Imatges de pàgina
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to princes. We shall now see how far this glowing eulogy is sustained by the facts that have descended to us through channels of undoubted purity :

Ethelwolf, king of the West Saxons, had four sons, Ethelbald, Ethelbert, Ethelred, and Alfred, all of whom succeeded in turn to the throne. The youngest, Alfred, born at Wantage in Berks, in the year 849, having given evidence of precocious talent, appears to have excited the envy of his brothers; and his father, to calm their jealousies, and place the boy beyond the reach of danger, sent him to Rome, on pretence of being confirmed. Here he was received with all the ceremony due to royalty; and, although his father and brothers were then living, we are told that Pope Leo IV., possibly having perceived the splendid mind of the royal youth, anointed him royally. This prophetic act is much spoken of by monkish writers, and certainly reminds the reader of the preference given in Scripture to youngest sons. When Alfred first visited Rome, he is said to have completed only his fifth year, but he paid a second visit to that city at a later period, accompanied by his father; and it was on this latter occasion, most probably, that he gleaned all that knowledge of men, and manners, and politics, which he subsequently displayed in the government of his country.

There is some difficulty in reconciling the history of Alfred's boyhood with the learning and wisdom which he exhibited almost the moment he crossed the threshold of manhood. We are told, that being his father's favourite, he was spoiled by indulgence, and never made acquainted with the first rudiments of literature until he had reached the age of twenty. It is also hinted that the reverend prelates who surrounded the palace of Wantage, as well as the papal throne, did not encourage learning in others, although they drank deeply at that spring themselves; and lastly, it has been conjectured that the young prince's talents having kindled his brothers' jealousy, his father left them uncultivated as the best means of saving his life. Whichever of these and perhaps all contributed—may have been the cause, it is almost certain that the education of the prince was wholly neglected in his youth, and the first dawning of that eminence which he afterwards attained in literature, appeared upon hearing a Saxon poem read, reciting the chivalrous deeds of some hero of the olden time. So immediate was the effect of this national ballad upon his mind, that he sprang from his couch and declared himself henceforth devoted, not only to the most heroic achievements, but also to the cultivation of that beautiful art by which they were transmitted to after ages.

In the pursuit of literature, Alfred was encouraged by an affectionate and discriminating mother; a fact that should be regarded with deep attention: for, in all the examples of men eminent for splendid talents, sincere piety, and even heroic achievements, there is not one whose early education and often subsequent conduct, is not to be mainly ascribed to a fond and

* Vide p. 160 of this volume.

virtuous mother. Many examples are familiar to our readers, such as the exemplary and accomplished mothers of Napoleon, Wellington, Sheridan, Doddridge, and Walter Scott. Some analysts of the human character proceed a step farther on this point, asserting that talent is uniformly inherited from the female line, and never otherwise. Under this respected monitor Alfred rapidly acquired a knowledge of languages, and, in the course of a few years, aided by able tutors, he became that great scholar, whose labours posterity have learned to admire and to imitate.

Alfred was but ten years old when his father died, so that he beheld without any feeling but that of sorrow for a loving parent, the throne filled successively by his older brothers, Ethelbald, Ethelbert, and Ethelred. When the last of these came to the throne, Alfred had attained a sufficient age to assist him both in the cabinet and the field, and the declining health of the monarch much enhanced the value of such services. Alfred commanded his brother's army in 871, and to him belongs the glory of having overthrown the Danes at Reading; but his laurels were tarnished soon after by a defeat near Devizes, and shortly after this disgrace the king, in attempting to dislodge the intruders from Nottingham, received a mortal wound.

Alfred had just entered his twenty-second year when he was called to that throne for which Pope Leo had anointed him in infancy, and never was prince or general more destitute of resources to oppose so inveterate an enemy. A drawn battle at Wilton induced the Danes to accede to a proposition for peace, but this was a mere pretext for gaining time. They soon violated their promises, and were only forced into their fulfilment by the defeat of a grand armada that was on its way to their relief. This success, however, just stayed the plague; new hordes landed alnost daily, which so augmented the Danish force, that long resistance would have been wholly fruitless. Judging the total abandonment of the field the best present policy, Alfred retired in disguise to one of his herdsmen's cottages, and there amusing himself with his harp, and consoling himself with the hopes of better fortune, he beguiled the time.

While living with these poor people, who were totally unconscious of his real character, the prince once subjected himself to the displeasure of his hostess, by allowing the cakes to burn which she had desired him to turn and attend to. This scene of his life has often employed the artist's pencil ; another—" his submitting his code of laws to the Witan,” formed the subject of one of the cartoons recently exhibited in Westminster Hall.* The Isle of Athelney, formed by the confluence of the Thone and Parrot, in Somersetshire, is believed to have been the site of the neatherd's home and asylum of this patriotic prince; at all events it was here that his adherents assembled around him in his adversity, and hence made frequent sallies upon the unguarded quarters of the enemy.

So much wisdom, benevolence, and learning, especially in a prince, could not have failed in attaching to his cause the best in the land ;

* Vide p. 175 of this volume.

amongst these was Odune, Earl of Devon, who overthrew the Danes in a pitched battle, capturing the famous magical standard of the raven. This victory was the signal for a grand muster of the Saxons, and Alfred, emerging from his concealment, and dressed in the garb of a wandering minstrel, proceeded to the camp of Guthrum, the Danish chief. There he was hospitably received, and his skill in music was so considerable, that he was at length led before the chief himself, and desired to perform his master-pieces. Having improved the opportunity which this stratagem gave him to the utmost, he now threw off his disguise, resumed the regal purple, and summoned his lords and followers to a general rendezvous on the borders of Selwood forest. With the concentrated strength of his kingdom, Alfred now fell upon the enemy, and defeating them on every point, established that supremacy which was never afterwards shaken or denied.

And now the advantages of that education which, by his mother's aid, he had acquired—the blessings of that religion which he had inherited and studied, combined to illuminate his character, and to place him amongst the most humane and virtuous monarchs of whom we read in history. Seeing his enemies prostrate before him, instead of planting his foot upon

their crests, he bade them be comforted, recommended to them the paths of peace, permitted those who persevered in Paganism to embark and sail for Flanders; while all those who became converts to Christianity, he invited to share in the happiness which his wise and equal government promised them. Guthrum, and thirty of his generals, believing that the religion to which so great a prince belonged could not be one of either falsehood or hypocrisy, accepted the proposal ; and Alfred himself became sponsor for his enemy at the baptismal font.

It was while Alfred and his Queen Elswitha were living in that seclusion which surrounding danger rendered prudent, that a scarcity of provisions in his household occurred, and all his followers were despatched in search of fish, or any other species of food that could be procured. When they were gone, a pilgrim knocked at the gate, and begged a morsel in the name of God. As there was but one loaf in the house, the queen brought it first to her husband, and represented the consequence of giving it to the pilgrim, should the foragers return with empty pouches. “Give,” said Alfred, “one-half the loaf to the hungry

He that could feed five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, could make (if it so pleased him) the remaining half of that loaf suffice for our necessities." This charity did not pass unrequited, for the hunters returned with an ample store.

From Alfred's military character we now turn to the contemplation of his acquirements for government, and his knowledge of the arts of peace. Having secured his territories against intrusion, by the erection of castles and forts, he formed a large body of citizens into a regular force—the first origin of our militia ; and brought together a fleet of 100 vessels—the foundation of British naval supremacy. London, then in a state of dilapidation, he restored partially, but held it always strongly garrisoned ; and,

man.

with these arrangements, he felt no further uneasiness from foreign invasion or domestic contention. The Welch acknowledged his authority; and the reputation of having shared in 56 pitched battles lent its aid in establishing a terror of, if not a respect for, his name amongst his savage enemies. Henceforth we shall perceive that this great Prince's mind was given up undividedly to the amelioration of the laws and morals of his country, to the promotion of religion, learning, and the arts. Although Sir W. Blackstone conjectures (why conjecture, since he cannot disprove?) that Alfred only adopted and improved the mode of trial by jury, there is no reason whatever to conclude that it was not an original act of King Alfred. The merit of having divided the kingdom into shires, hundreds, and tithings, also of Alfred's introduction, has been enviously claimed as the invention of others, those others being also anonymous. But this disinclination on the part of lawyers and statesmen to award so large a share of praise and merit to an individual, is common, absolutely natural, yet quite unfounded, for it is obvious that all our discoveries are attributable to a few illustrious names. Aristotle wrote of every department in learning ; Newton discovered the greater part of all our scientific information ; Napoleon reformed all the institutions of his own country, and even of some others, in addition to his military achievements, and his character resembles our Saxon king's in very many respects. Great men appear at great intervals of time, and separated by great distances in space also, on the face of the earth; but when these lights do appear, it must be acknowledged that they accomplish, in the brief periods of their splendour, an amazing amount of good or evil, or both. We have no reason to withhold from Alfred-the praise of introducing trial by jury, the territorial partition of the kingdom—the institution of a militia, and of a naval force—a general survey of the kingdom (the Winchester Book, from which Doomsday Book is imitated)—and the formation of an Assembly, or House of Convocation, in which our present Parliament recognises its prototype. Finding that learning was little cultivated, and “ that few persons south of the Humber" either understood the service of the Church or could render Latin into English, he invited the most learned foreiguers to his Court, and laid the foundation of the University of Oxford. But he was not only the occasion of learning in others, he was himself a profound scholar, and may still be placed at the head of the catalogue of royal and noble authors. Amongst his literary labours are versions of Orosius, Bede, and Boethius, translations from St. Gregory, Æsop, various religious works, including a complete Psalter, In his translation of Orosius he has given an account of an expedition, fitted out under his auspices, for the discovery of a North-east Passage, and of another to carry alms to the Christians of St. Thomas, in the East Indies.

We need not be told, that the accomplishment of so many objects was only to be effected by the nicest apportioning of time, and the most exact system of arrangement, and the most cautious husbanding of the

That Alfred was unequalled in all these acquirements, how. ever, his monkish biographers unnecessarily assure us. The panegyrics of ecclesiastics, whose institutions hung but on the prince's smile, have been always received with caution; and, in Alfred's case, his liberal benefactions to the church, his religious deportment, and virtuous life, augmented the enthusiasm of his learned and grateful biographers. Hence it is that none of those blemishes from which mere mortality is inseparable are recorded of this great prince; his portrait, as well as the general view of his useful life, is a flood of light. His history is a perfect union of prince, patriot, man-one of those noble illustrations of the admixture of the true elements of groatness and goodness, which are so seldom witnessed among mankind, but which do occasionally exist as blessings in their own age, and models for posterity.

revenues.

After a reign of eight-and-twenty years, Alfred the Great resigned his earthly kingdom, in the cheerful expectation of an immortal one-dying in his palace at Oxford, some time in the year 901. By his Queen, Elswitha, he had three sons and three daughters. His second son, Edward the Elder, succeeded to his throne ; and his daughter, Æthelflida, who married the Earl of Mercia, is said to have inherited his talents.

WALKS IN SWITZERLAND.

CHAPTER IV.—THE RHINE.

COBLENZ.

EHRENBREITSTEIN.-FINE SUNSET.WHIRL

BEAUTIFUL SCENERY.
POOLS.—THE AUTHOR'S FELLOW-TRAVELLERS.-MENTZ,

The Rhine steamer, July 4. ---And I'am on the Rhine !-speeding over its broad clear bosom -basking in all the glories of sunshine, mitigated while mirrored upon its breezy surface,ếand gazing on a landscape of tranquil beauty, that seems to smile in gratitude and gladness for supplies from the fertilizing element, so bountiful, and so unfailing. The far-famed Rhine! rolling, age by age, its swift, full-volumed waters through a region not unworthy such a baptism. Wide and deep, its abundant waves appear but just confined to their channel by the banks, which here rise a few feet only above its level, and leave the surrounding country open far and wide to its wintry inundations : now, sparkling to a morning sun, they curl gracefully and gently within their sandy boundaries. Ennobled by heroes—the scene of great deeds of olden as well as later days—its shores yet thrill to the echoes of mighty voices and legendary song ! As I watch the career of thy swift tide, passing away beneath our vessel, on its changeless ocean errand, something of thy spell, renowned Rhine! comes over me.

The silence of its powerful course was broken only by the gurgle of many eddies, while its broad front, of a hoary half-translucency, appeared everywhere corrugated, as in token of the struggling energy of its onward current. Well might Napoleon have deemed it the boundary,

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