[ocr errors]

schools in the principal cities, but little success attended his efforts.

Historical writing, or the composition of annals or chronicles, and disquisitions on abstruse points in theology, principally occupied the attention of those who were distinguished by the appellation of learned. The useful and interesting sciences which, at the present day, form so prominent a part of a libe: ral education, were but little known, and so little regarded, that at the close of the tenth century, Gerbert, archbishop of Rheims, was regarded as a magician, because he understood something of geometry, and was so much of an astronomer, as to be able to understand and explain the motions of the heavenly bodies. Poetry and belle-lettres were but little cultivated; they were unsuited to so barren a soil. Historical composition was more attended to but how unlike the works of those ancient histou rians who have given immortality to Greece and Rome! How unlike the polished writings of Herodotus and Tacitus, of Xeno phon or Polybius! Their histories, if they deserve the name, are little more than meagre chronicles of passing events, with but little variety in the style, and as little judgment in the arrangement of the materials of which they are composed. Their authors seldom indulged in reflections upon the causes which led to any great event they record; they leave their readers to draw their own inferences. The most celebrated works relating to the history of the times, were, the “Annals of the Abbey of Saint Bertin," written by different authors, which contains the history of France, from the year 741 to A. D. 861; the “An

nals of Fulda,” which embraces a period of one hundred and & eighty-six years, from A. D. 741 to A. D. 900; the “Annals of

Metz,” which begins with the foundation of the French monarchy, and is continued to the tenth century; the “Memoirs of Louis le Debonnaire," by Thegan, which, besides the personal history of that unfortunate monarch, contains also, the history of the monarchy from his accession to the year A. D. 837.

Thegan,mentioned above as the author of the memoirs of Louis le Debonnaire, like all thc leamed men of his time, was an ecclesiastic, and had received such an education as fitted him for the high office of coadjutor to the bishop of Treves. After receiving this appointment, he applied himself with great zeal to the duties of his office, attending more to public preaching, than to priyate

study. His principal work is the one above-mentioned, which, being written in the form of annals, has no beauty or decoration of style to recommend it. He does justice to the character of Louis, bis benefactor, and does not spare the bishops, who, after being raised by him from the lowest condition in life, to rank and power, became his most violent and unrelenting persecutors. Few princes suffered more from the violence of the clergy, than this unfortunate son of Charlemagne, whose virtues ought to have secured him a milder fate. With a temper peculiarly gentle, and almost incapable of being excited to anger, and withal, remarkable for his piety and devotion, he was a fit subject for the machinations of aspiring bishops, who had obtained over him, an unbounded influence. This influence they eserted in dethroning him, and subjecting him to the most humihating penance. They caused bim to be clothed in hair-cloth, and prostrating himself on the ground before them, he humbly requested that he might be admitted to discipline according to the canons of the church, for the expiation of his sins. On this occasion, Hebo, bishop of Rheims, whom he had raised from the lowest condition to the highest order of the churcb, presided with all that insolence and haughtiness common to the clergy of the times, who affected to believe, that they received their authority immediately from God himself. Of Hebo, who, forgetful of his generous benefactor, thus returned evil for good, Thegan thus speaks: "Is it thus, perfidious wretch! thou requitest his beneficence who raised thee from a state of slavery? He clothed thee with purple, and thou hast covered him with sackcloth; he exalted thee to the summit of ecclesiastical honor and power, and thou hast deposed him 'from the throne of his fathers." This burst of honest indignation and noble feeling, should impress us with an opinion highly favorable to the moral and religious character of Thegan, who, amidst the corruption of the times, regardless of the frowns of his superiors, was bold * enough to step forth the defender of his injured and unfortunate benefactor.

Contemporary with l'hegan was Walafrid, abbé of Richenou, supposed to be the author of the “Annals of Fulda," of which religious bouse he had been an inmate. He was remarkable for his early display of genius, and was among the few authors of his time who courted the muses. His principal prose work

[ocr errors]


is “An account of the ordinances and worship of the christian church,” in which he gives a history of the origin of the ceremonies used by the church. His poetical works consist of the "Acts and Life of Mamma," a saint and martyr of Cappadocia; a poem entitled the “Flower Garden," and other minor poems. The Life of Mamma, consists of twenty-six chapters, and describes all the miracles and striking events, that distinguished the life of the saint, and gave him a high character for sanetity. The “Flower Garden," consists of about two hundred lines, in which he treats of the names and virtues of plants, and gives a variety of directions on the subject of gardening--this work shows him to have been one of those who could walk abroad, and admire the wonderful works of creation. In the literary history of France he is mentioned as one who deserved to “be ranked among the most eminent writers of his time. There were few authors who wrote better than he did, in either verse or prose. In his prose there is a purity, a smoothness and arrangement of language, which, though imperfect, was then very

His poetical pieces have not all the same beauty; in some, there is a want of fire, of elevation, of poetic genius, but in some of them we see all those qualities beautifully united.”

We will now turn our attention to the state of learning in England. Before the reign of Alfred, justly sirnamed the Great, the literature of England, like that of France before the reign of Charlemagne, was in a very humble condition, although her history boasts the name of the venerable Bede, already mentioned. A brief sketch of the condition of England, previous to the reign of Alfred, will give some idea of the causes of this state of things.

From the reign of Augustus until that of Valentinian the younger, about A. D. 440, Britain was a Roman province, and made considerable progress in acquiring a knowledge of the arts and sciences introduced by her enlightened conquerors. But when the magnificent fabric of Roman power and greatness, which had so long towered above that of all other nations, was, through the folly and weakness of her emperors, shaken to the foundation, the situation of the inhabitants of Britain was changed. Protected by the Roman arms, they enjoyed a state of comparative ease and comfort, and were enabled not only to cultivate such arts as contributed to their domestic convenience, but to pay so

such attention to learning, that many schools were instituted for the education of youth in the various branches of science then known. The exigencies of a fatlen empire, however, required the withdrawal of her legions from a distant province to defend the “Eternal City" itself from the threatened attack of her Gothic invaders, and the deserted Britons were exposed to the inroads of their more rude and warlike neighbors. These unhappy people were reduced to so low a state, that in a letter to Aetius, the victorious general of Valentinian, they complained, that “the barbarians on the one hand, drive us into the sea; the sea, on the other, drives us back upon the barbarians. We have only the hard choice left us of perishing by the sword, or being drowned in the deep.” In this deplorable condition, relying upon their own skill and prowess to repel invasions, and protect themselves from the assaults of their enemies, they had but little time to devote to the cultivation of learning-hence it not only languished, but the little that had been previously known was nearly lost.

In the wretched and humiliating condition above-mentioned, the Britons, almost driven to despair, applied for succor to the Saxons, a bold and restless people-a swarm from the great “northern bive.” They represented themselves as almost worn out by hostile invasions, and harrassed by the continual incursions of their enemies. . “We are," said they, “possessed of a wide extended and fertile country; this we yield wholly to be at thy devotion and command. Beneath the wings of your valor we seek for safety, and shall willingly undergo whatever services you may hereafter be pleased to impose." In consequence of this invitation, a considerable body of Saxons arrived in Britajn under the command of two brother chiefs, Hengist and Horsa. They united with the Britons and gained a complete victory over the Picts and Scots, and being highly pleased with the fertility of the soil and the mildness of the climate, they persuaded a larger body of their countrymen to follow them. They succeeded, without much difficulty, in establishing themselves, and from friends and protectors of the Britons, they became their conquerors and oppressors, and, on the ruins of the independence of those they came to succor, they established the seven kịngdoms of the Algo-Saxons, called the Heptarchy. The division of the country into so many petty monarchies, whose con

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

fricting interests, or motives of ambition, occasioned continual wars, left but little leisure for the cultivation of learning and the successful march of intellect. The conversion of the AngloSaxons to christianity in the seventh century, had a considerable effect upon the interests of learning; by embracing christianity, they were led to make inquiries, and enter into speculations upon the various subjects, as well literary and scientific, as religious; schools were founded in different places, one of which, that of Canterbury, was enriched by many valuable books brought from Rome. The union of the kingdoms of the Heptarchy under Egbert, formed a happy era in the history of the country; united under one monarch, it was freed from those scenes of internal war which had long disturbed its peace. Eg. bert, early in life, withdrew from Briton into France, where he applied himself to study with 50 much diligence, that he made rapid progress in all the learning then known in the court of Charlemagne, and acquired such a fund of useful information, as subsequently enabled him to wield the sceptre with so much glory. Egbert encouraged learning and protected learned men, so far as he could consistently with the spirit of the times. His influence, however, was but little, notwithstanding his exalted station, when placed in competition with that of the clergy, whose interest it was to prevent the light of knowledge from spreading its beams too widely among the people.

Alfred succeeded his brother Ethelred A. D. 871. He was scarcely seated on the throne before he had to contend with the Danes, a formidable enemy, who, in the reigns of his predecessors, had gained a footing in the kingdom, and committed great outrages. It was reserved for Alfred to rid the country of these bold invaders, and give peace to his people, while he established his throne in security. Few monarchs are entitled to higher commendations than Alfred, as well on account of his military qualities, and his capacity for government, as for the encouragement he afforded to learning. His merits as a general are evinced in the skill with which he encountered the warlike Danes, led on, as they were, by skilful and experienced leaders; his capacity for government is evinced in the judicious laws he enacted for the security of the lives and property of his subjects; his. zeal for learning is manifested in the measures he took for the instruction of the people in all useful knowledge. In

« ForrigeFortsett »