Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

with a general outline of the ecclesiastical state of the island.

“The Introduction, which extends from the commencement of the work to the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity, is gleaned, as Beda himself informs us, from various writers. The chief sources for the description of Britain are Pliny, Solinus, Orosius and Gildas; St. Basil is also cited; and the traditions which were current in Beda's own day are occasionally introduced. The history of the Romans in Britain is founded chiefly upon Orosius, Eutropius, and Gildas, corrected, however, in some places by the author, apparently from tradition or local information, and augmented by an account of the introduction of Christianity under Lucius, of the martyrdom of St. Alban, copied apparently from some legend, and of the origin of the Pelagian heresy,-all of them circumstances intimately connected with the ecclesiastical history of the island. The mention of Hengist and Horsa, and the allusion to the tomb of the latter at Horstead, render it probable that the account which Beda gives of the arrival of the Teutonic tribes, and their settlement in England, was communicated by Albinus and Nothhelm. It is purely fabulous, being, in fact, not the history, but the tradition, of the Jutish kingdom of Kent, as appears from circumstances mentioned elsewhere in this work, as well as from the authorities there quoted. The two visits of Germanus to England, so important in the history of its religion, are introduced in the very words of Constantius Lugdunensis, and must therefore have been copied from that author. The ante-Augustine portion of the history is terminated by extracts from

Gildas, relative to the conflicts between the Saxons and Britons. As the mission of Augustine in A.D. 596 is the period at which Beda ceases to speak of himself as a compiler, and assumes the character of an Historian, it becomes incumbent upon us to examine into the sources upon which he has founded this, by far the most interesting portion of his History. The materials which he employed seem to have consisted of (1.) written documents, and (11.) verbal information. (1.) The written materials may be divided into (1.) Historical information drawn up and communicated by his correspondents for the express purpose of being employed in his work ; (2.) documents pre-existing in a narrative form, and (3.) transcripts of official documents.

“(1.) That Beda's correspondents drew up and communicated to him information which he used when writing this History, is certain from what he states in its Prologue; and it is highly probable that to them we are indebted for many particulars connected with the history of kingdoms situated to the south of the river Humber, with which a monk of Jarrow, from his local position, was probably unacquainted. Traces of the assistance which he derived from Canterbury are perceptible in the minute acquaintance which he exbibits not only with the topography of Kent, but with its condition at the time when he wrote; and the same remark is applicable, although in a more limited degree, to most of the other southern kingdoms.

“(2.) Documents pre-existing in an historical form are seldom quoted : amongst those of which use has been made may be numbered the Life of Gregory the Great, written by Paulus Diaconus; the miracles of Ethelburg, abbess of Barking; the Life of Sebbi, king of East Saxony; the Legend of Fursey; and that of Cuthberht of Lindisfarn, formerly written by Beda, but now augmented by himself, with additional facts. These, together with some extracts from the Treatise of Arcuulf De locis sanctis, are all the written documents to which the author refers.

“That other narratives, however, were in Beda's possession, of which he has made liberal use, is certain from his express words, and may also be inferred from internal evidence. Albinus and Nothhelm appear to have furnished him with Chronicles, in which he found accurate and full information upon the pedigrees, accessions, marriages, exploits, descendants, deaths, and burials of the kings of Kent. From the same source he derived his valuable account of the archbishops of Canterbury, both before and after ordination, the place and date of consecration, even though it took place abroad, the days on which they severally took possession of that see, the duration of their episcopate, their deaths, burial-places, and the intervals which elapsed before the election of a successor. It is evident that the minuteness and accuracy of this information could have been preserved only by means of contemporary written memoranda. That such records existed in the time of the Saxons cannot be doubted, for Beda introduces a story, by which it appears that the Abbey of Selsey possessed a volume in which were entered the obits of eminent individuals; and the same custom probably prevailed throughout the other monastic establishments of England.

“ The history of the diocese of Rochester was com

municated by Albinus and Nothhelm. It is exceedingly barren of particulars; and probably would have been even more so, had it not been connected with the life of Paulinus of York, concerning whom Beda appears to have obtained information from other quarters.

“The early annals of East Anglia are equally scanty, as we have little more than a short pedigree of its kings, an account of its conversion to Christianity, the history of Sigiberct and Anna, and a few particulars regarding its bishops, Felix, Thomas, Berctgils, and Bisi, which details were communicated in part by Albinus and Nothhelm. .

“The history of the West Saxons was derived partly from the same authorities, and partly from the information of Daniel, bishop of Winchester. It relates to their conversion by Birinus, the reigns of Caedualla and of Ini, and the pontificate of Vine, Aldhelm and Daniel. To this last named bishop we are indebted for a portion of the little of what is known as to the early history of the South Saxons and the Isle of Wight, the last of the Saxon kingdoms which embraced the Christian faith. It relates to the conversion of those districts by the agency of Wilfrith. A few unimportant additions are afterwards made in a hurried and incidental manner, evidently showing that Beda's information upon this head was neither copious nor definite.

“The monks of Læstingaeu furnished materials relative to the ministry of Cedd and Ceadda, by whose preaching the Mercians were induced to renounce Paganism. The history of this kingdom is obscure, and consists of an account of its conversion, the suc

cession of its sovereigns, and its bishops. The neighbouring state of Middle Anglia, which, if ever independent of Mercia, soon merged in it, is similarly circumstanced, and we are perhaps indebted to its connexion with the princes and bishops of Northumbria for what is known of its early history.

“Lindissi, part of Lincolnshire, although situated so near to the kingdom of Northumbria, was both politically and ecclesiastically independent of it, and Beda was as ignorant of the transactions of that province as of those which were much more remote from Jarrow. He received some materials from bishop Cyniberct, but they appear to have been scanty, for the circumstances which relate to Lincolnshire are generally derived from the inforination of other witnesses.

“ The history of East Saxony is more copious, and is derived partly from the communications of Albinus and Nothhelm, and partly from the monks of Læstingaeu. To the first of these two sources we must probably refer the account of the pontificate of Mellitus, and the apostasy of the sons of Saeberct; circumstances too intimately connected with the see of Canterbury to be omitted in its annals. To the latter we are indebted for the history of the reconversion of East Saxony; an event in which the monks of Læstingaeu were interested, as it was accomplished by their founder Cedd. From them Beda also received an account of the ministry of Ceadda. Some further details respecting its civil and ecclesiastical affairs, the life of Erconuuald, bishop of London, and the journey of Offa to Rome, conclude the information which we have respecting this kingdom.

“In the history of Northumbria, Beda, as a native,

« ForrigeFortsett »