a (Ancient English Prose)

    Ancient English prose

    The earliest English prose work is the law code of King  Aethelberht  I
of Kent. It was written in the very end of 6th  century.  The  7th  and  8th
century prose was practical in its character so a  lot  of  laws  and  wills
date back to this period.
    The history of literature of this period is closely connected with Bede
(673-735). This famous monk was probably the greatest teacher and the  best-
known man of letters and scholar in all contemporary Europe. He is  to  have
translated the Gospel of St.John into Saxon, but the  translation  is  lost.
He wrote in Latin on a vast  range  of  subjects  from  natural  science  to
grammar and history. His most important work is the  Ecclesiastical  History
of the English People, which is really a  history  of  England  from  Julius
Caesars invasion to 731. According to  it  we  find  out  that  Bede  could
relate things simply and well. But during much  of  this  period  conditions
were unfavorable  to  writing  and  literacy  in  England  declined  sharply
between 800 and the reign of King Alfred and then again after about 990.
    The deeds and thoughts of Alfred (849-901), king of  the  West  Saxons,
remain a strong moral influence on the world.  Posterity  rightly  gave  him
the surname of the Great, as he is one of the comparatively few great  men
of all time. He led a vigorous program to translate  into  English  certain
books that are necessary for all men to know. His ill health and  the  wars
with the Danes did not keep him from trying to educate his  people  or  from
earning the title, father of English prose. Although  most  of  his  works
are translations  from  the  Latin,  yet  he  has  left  the  stamp  of  his
originality. For example he re-casted a Latin work on history and  geography
written in the 5th century by Orosius. Alfred the Great omitted some  parts,
changed others, added some interviews so this  book  is  known  as  Alfreds
Orosius now.
    Alfred also translated Pastoral Rule in order to show the clergy how to
teach and care for their flocks. Alfred was fond  of  people  and  tried  to
examine their souls on his works. For example, he wrote: Let  us  love  the
man but hate his sins. His revision of the legal code,  known  as  Alfreds
Laws, shows his moral aim. Alfred also produced a work on moral  philosophy,
by altering and amending the De Consolatione  Philosophie  of  Boethius.  In
simplicity and moral power, some of Alfreds original matter in this  volume
was not surpassed by any English writer for several hundred years.
    Alfred's interest in the history of his people  is  evidenced,  in  the
stimulus he apparently gave to the recording of it  in  systematic  fashion.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was probably originated in  Alfreds  reign.  This
is the first history of any branch of  the  Teutonic  people  in  their  own
tongue. From annals already existing and known  Latin  sources,  a  compiler
put together (about 891) an account of previous  English  history  from  the
age of Julius Caesar. Outstanding events  falling  in  Alfred's  reign  were
told "with breadth and detail. This original version of the so-called Anglo-
Saxon Chronicle was sent to a  number  of  centres  of  learning  and  there
carried forward as official supplements were circulated for addition to  it.
Local materials were also used. The oldest  surviving  version,  closest  to
Alfred's original project, is the Parker manuscript (thus named  because  it
was once in the possession of Archbishop Parker).  The  Chronicle  has  come
down to us in several different texts.  According  as  it  was  compiled  or
copied at different monasteries. The entries,  relating  to  earlier  events
were  copied  from  Bedes  Ecclesiastical  History  and  from  other  Latin
authorities. The Chronicle contains chiefly those  events  which  each  year
impressed the clerical compilers as the most important  in  the  history  of
the nation. This work is a fountainhead to which writers of the  history  of
those times must turn. Sometimes  the  narrative  is  extremely  vivid.  For
example the excellence of  the  portraiture  of  William  the  Conqueror  is
    The Benedictine reform of the mid-10th century brought about  a  period
of lively literary activity. Aethelwold, bishop of  Winchester  and  one  of
the leaders of the reform, translated  the  rule  of  St.Benedict.  But  the
greatest and most prolific writer of this  period  was  his  pupil  Aelfric.
This abbot followed Alfreds example in writing native  English  prose.  His
chief works are his Homilies, a series of sermons, and The Lives of  Saints.
Although much of his writing is a compilation  or  a  translation  from  the
Latin Fathers, it is often remarkably  vigorous  in  expression.  To  modern
readers the most  interesting  of  Aelfrics  writings  is  his  Colloquium,
designed to teach Latin in the monastery  of  Winchester.  The  pupils  were
required to learn the Latin transformation of his dialogues  in  the  Anglo-
Saxon vernacular. Some of this dialogues are  today  valuable  illustrations
of the social and industrial life of the time.
    Wolfsan (died 1023) was a contemporary and  friend  of  Aelfric.  Among
(the homilies ascribed to him, the most  famous  and  most  eloquent  is  an
address to the people of England on the evils and calamities of  his  times.
Wolfsan of course regarded these quite  simply  as  punishments  (for  moral
transgressions. Wulfstan's intense feeling and  his  mastery  of  oratorical
style raise his Sermon to the English above the more  conventional  ones  of
the time warning about an imminent end of the world.
    So by the end of ancient period  English  had  been  established  as  a
literary language with a polish and versatility  unequalled  among  European

" a (Ancient English Prose) "