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ALFRED THE GREAT
Preface to Pope Gregory's Pastoral Care King Alfred bids greet bishop Waerferth lovingly and with friendship; and I let it be known to thee that it has very often come into my mind, what wise men there were formerly throughout England; both of sacred and secular orders; and how happy times there were then throughout 5 England; and how the kings who had power over the nation in those days obeyed God and his ministers; and they preserved peace, morality, and order at home, and at the same time enlarged their territory abroad; and how they prospered both with war and with wisdom; and also the sacred 10 orders how zealous they were both in teaching and in learning; and in all the services they owed to God; and how foreigners came to this land in search of wisdom and instruction, and how we should now have to get them from abroad if we were to have them. So general was its decay in Eng- 15 land that there were very few on this side of the Humber who could understand their rituals in English, or translate
letter from Latin into English; and I believe that there were not many beyond the Humber. There were so few of them that I cannot remember a single one south of the Thames 20 when I came to the throne.
Thanks be to God Almighty that we have any teachers among us now. And therefore I command thee to do as I believe thou art willing, to disengage thyself from worldly matters as often as thou canst, that thou mayest apply the 25 wisdom which God has given thee wherever thou canst. Consider what punishments would come upon us on account of this world, if we neither loved it (wisdom) ourselves nor suffered other men to obtain it: we should love the name only of Christian, and very few of the virtues. When I 30 considered all this I remembered also how I saw, before it
had been all ravaged and burnt, how the churches throughout the whole of England stood filled with treasures and books,
and there was also a multitude of God's servants, but they 35 had very little knowledge of the books, for they could not
understand anything of them, because they were not written in their own language. As if they had said: "Our forefathers, who formerly held these places, loved wisdom, and
through it they obtained wealth and bequeathed it to us. 40 In this we can still see their tracks, but we cannot follow
them, because we would not incline our hearts after their example.”
When I remembered all this, I wondered extremely that the good and wise men who were formerly all over England, 45 and had perfectly learnt all the books, did not wish to trans
late them into their own language. But again I soon answered myself and said: “They did not think that men would ever be so careless, and that learning would so decay;
through that desire they abstained from it, and they wished 50 that the wisdom in this land might increase with our knowl
edge of languages." Then I remembered how the law was first known in Hebrew, and again, when the Greeks had learnt it, they translated the whole of it into their own lan
guage, and all other books besides. And again the Romans, 55 when they had learnt it, they translated the whole of it
through learned interpreters into their own language. And also all other Christian nations translated a part of them into their own language.
Therefore it seems better to me, if ye think so, for us also to translate some books which are 60 most needful for men to know into the language which we
can all understand, and for you to do as we very easily can if we have tranquillity enough, that is that all the youth now in England of free men, who are rich enough to be able
to devote themselves to it, be set to learn as long as they are 65 not fit for any other occupation, until that they are well able to read English writing; and let those be afterward taught in the Latin language who are to continue learning and be promoted to a higher rank.
When I remembered how the knowledge of Latin had formerly decayed throughout England, and yet many could 70 read English writing, I began, among other various and manifold troubles of this kingdom, to translate into English the book which is called in Latin Pastoralis, and in English Shepherd's Book, sometimes word by word and sometimes according to the sense, as I learnt it from Plegmund my arch-75 bishop, and Asser my bishop, and Grimbold my mass-priest, and John my mass-priest. And when I had learnt it as I could best understand it, and as I could most clearly interpret it, I translated it into English; and I will send a copy to every bishopric in my kingdom; and on each there is a 80 clasp worth fifty mancus. And I command in God's name that no man take the clasp from the book or the book from the minster: it is uncertain how long there may be such learned bishops as now, thanks be to God, there are nearly everywhere; therefore I wish them always to remain in their 85 place, unless the bishop wish to take them with him, or they be lent out anywhere, or any one make a copy from them.
THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE
677. In this year the star (called) comet appeared in August, and shone for three months every morning like a sunbeam. And Bishop Wilfrith was driven from his bishopric by King Ecgferth; and two bishops were hallowed in his stead: Bosa to Deira, and Eata to Bernicia. And 5 Eadhed was hallowed bishop by the people of Lindsey; he was the first of the bishops of Lindsey.
690. In this year Archbishop Theodore died. He was bishop twenty-two winters, and he was buried at Canter
10 bury; and Beorhtwald succeeded to the bishopric. Pre
viously the bishops had been Romans; since then they were English.
699. In this year the Picts slew Beorht the alderman.
722. In this year Queen Æthelburh destroyed Taunton, 15 which Ine had previously built. And Ealdbriht the exile
withdrew into Surrey and Sussex; and Ine fought against the South Saxons.
871. (abridged) About four days afterward, King Ethelred and his brother Alfred led a large force to Reading, and 20 fought against the army; and there was great slaughter on
both sides. Earl Ethelwulf was slain, and the Danes held possession of the field. And about four days after this, Ethelred and Alfred fought against the whole army at Ash
down. And the Danes were in two divisions : in one were 25 Bagsecg and Halfdene the heathen kings; and in the other
were the earls. King Ethelred fought against the division of the kings, and there was King Bagsecg slain; and his brother Alfred against the division of the earls. And both
divisions were put to flight, and many thousands slain. And 30 afterward, about Easter, King Ethelred died; and he reigned
five years, and his body lies at Wimborne. Then Alfred, son of Ethelwulf, succeeded to the kingdom of the West Saxons. And about a month after, King Alfred, with a
small force, fought against the whole army at Wilton, and 35 put them to flight.
MIDDLE ENGLISH ROMANCE
The Arming of Gawain
(From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) He dwelt there all that day, and on the morn he arose and asked betimes for his armor; and they brought it unto him on this wise. First, a rich carpet was stretched on the floor (and brightly did the gold gear glitter upon it), then the knight stepped upon it, and handled the steel; clad he 5 was in a doublet of silk, with a close hood, lined fairly throughout. Then they set the steel shoes upon his feet, and wrapped his legs with greaves, with polished kneecaps, fastened with knots of gold. Then they cased his thighs in cuisses closed with thongs, and brought him the byrnie of bright steel 10 rings sewn upon a fair stuff. Well burnished braces they set on each arm with good elbow-pieces, and gloves of mail, and all the goodly gear that should shield him in his need. And they cast over all a rich surcoat, and set the golden spurs on his heels, and girt him with a trusty sword fastened with 15 a silken bawdrick. When he was thus clad, his harness was costly, for the least loop or latchet gleamed with gold. So armed as he was he hearkened Mass and made his offering at the high altar. Then he came to the king, and the knights of his court, and courteously took leave of lords and ladies, 20 and they kissed him, and commended him to Christ.
Gawain Keeps His Pledge
(From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) “Thou art welcome, Gawain," quoth the green warrior, "to my place. Thou hast timed thy coming as befits a true man. Thou knowest the covenant set between us : at this time twelve months agone thou didst take that which fell to thee, and I at this New Year will readily requite thee. 5 We are in this valley, verily alone, here are no knights to sever us, do what we will. Have off thy helm from thine head, and have here thy pay; make me no more talking than I did then when thou didst strike off my head with one blow."
10 “Nay,” quoth Gawain, “by God that gave me life, I shall make no moan whatever befall me, but make thou ready