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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

And provide free space for the Anglo Saxon community


Alfred is a marvellous phenomenon: suffering from a disease which sometimes broke out with violence, and which he never ceased to feel for a single day of his life, he not merely withstood the extreme of peril at that moment so big with ruin, but also founded a system of resistance throughout the kingdom, in which his arms so worked together by sea and land that each new band of Vikings betook themselves again to their ships, and those that had already penetrated into the country, gave way step by step. We remark with interest how, under Alfred and his children, his son who succeeded him, and his manlike daughter, the protecting fortresses advance from place to place, and provide free space for the Anglo-Saxon community. The culture already existing, the whole future of which had been saved by Alfred, attained in him its fullest development. How many years had passed since the hour when an illuminated initial letter gave him his first taste for a book, before he could master even the elementary branches of knowledge! then he devoted his whole efforts to instil new life into the studies that had almost perished, and to give them a national character. He not merely translated a number of the later authors of antiquity, whose works had contributed most to the transmission of scientific culture; in the episodes which he interweaves in them he shows a desire for knowledge that reaches far beyond them; but especially we find in them a reflective and thoughtful mind, solid sense at peace
with itself, a fresh way of viewing the world, a lively power of observation. This King introduced the German mind with its learning and reflection into the literature of the world; he stands at the head of the prose-writers and historians in a German tongue--the people's King of the most primeval kind, who is also the teacher of his people. We know his laws, in which extracts from the books of Moses are combined with restored legal usages of German origin; in him the traditions of antiquity are interpenetrated by the original tendencies of the German mind. We completely weaken the impression made on us by this great figure, so important in his first limited and arduous efforts, by comparing him with the brilliant names of antiquity. Each man is what he is in his own place.

Though the Anglo-Saxon monarchy wanted that element of authority which the kings of other German tribes drew from the Roman government by transmission or succession, yet it had strengthened itself, like the others, by union with the Church. Alfred, too, was at Rome in his boyhood: it stood him in good stead that he had been anointed, and, as men said, adopted by a Roman pope. In the reconquest of the land, Church ideas had played an important part. It was impossible to drive out the invading foes, they could only be held in check; never would they have submitted to the Anglo-Saxon commonwealth had they not at the same time been converted to Christianity. Nothing, moreover, contributed more to this than the effort, which was then the order of the day in the Christian world, to base the organisation of the Church on monasticism: from Italy this tendency spread to Germany, from South France to North, from thence to England, where it produced its greatest effect. Now the power of conversion is inherent only in sharply-defined doctrines; and it was precisely this tendency that penetrated the Northern natures: the sons of the Vikings became the champions of monachism; to the fury with which the fathers had destroyed the monasteries succeeded in the sons a zeal to restore them. And in what good stead this stood the Anglo-Saxon kings! The kingly power obtained, through the splendour which the union with religion bestowed on its victorious arms, a reverential recognition by the old native population as well as by the invaders.

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