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which was held after the death of a king, all these official his-> torians produced their verdicts’, before the assembly, and a committee of the wisest being appointed, they compared the statements, which were reduced into a chronicle; and the volume, thus, sanctioned, was deposited in the archives of the religious houses, as an enduring and authentic memorial.* This tale, however, is an unfounded fable. It was natural that the few who could write should occasionally be inclined to commemorate the events of; their times, but there is not the slightest evidence that the writers of monastic chronicles were ever invested with any public or official character.
The earliest monastic chronicles were extremely brief. A phrase, a line, a word, were considered as sufficient memorials of the birth or death of a King, the appearance of a comet, or of an eclipse, the erection of a minster, or the calamities of a storm, a plague, a famine. Events like these were alone recorded, and the transactions of centuries could be included in the vacant leaf of the Liturgy or the Bible. Some of these germs of histories, mere chronological tables, are still extant in their first naked form, without addition or interpolation. In these, from time to time, the diligence of a monk inserted other facts which he acquired by reading or by. oral information. The enlarged edition was often transcribed and transmitted to a newly-founded monas-, tery, and then again it' received fresh additions, until, by degrees, the compilation began to acquire the bulk and consequence of a history. Although it is impossible to pronounce, with certainty, where the existing text of the Saron Chronicle was first formed, still the evident preference, which is given to the affairs of Wessex, indicates that the work originated in that kingdom or its dependencies. ; A biography of Archbishop Lanfranc is appended to the most ancient manuscript of the chronicle now existing. This circumstance leads to the supposition that the manuscript belonged to the church of Canterbury, and it seems most probable that the work was first compiled in the metropolitan Cathedral of all England.† The period of the formation of this parent
* Contin. Scotichronici Joannis de Fordun, p. 1348, Edit. Hearne.
+ This manuscript, which belonged to Archbishop Parker, is now in the library of Bennet, or Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Another manuscript, apparently an, aucient transcript, but agreeing almost literally with the Bennet MŞ., was formerly in the Cottonian library.. Otho. B. xi. From these manuscripts Wheloc formed the text' which he has printed under the title of Chronologia Saxonica. The Bennet manuscript is continued by various hands until 1069; but after 1004 the entries are very scanty, A detailed and accurate account of all the manuscripts will be found in the preface to the new edition of the Saxon Chronicle, lately published by the Rev. J. Ingram, which comprehends all the matter of all the texts. Two valuable manuscripts, (Bib.. Cott. Tiberius, B. i.) and (Tiberius, B. iv.) were not consulted" by Gibson ; and they afford many important additions to the other manuscripts.
text cannot be placed earlier than the close of the ninth century, When noticing the accession of Æthelbald (860) the chronicler proceeds and he reigned five years, and his body lies at Sherborn.' In the passages where such expressions are employed, the text (as it now exists) cannot be a contemporaneous narrative; but after the reign of Alfred these anticipations do not appear, Other copies are found of greater extent, all of which, however, are evidently enlarged editions of the Canterbury Chronicle, and probably copied in different monasteries when the kingdom began to recover from the effects of the Danish invasions, no manuscript being anterior to the tenth century. Of these the most ample is the copy which appears to have belonged to Medhamstede or Peterborough. Its manner betrays the method of its composition. Some passages are taken from Bede. Long fragments of historical poems are quoted without preface or introduction, their turgid style contrasting forcibly with the plainness of the other portions of the narrative. Many events are unquestionably noted down from common fame, others perhaps from the personal knowledge of the writers. Until the accession of Egbert the original narrative, except when borrowed from Bede, is extremely brief. The history of the period which closes with the reign of Offa, a period of the inost obstinate warfare, and during which the Saxons spread themselves from the English Channel to the Firth of Forth and the mountains of Caledonia, offers little more than a barren catalogue of names and battles. The events relating to the kingdoms of Essex and East-Anglia seem to have been almost wholly unknown to the chroniclers. These omissions may be perhaps explained, by recollecting that there were no monasteries in these kingdoms until the ninth century. The events of Mercia are imperfectly told, except when in connection with the history of Wessex : and the narrative relating to Northumbria is extremely jejune. Yet the imperfections of the Chronicle are the vouchers for its fidelity. It would have been no difficult task tò have supplied these blanks from the stores of poetical invention or the tales of mythology, disguised under the semblance of authentic history. Such eras of ancient wars and conquests are those in which the chroniclers of most countries have thought it almost a duty to raise up long successions of shadowy forms and glorious visions, for the purpose of ministering
to national pride or individual vanity. But the compilers of the Chronicle seem to have exercised the most conscientious caution in the selection of their materials, and the narration bears ample testimony to their judgnient. With the exception of the notice of certain fiery dragons' at a period before the conquest, and of the apparition of the wild huntsman' afterwards, the work does not contain a single statement which can be
considered as improbable or fictitious, or as subjecting the writers to the charges of invention or credulity. After the accession of Egbert, a striking change is observable in the manner of the Chronicle. Minuter details are related, and the style becomes more bistorical and flowing, but still the absence of matter relating to the eastern and northern parts of the kingdom remains obvious. Continued, from time to time, by various writers, in the manner before indicated, the texts conclude at different periods. In that manuscript, which is usually designated as the Peterborough Chronicle, the narrative is continued till the accession of Henry II. The dialect gradually loses the peculiarities of the Saxon language and softens into English, and the narrative becomes more diffuse, until it breaks off abruptly at an which, in fact, is the real termination of Anglo-Saxon history.
The works of which the materials are more or less derived from the Saxon Chronicle, which appears to have been considered as the primary source of English history, must now be considered. While we find traces, in all these, thať there were other tests then existing more ample in particular eras than the chronicles now extant; yet, at the same time, it is evident that. they were all founded upon the same basis, differing only in their respective additions and interpolations. The first, in point of date, of these derivative histories, is the history of the life and actions of Alfred, by his friend and contemporary, Asser, bishop of Shirburne. But Asser's composition by no means answers to the title prefixed by modern editors. It is not a life of Alfred. It is a history of English affairs from the birth of Alfred, in which are inserted some particulars respecting the life and conversation of the English king. Many of the historical notices correspond exactly with the Saxon Chronicle; others, which are not found in the existing text, are evidently taken from another a little more ample, but entirely agreeing in character. The particulars stated by Asser, from his personal knowledge, are extremely curious and valuable; but they must not be confounded with the interpolations of later date. The much contested passages concerning the dissensions of the University of Oxford cannot easily be defended by her sons; and we must expunge also, though with much more reluctance, the well-known anecdote of the monarch and the wife of the neatherd. This incident is borrowed from the life of St. Neot, a legend written at least one hundred and fifty years after Alfred's death; and which may be justly characterized as a tissue of legendary garrulity entirely undeserving of credit.* The life of St. Neot begins by stating
This legend has been published by Mr. Gorham in bis History of St. Neot's. The following extract will exemplify our remarks. The translation was communicated to
that the holy man repaired to Glastonbury in the days of St. Alphege, the holy bishop, by whom he was ordained. Now the bishop died in 951, and St. Neot in 877. This anachronism entirely destroys the supposition that the legend could have been founded upon authentic documents.
In the history compiled by the noble Ethelweard we have a very abridged translation of the Saxon Chronicle. The author was a descendant, perhaps a grandchild, of King Æthelred, who lived in the reign of King Edgar. In the first three books, or rather sections, it contains a condensed summary of the Saxon history, from the arrival of Hengist and Horsa, to the reign of Ethelwulf: the last and fourth section treats upon the history of his successors until Egbert. Ethelweard's style is so inflated and turgid as to be frequently unintelligible. The extreme corruption of the text, of which no rectification can be expected from critical saga-. city, the only MS. having perished, has evidently increased the obscurity of this writer, who may almost always be characterized as an abridger of the Saxon Chronicle.
Besides the foregoing chronicles, which may be considered as Anglo-Saxon authorities, there are several writers who flourished after the Conquest, whose works, so far as they relate to AngloSaxon history, must be considered in great measure as borrowed from Anglo-Saxon chronicles. Florence of Worcester, who wrote in the reign of Henry I., translated the Saxon Chronicle, generally from the existing text, with the most scrupulous fidelity. These translated passages he engrafted on the universal chronology usually ascribed to Marinus Scotus, who, descended from a collateral relation of venerable Bede, was professed in a monastery in the kingdom of Burgundy.
Mr. Gorham by a very able hand. It happened one day that the holy man went secretly in early morning to his pool of water, and there performed his devotions and psalm-songs in the water with naked limbs, as his custom was. Then heard he suddenly a noise of many horsemen ; and with much speed he hastened from the well, for be. would not that his devotions should be known to any earthly man in his life-time; but only to the One who ruleth over all. And, in his way, he dropped one of his shoes ; and he brought the other with him to his oratory. And when he had finished his psalms, and his reading, and his prayers with all carefulness, he bethought him of his other shoe, that lie had lost it by the way. He called to his servant, and bade him fetch his shoe. And he was obedient to the bidding of his father, and readily went to the pool. And there, by the way, a wonderful circumstance he met with : that is, that a fox, which is the most crafty of all beasts, running over bills and dales, with eyes wondrously sharp Jooking bither and thither, chanced to come suddenly to the place where the holy man had bathed his feet; and he lighted upon the shoe, and thought to run away with it. Then the Lord of righteousness looked thereupon, and would not that his servant should be inolested even in so small a thing. And he sent a sleep on the fox, so that he gave up his life, having the thongs of the shoe in his ugly mouth. The servant then approached thereto, and took the shoe, and brought it to the boly man, and told him all that had ened. Then the holy man greatly wondered at this, and charged the serrant that he should tell this to no one till his life's end.''
Where the Chronicle of Asser begins, Florence deserts the Saxon Chronicle, and transcribes the work of the British prelate, almost without alteration, returning to the Saxon Chronicle as soon as Asser concludes. Some notices are extracted from Bede. The facts, of which the original sources cannot be ascertained, are? very few, but important, and occur chiefly in the early part of this history. They are generally of that class which we may suppose to have been derived from the Saxon genealogies. Though the great mass of information afforded by Florence is extant in the Saxon Chronicle, still his work is extremely valuable. He understood the ancient Saxon language well-better, perhaps, than any of his contemporaries ;--and he has furnished us with an accurate translation from a 'text which seems to have been the best of its kind.
Another writer, whom we shall designate by the epithet which has been given to him of Florilegus,' composed his work by enlarging and interpolating another universal chronicle similar to that of Marinus Scotus, so as to make it a history of England from' the period when its memorials, real or suppositious, could be found. This edition having been again interpolated and continued by other unknown writers, it becomes impossible to ascertain the person by whom any of the insertions were made, or to fix the original date of the compilation; though, from the consideration of detached passages, it may be inferred that the parent text was compiled before the first half of the twelfth century. This chronicle'is usually ascribed to Matthew of Westminster: this personage, as we bave already observed, never existed, and the choice of the name seems to have arisen from a confused lemma or colophon relating to the well-known Matthew Paris, of whose chronicle the latter part of the work now under consideration is an abridgment. Thus circumstanced, the chronicle must evidently be received with caution. The copious additions from Geoffrey of Monmouth, and from the lives of the Saints, may, for the present, be put out of the question; but, rejecting these romantic tales, there will remain some facts relating to Anglo-Saxon history not extant in the existing Saxon chronicles. We are inclined to consider most of them as genuine relics of antiquity. Indeed we are rather inclined to believe that he is anterior to Florence, and that certain passages in the latter, not found in the Saxon Chronicle, were borrowed by him from Florilegus. Florilegus has retained and quoted a sufficient number of Anglo-Saxonisms, and of Anglo-Saxon phrases, to show that he was in possession of Saxon materials, which he consulted to the best of his ability. He has not used them with the fidelity of Florence of Worcester, for his knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon language was imperfect, but still he is not guilty of any intentional