Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/175

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

works, Bæda and Orosius. The choice of Bæda was obvious. And Orosius, author of a history of the world written from a specially christian point of view, was just the kind of work that suited Ælfred's purpose. But he treated it in his usual way; he added and left out at pleasure. In the first book, where Orosius treats of the geography of Europe, he works in the long original narratives of Othhere and Wulfstan, describing the northern lands which were unknown to Orosius. The historian, in short, no less than the philosopher, is not simply translated by Ælfred, but recast. But, as dealing with a more technical book, Ælfred keeps to technical language in the Orosius in a way in which he did not in the Boetius. Then a Roman consul was turned into an English heretoga; now he remains a Roman consul.

Of these writings the Gregory is the only one that has been edited by any scholar of the latest critical school. It appeared from the hand of Mr. Sweet among the publications of the Early-English Text Society, 1871–72. The Orosius was edited in 1851 by Dr. Bosworth, who in his preface describes the manuscripts and earlier editions. The translation of Bæda is printed in Smith's great edition of Bæda, 1722. The Boetius was edited in 1864 by Mr. Samuel Fox for Bohn's ‘Antiquarian Library.’ Strange to say, in this edition the Old-English text is printed in the so-called ‘Saxon’ characters, though Dr. Bosworth had, thirteen years before, had the sense to print in ordinary type. A uniform critical edition of all the great king's writings would be no small gain to Old-English learning.

Of other writings or alleged writings of Ælfred it appears that a translation of the ‘Soliloquies’ of Saint Augustine remains unprinted. The separate version of the Metres of Boetius—that is, the separate version of the metrical passages in the ‘Consolation’—which is printed in Mr. Fox's edition, seems clearly not to be Ælfred's. The ‘Encheiridion,’ or ‘Handbook’—a book of entries and jottings of all kinds, of the beginning of which Asser (M. H. B. 491) gives an account—seems to have been extant in William of Malmesbury's time, and he quotes a story about Saint Ealdhelm from it (Gest. Reg. lib. ii. cap. 123; Gest. Pont. Rolls Ser. pp. 333, 336). William also mentions a version of the Psalms, which Ælfred began but did not finish. The so-called Proverbs of Ælfred, a work of the thirteenth century, simply bears witness to the veneration in which his name was still held. There seems also to have been extant in the same century an English version of Æsop's Fables by an English king, the authorship of which strangely fluctuates between Ælfred and Henry I (see Wright, Biographia Britannica Literaria, Anglo-Saxon Period, p. 396, and Freeman, Norman Conquest, iv. 796). The wonder is, not that some spurious writings should have been attributed to Alfred, but that there are not many more.

But, among the writings of Ælfred, we must not forget his will, of which the English text is given by Kemble, Cod. Dipl. ii. 112, and a Latin version in Cod. Dipl. v. 127, where the preface, reciting the will of Æthelwulf, is given at much greater length. In its many special bequests to his children and to other persons, and in its legal and other allusions, especially the account of the minute arrangements made by Æthelwulf for the disposal of his property, it is one of the most instructive documents of the time.

[Our main authorities for the reign and life of Ælfred are his life by Asser and the English Chronicles during his reign. The genuineness of Asser's work was called in question by Mr. Thomas Wright, but it has been generally accepted by later scholars. It has no doubt been interpolated, as in some of the passages about Saint Neot and in the more shameless forgery about Grimbald at Oxford. But the original text can be recovered with no great trouble, very much by the help of Florence of Worcester, who has so largely copied Asser. The work of Asser, thus distinguished, bears every mark of genuineness. It seems quite impossible that any forger could have invented the small touches which bespeak the man writing from personal knowledge, and that man no Englishman but a Briton. The constant use of the word ‘Saxon’ where Ælfred himself would have used ‘English’ is of itself proof enough; a later forger might have thought of it, but hardly one so early as to have been mistaken by Florence for the genuine Asser. His notices of York (M. H. B. 474) and of the table-land of Æscesdún (ibid. 477) are evidently, as the writer says of the latter, the result of personal knowledge. It is enough to compare the true Asser with the false Ingulf to see the difference between the two. A few other notices, which seem to come from independent sources, are preserved by Æthelward and William of Malmesbury.

A list of the earlier modern writers on Ælfred is given by Wright, Biographia Literaria, 384. The best known is the life by Sir John Spelman, son of the better known Sir Henry, which first appeared in 1678. In modern times there has been a life of Ælfred by Dr. Giles (London, 1848) and a German life by Wyss. More important is the youthful work of Dr. Pauli, the English version of which was edited by Mr. Thomas Wright. Mr. Wright's notices of Ælfred's works, in his Biographia Literaria, have

vol. i.