment of our northern ancestors in this island; and the boast is apparently not without foundation -- that, “ philosophically considered, this ancient record is the second great phenomenon in the history of mankind. For, if we except the sacred annals of the Jews, contained in the several books of the Old Testament, there is no other work extant, ancient or modern, which exhibits at one view a regular and chronological panorama of a people, described in rapid succession by different writers, through so many ages, in their own vernacular language.” And it is equally true, that the attentive reader “may here find many interesting facts relative to our architecture, our agriculture, our coinage, our commerce, our naval and military glory, our laws, our liberty, and our religion :" with specimens also (and some of them far from despicable) of our ancient Saxon poetry. The Saxon Chronicle, in short, “ may safely be considered, not only as the primaval source from which all subsequent historians of English affairs have”-(or in some instances perhaps we may say ought to have)" principally derived their materials:” —(assuredly, by which they may frequently correct whatever they may have erroneously derived from other sources, “ and consequently the criterion by which they are to be judged; but also as the faithful depository of our national idiom : affording, at the same time, to the scientific investigator of the human mind, a very interesting and extraordinary example of the changes incident to a language, as well as a nation, in its progress from rudeness to refinement.” : Nor will it fail to be among the recommendations, or to be regarded among the attestations to the fidelity of some of the earlier portions of this history, that parts of it seem to have been collected or revised, if not by the hand, at least under the superintendence of our immortal Alfred; that the essential facts which it narrates are closely followed, in full reliance upon their authenticity, by his illustrious descendant Ethelwerd, in the compressed compilation written by him, towards the end of the tenth century, for the instruction of the Princess Matilda, the daughter of Otho the Great, Emperor of Germany, by his first empress, Eadgitha, or Editha, sister of King Athelstan ;* and that the diligent research of the judicious and venerable Bede, who seems industriously to have collected the documents and preceding record, corroborates the facts preserved in these Saxon annals.t
* Ethelwerd informs us, in his epistle to Matilda, that Athelstan sent two sisters, in order that the emperor might take his choice. This alliance with so mighty a continental potentate, is not an instance of solitary import among the facts that might be adduced to shew that England was not a country of such slight importance during the Saxon epoch, as the idolizers of Norman descent and Norman institutions would endeavour to persuade us. Even before the union under one dominion, several of the princes of the respective states of the Heptarchy were of consequence enough to have their alliances and their intercourses with the most potent sovereigns of the continent. Egbert, (who afterwards succeeded to the West Saxon throne) during the twelve years that he was exiled by the jealousy of his predecessor Bertric, was honourably received in the court of Charlemagne; and seems to have laid under his auspices the foundations of that superiority of character, which ultimately raised him to such distinguished power and greatness.
† Some antiquaries would indeed persuade us, that the earlier
The reader, however, who is habituated to look in history for the entertainment of a connected narrative, embellished by the style and the imagination of the historian, in which facts and illustrations arise out of each other, like the incidents and episodes of a novel, will derive but little either of amusement or information from the work before us. It presents neither flourishing periods nor amplifying disquisitions. It affects not to define the spirit, or describe the influences of institutions, to detail the forms or explain the theories of government. He who would benefit by the perusa) of such works, must bring to them a comparing and inductive mind; and be satisfied with finding in them the materials of thinking; not the readymade notions that are to save him from the trouble of thought. The facts present themselves, isolated as it were ; generally in brief paragraphs and chronological order; rarely in connexion and detail: and not unfrequently it happens, that what is most amplified is that which to the readers of the present day will appear least interesting. Thus, while the important events of upwards of two hundred years, from the first arrival of Hengist and Horsa,-including the establishment, the conflicts, and the revolutions of seven kingdoms, -are compressed into the brief compass of little more than five hundred lines, more than a hundred of which are devoted to genealogical details, we have, immediately after, considerably more than three fourths of the same space occupied by the consecration of the abbey of Medeshamstede (Peterborough), and the successive endowments thereof in the years 655, 656, and 675, by the successive kings of Wessex, Peada, Wulfhere, and Ethelred. It is to be observed, however, that the whole of these monkish details are evidently of a later date, and to be ascribed to the Norman interpolators. The old Saxon chroniclers seem to have treated with equal brevity the affairs of the church and of the state. Brief, however, as their statements are, they are frequently pregnant with conclusions that may correct the mis-statements
parts of the Chronicle are copied from the ecclesiastical history of Bede. But not to dwell upon the satisfactory evidence by which this hypothesis is overthrown, it may suffice to say, that this would not at all affect the authenticity of the record. The sedateness and fidelity of Bede are universally acknowledged ; and he has been particularly careful to inform us of the sources from which he derived his intelligence;-many of them by name; and there seems every reason to believe, that among “ the preceding records (scriptis priorum)" to which he occasionally refers, and whose existence had been acknowledged by his historical predecessor, Nennius, are to be reckoned the Anglo-Saxon Annals, or early Chronicles of Wessex, of Kent, and other provinces of the Heptarchy.