Hesperian student / (Lincoln [Neb.]) 1872-1885, October 05, 1887, Page 3, Image 3

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    THE HESPERIAN,
1
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ENGLISH CULTURE PROM BEDE TO sELFRIC.
England in the middle of the seventh century consisted of
seven kingdoms, and war and devastation were the order of
the day. Occasionally a stronger kingdom would conquer.
Then a period of quiet would prevail; but it was only the
quiet that pccccds the storm, for suddenly and without warn
ing some kingdom would rise in revolt. In such a state of
things it Is easy to sec that civil improvement would he little
thought of the terrible struggle for cxis'tence swallows up
for the time all national public energy.
At this time Northumbria was in the height of its (tower.
The king Ecglrith undertook the extension of his northern
boundary. The expedition was a disastrous failure. As
sailed on the north by the l'icts, and by the king ofMerciaon
the south, Northumbria barely saved herself from ruin. The
bloody encounter of Wodensburh in 714, divided the country
into three provinces of about equal power. As time wore on
Mcrcia seemed to be gaining the ascendancy. National af
fairs were tending toward a national unity; but the work of
Northumbria was foiled by the resistance of Mercia, the work
of Mcrcia by the opposition of Wesscx. A threefold division
seemed to have stamped itself upon England, with powers so
nearly equal that no efforts of one or the other could fuse
them into one people. Only when the Northmen began to
descend upon them can wc And any trace of a national feel
ing. From this lime to the close of our period 1006 the
whole national strength was strained to drive back the fierce
Vikings.
Having briefly traced the political divisions of the country,
we now go back to take up rhe great underlying principles
that even the fierceness of the Northmen could not conquer.
Early in the struggle with Rome the Christian religion was
introduced. Missionaries went about from place to place,
preaching and teaching. At this time education and Chris
tianity went hand in hand. As Christianity gained ground
the desire for knowledge grew. Monasteries sprang up in
many places, Northumbria, although fallen from its political
prestige, still remained a great power in learning. Under the
reign of Aldfrith and Ceolwulf this kingdom became the
great literary centre of western Europe. Yarrow and York
were the most famous schools of that time and the whole lit
erary life of the age seemed to be embodied in one man, the
"Venerable" Bede. Born in 673, about ten years after Rome
had completed the conquest over Iona and four years after
Theador had arrived at Canterbury to complete the ecclesias
tical conquest, his religious character and teachings must have
had a great influence on the bent of thought in England. His
power to impart knowledge to others was wonderful. At
one time the schools of Yarrow and York contained over six
hundred students. This, with a knowledge of the times,
shows plainly how the ignorance of heathendom was rapiply
giving way for the light of Christianity, It is probable that
had the Anglo-Saxons been unmolested this growing
culture would have given England, at the close of the ninth
century, a civilization far in advance of the times.
Bede left his countrymen a rich legacy of educationa1
works; all we really know of the century and a half after the
landing of Augustine is from him. First am6ng English
scholars, historians and theologians, it is in Bede that English
literature strikes its roots. Green says: "In the six hundred
scholars who gathered around him for instruction he is the
father of England's national education." After his death
advancement stopped. Only in mid-England did order and
peace remain. 1,
Wherever they set their foot progress; of every kind stopped,
culture was blasted and civilization died away. But fortu
nately for civilization Providence had raised up a man who
possessed the ability to use the shattered forces of his realm
to expel the Northmen. For twenty-six years Alfred strug
gled with the pirates. During this time education was much
neglected. The Anglo-Saxon had all he could do to maintain
his own existence. Still the tone of their culture was slowly
rising. The Christian missionaries at times won some of the
Danes to their cause. Their natural bitterness made them
difficult to convert and prone to relapse. Their energy and
indomitable courage made them valuable when thoroughly
converted.
When Alfred succccdrd in driving the Danes back England
was almost a smoking ruin. In Mcrcia and Northumbria the
pirate's sword had left few sunivors of the school of Bede.
In Wesscx, which so far had been the most ignorant of the
piovinccs, affairs were still worse. Its condition is best shown
by Alfred's own words: "When I began my reign I cannot re
member of one priest south of the Thames who could render
his service book into English." Scarcely had the last pirate
ship disappeared when Alfred began a moral and intellectual
restoration. Destroyed monasteries were rebuilt, and in
structors from other lands were hired to teach. Nor did Al
fred fail to do his share of the work- He took the looks as
he then found them and translated them into Anglo-Saxon,
enriching them with ideas and illustrations of his own.
Throughout all his works we can sec his aversion to display.
Through his labors the whole face of English literature was
changed. Before his lime England possessed in her own
tongue a few songs, one great poem, and no prose.
In addition to these literary labors he sent out exploring
parties in the White sea, along the coasl of Esthonia, and
also along the southern coasts. In the face of the ruined con
dition of the country these facts arc significant. They show
that the minds of the Anglo-Saxons were becoming enlarged
and directed to inquiry concerning lands and people far be
yond their own.
The remaining portion of our period is little less than a
series of military campaigns. However, in the periods of
peace that now and then prcvailed,we can trace the smoulder
ing fires of Anglo-Saxon culture. The Northmen had failed
in the purpose of their conquest, but they had done a power
ful work. In their struggle with the Englishmen they cre
ated an English people. Burn arid plunder as they would,
the Anglo-Saxon culture held the Northmen in check.
Only a brief account of the writers of this period has been
left us. The internal confusion again became great. Culture
began to fall from the height it had reached in Alfred's time.
But under the guidance of that master mind the threads of
Anglo-Saxon culture were so closely interwoven that they
stood the test. Alfred, when he began to struggle against
the ignorance of his own countrymen, commenced a warfare
that was destined to conquer the world.
PROGRESS IN METHOD.
The old fashioned way of memorizing a text boot iii order
to deliver it in a manner worthy of a parrot to the imuuclor
has lost ground wonderfully of late years. Especially is this
true in the study of the science.. In chemistry the instructor
instead of as formerly performing the experiments before the
class, who looked on much as small boys at a sleight-of-hand
show, acts as a helper or guide, supplying that which th(stu
dent cannot himself discover. By this method the interestiis
increased because of the pleasure which always comes from
discovery, and the facts demonstrated are fixed much more
W