Изображения страниц


ALFRED is a singular instance of a prince, who has become a hero of romance, who, as such, has had countless exploits and imaginary institutions attributed to him, but to whose character romance has done no more than justice, and who appears in exactly the same light in history and in fable. No other man on record has ever so thoroughly united all the virtues, both of the ruler and of the private man.

In no other man on record were so many virtues disfigured by so little alloy. A scholar without ostentation, a warrior all of whose wars were fought in the defence of his country, a conqueror whose laurels were never stained by cruelty, a prince never cast down in adversity, never lifted up to insolence in the day of triumph—there is no other name in history to compare with his. With an inquiring spirit which took in the whole world, for purposes alike of scientific inquiry and of Christian benevolence, Alfred never forgot that his first duty was to his own people. He forestallel


our own age in sending expeditions to explore the Northern Ocean, and in sending alms to the distant churches of India. The same union of zeal for religion and learning with the highest gifts of the warrior and the statesman is found, on a wider field of action, in Charles the Great. But even Charles can not aspire to the pure glory of Alfred. Amidst all the splendors of conquest and legislation, we can not be blind to an alloy of personal ambition. Among our later princes, the great Edward alone can bear for a moment comparison with his glorious ancestor. And, when tried by such a standard, even the great Edward fails. Even in him we do not see the same union of gifts which so seldom meet together. The times indeed were different; Edward had to tread the path of righteousness and honor in a time of far more tangled policy, and amidst temptations, not harder indeed, but far more subtle. The legislative merits of Edward are greater than those of Alfred; but this is a difference in the times rather than the men. haps, after all, in his literary aspect, that the distinctive beauty of Alfred's character shines forth most clearly. As a rule, literary kings have not been a class deserving of much honor. They have, for the most part, stepped out of their natural

It is per

sphere only to display the least honorable characteristics of another calling. But it was not so with Alfred. In Alfred there is no sign of literary pedantry, ostentation, or jealousy ; nothing is done for his own glory; he writes, just as he fights and legislates, with a single eye to the good of his people. He shows no signs of original genius; he is simply an editor and translator, working honestly for the improvement of the subjects whom he loved. This is really a purer fame, and one more in harmony with the other features of Alfred's character, than the highest achievements of the poet, the historian, or the philosopher. Alfred was specially happy in handing on a large share of his genius and his virtue to those who came after him. The West Saxon Kings, for nearly a century, form one of the most brilliant royal lines on record. From Aethelred the Saint to Eadgar the Peaceful, the short and wretched reign of Eadwig is the only interruption to the one continued display of valor under the guidance of wisdom. The greatness of the dynasty, obscured under the second Aethelred, flashes for a moment in the short and glorious career of the second Eadmund. It then becomes more permanently eclipsed under the rule of the Danes, Nor

mans, and Angevin, till it shines forth once more in the first of the new race whom we can claim as English at heart, and the greatest of the WestSaxons seems to rise again to life in the Greatest of the Plantagenets.



It would have been morally impossible for a monarch so arbitrary and tyrannical as Henry the Eighth to have successfully compassed the total destruction of the monastic system in England, and the subversion of the ancient religion, unless he had first obtained the tacit co-operation of the impoverished nobility; and further secured, by the appointment of Thomas Cranmer to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, a pliant servant of the highest ecclesiastical rank, who would do his royal master's will with due subservience; and such an unscrupulous lay-tool as Thomas Cromwell, to second and carry out the project.

When it is in the power of kings and rulers to perpetrate gross acts of injustice; when the principle that "might is right” is tolerated and approved, and when able and unscrupulous coadjutors have been found to co-operate in doing injustice, those who may have planned it, are at no great loss for pretence to justify their course of proceedings. 5*


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »