Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Of the Manners of the Anglo-Saxons after their Occupation

of England.

CH A P. I.

On their Infancy, Childhood, and Names.

I.

SUCH

CH were the people who possessed themselves of the CHAP.

south part of Britain during the fifth and sixth centuries; and it may amuse us now to consider that the human character has seldom displayed qualities more inauspicious to the improvement of intellect or of inoral character. They were bands of fierce, ignorant, idolatrous, and superstitious pirates, enthusiastically courageous, but habitually cruel. Yet from such ancestors a nation has, in the course of twelve centuries, been forned, which, inferior to none in every moral and intellectual merit, is superior to every other in the love and possession of useful liherty: a nation which cultivates with equal success the elegancies of art, the ingenious labours of industry, the energies of war, the researches of science, and the richest productions of genius.

BOOK

VIII.

This improved state has been slowly attained under the discipline of very diversified events. The first gradation of the happy progress was effected during that period, which it is the object of this work to elucidate.

The Anglo-Saxons must have been materially improved in their manners and mental associations by the internal state of Britain at the time of their invasion.

They came among a people who, for above three centuries, had been the obedient subjects of the Roman government; to whom the peaceful acquisition and enjoyment of regular property had become familiar; who had cultivated the luxuries which create a distaste for war, and love of indolent tranquillity; and whose country abounded with those works of art, that distribution of wealth, and those articles of convenience, which a rude mind cannot contemplate without feeling new wants, and expecting new comforts; without having its curiosity agitated, and its comprehension enlarged. It is true that the feuds which followed the departure of the Romans had disturbed the prosperity of the island, and the struggles with the Saxons must have spread much devastation. But the monuments and the fruits of the preceding civilization, though diminished, were not destroyed. After all the disorders of the period, Gildas still boasts of the island containing twenty-eight cities and some castles, with houses, walls, gates, and towers;' and from the ruins of Caerlleon, as they continued even to the twelfth century, when they were seen by Giraldus, we may form some notion of the interior improvements of Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. He says, “ It was elegantly built by the Romans with brick walls.

Many vestiges of its ancient splendour are yet remaining; stately palaces, which formerly, with their gilded tiles, dis

played the Roman grandeur. It was first built by the “ Roman nobility, and adorned with sumptuous edifices, an

exceeding ligh tower, remarkable hot baths, ruins of ancient

· Gildas, p. 1.

66

1.

temples and theatres, encompassed with stately walls, partly CILA P.

yet standing. Subterraneous edifices are frequently met “ with, not only within the walls, which are about three miles " in circumference, but also in the suburbs, as aqueducts, “ vaults, hypocausts, and stoves.”_

We learn from Tacitus, that so early as the first century, the Romans applied themselves to civilize the Britons. The intelligent Agricola endeavoured to draw the natives froin their dispersed population to those enjoyments of civilized life which tempt mankind to peace and leisure. For this purpose he exhorted and assisted them to build houses, forums, and temples; he urged the nobles to have the minds of their sons imbued with the liberal arts, and to cultivate their talents by rhetorical studies.' The Britons submitted to the pleasing yoke of civilization : the Roman costume became fashionable; and the luxuries of their baths, porches, and entertainments, were valued and imitated. These facts will enable us to conceive that the Britons had become so much more advanced in the improvements of arts, knowledge, and luxury, than their fierce invaders, as to have been useful instruments in mitigating their barbarous customs, and accelerating their civilization.

The first great change in the Anglo-Saxons appeared in the discontinuance of their piracies. They ceased to be the ferocious spoilers of the ocean and its coasts; they became landowners, agriculturists, and industrious citizens; they seized and divided the acquisitions of British influence, and made the commonalty of the island their slaves. Their war-leaders became territorial chiefs; and the conflicts of capricious and sanguinary robbery were exchanged for the possession and inheritance of property in its various sorts; for trades and manufactures; for useful luxuries, peaceful industry, and domestic comfort.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

BOOK
VIII.

We will proceed to consider them as they displayed their manners and customs during their occupation of England, and before the Norman conquest introduced new institutions.

Their tenderest and most helpless years were under the care of females. The gratitude of Edgar to his nurse appears, from his rewarding with grants of land the noble lady, wife of an ealdorman, who had nursed and educated him with maternal attention. This was not unusual : Ethelstan, an AngloSaxon ætheling, says, in his will, “ I give to Alfswythe, my “ foster-mother, for her great deservingness, the lands at

Wertune, that I bought of my father for two hundred and “ fifty mancusa of gold by weight."

They had infant baptism : hence the Saxon homily says, " though the cild for youth may not speak when men baptize 6 it."

They were enjoined to baptize their children within thirty days after birth.' They baptized by immersion; for when Ethelred was plunged in, the royal infant disgraced himself. They used the cradle. It is mentioned in the laws, of a person of the dignity of a gesithcund man, that when he travelled he might have with him his gerefas, his smith, and his child's nurse.' Kings sometimes stood as godfathers, and their laws so venerated this relationship as to establish, peculiar provisions to punish the man who slew another's godson or godfather. On the death of the father, the children were ordered to remain under the care of the mother, who was to provide them with sustenance; for this she was to be allowed six shillings, a cow in summer, and an ox in winter; but his relations were to occupy the frum-stol, the head seat, until the boy became of age."

The Northmen were in the habit of exposing their children. The Anglo-Saxons seem not to have been unacquainted with this

* Tha cild the læg on tham cradele, ibid,

p. 145.

• Hist. Rames. 3 Gale, x. Script. 387. 405.

s Sax. Dict. App.
6 Wanley, Catal. Sax. p. 196.
7 Wilkins Leg. Anglo-Sax. p. 14h

9 Wilkins, p. 25.
10 Ibid. p. 26.
" Ibid. p. 20.

1

I.

14

inhumanity; as one of the laws of Ina provides, that for the CHAP fostering of a foundling six shillings should be allowed the first year, twelve the next, thirty the third, and afterwards according to his wlite, or his personal appearance and beauty."

Bede mentions, that their period of infancy ended with the seventh year, and that the first year of their childhood began with the eighth." In the early stage, he exhibits the person of whom he speaks as amusing himself with his play-fellows in the tricks and sports of his age, but as excelling in his dexterity, and in his

power

of

pursuing them without fatigue." It is hardly worth a line to remark, that the Anglo-Saxon child must have resembled every other : restless activity without an object, sport without reasoning, grief without impression, and caprice without affectation, are the usual characteristics of our earliest years in every age and climate.

As the Arglo-Saxons were not a literary people, it is natural that their childish occupations should be the exercises of muscular agility. Leaping, running, wrestling, and every contention and contortion of limb which love of play or emulation could excite, were their favourite sports. Bede describes his hero as boasting of his superior dexterity, and as joining with no small crowd of boys in their accustomed wrestlings in a field, where, as usual, he says, they writhed their limbs in various but unnatural flexures."

The names of the Anglo-Saxons were imposed, as with us, in their infancy, by their parents. In several charters it is mentioned, that the persons therein alluded to had been called from their cradles by the names expressed, and which they had received, “ not from accident, but from the will of is their parents."

Their names seem to have been frequently compound words, rather expressive of caprice than of appropriate meaning. The appellation of Mucil,“ large,” which Alfred's wife's

[ocr errors]

12 Wilkius, p. 19.
13 Bede Fit. Cuthb. 2. 1. p. 229.

1+ Bede, ibid.

15 Ibid. p. 270. 16 MS. Claud. B. vi. p. 34 et 6?, &c.

« PreviousContinue »