« PreviousContinue »
than sin should vanquish him, who spent his life and early wore out his strength in ceaseless labours for the spiritual and temporal good of his people, is left to secular history. We may well be thankful that monastic ingenuity has been exhausted on St. Neot rather than on his royal kinsman, and that such stories as that of restoring broiled fish to life, and bending a wild stag's neck to the yoke of the plough, have been withheld from the memory of England's first and perhaps her purest hero. Happily for him, Alfred himself, as well as the ecclesiastical historians, looked on St. Neot as the saint, "not as other men,” and on himself as "the sinner” needing
needing “mercy," and thankful for the chastisement that assailed his sins. Grand as an old Greek statue amidst a theatrical
of waxwork; simple as a Bible story amidst a mass of monkish legends, the history of King Alfred comes down to us. Neither the splendour nor the gloom of the Middle Ages is upon it.
Most expressive is the silence with which the biographers of mediæval saints have done homage to this holy memory. He built monasteries; he endowed churches; he honoured the great ecclesiastical metropolis of Rome. He translated Pope Gregory's Pastorals, full of legends after the monk's own heart, for the benefit of his clergy. But his own life was set by a higher standard, and nourished by deeper springs than these narratives could reach.
His bones, desecrated by no embalmer's arts into a poor monastic mummy, have been suffered to
mingle with the dust of the country he saved. If any perfume hangs about his tomb, it is that of the fresh grass and lowly wild flowers, with which the earth honours the remains committed trustfully to her sole keeping. His memory, profaned by no decorating hands of theatrical historian or legendary chronicler, comes home to our hearts, not as that of the canonized saint or the crowned hero, but of the faithful husband and father, the generous foe, the true friend, the devoted patriot, the Christian king, in himself all that he desired as the elements of a kingdom—“the prayer-man, the army-man, and the work-man.”
Silently he passes into the eternal world to which so many of his thoughts had arisen, his death but one simple unrecorded act of his patient and obedient life.
Of ordinary vanity he seems to have been absolutely destitute. His chief literary works (except his laws) were translations, for the good of his people; and the noble original thoughts and eloquent original words, by which we see into his own niind, are hidden among the thoughts he translated, without any distinctive claim, only to be disentangled from these by a careful comparison of the translation with the book translated.
In thinking of all he was and all he accomplished, it is scarcely possible to avoid running into a panegyric, which would be an insult to that grand and simple character.
We must turn to his own confessions, recorded by liis friend Asser, to learn what were his faults. From his own words we may best understand the purpose of his life. “I have desired,” he says, “to live worthily while I lived, and after my life to leave the men that should be after me a remembrance in good works." His ambition, to live worthily; his monument, good works. How lofty the simple words are! Duty, not romantic achievement, is the aim of his life; not to do “some great thing, but the right thing; the righĩ thing being simply what God gave him to do. The subtle spiritual vanity, which makes some lives a disappointment and a failure, seems to have been absent from his. He seems to have felt in his inmost being that each man was sent into the world, not to be like some one else, but to do his own work, and bear his own burden, precisely the one work which God has given him, and which can never be given to or done by any other.
The great Christian ideal, not to do this or that work, but to do God's will, seems to have been his. He aimed not to live remarkably, but worthily; and so, unconsciously, he became Alfred the "Great," wept in every Saxon home, throughout the bad and bitter days of the early Norman conquest, as the Shepherd and Darling of England; honoured by Saxon, Dane, and Norman, as the man who could be trusted-Alfred, the Truth-teller.
From Sketches of Christian Life in England in the Olden Time.
THE POPLAR FIELD.
THE poplars are fell’d, farewell to the shade
years have elapsed since I last took a view
The blackbird has fled to another retreat
My fugitive years are all hasting away,
THE GREAT PYRAMID.*
THE ascent of the Great Pyramid is rather a laborious task. The great blocks of stone form a series of steps of unequal height, varying from two to four or five feet. A tribe of Arabs occupying a village at the foot claim the right to assist travellers. Their sheikh 1 levies a tribute of two shillings upon each person making the ascent, and appoints two or three of his people to help him up. The difficulty is thus materially diminished, and the magnificent view from the summit-even finer, in some respects, than that from the Citadelamply repays the traveller for the toil he has undergone. The desert stretches to the verge of the horizon. A narrow valley, inclosed by the Lybian and the Mokattam Mountains, runs to the southward. In the centre of this valley the noble river is seen winding along, with a belt of verdure on either side. The emerald green of the cultivated soil contrasts finely with the red of the mountains and the tawny sand of the desert. The pyramids of Sakkara, the palm groves of Mitrahenny, Cairo, with its innumerable minarets and cupolas, and the Citadel seated on its rocky height above the city, make up a picture which can scarcely be equalled, and which once seen can never be forgotten.
From The Land of the Pharaohs. By kind permission of the Religious Tract Society.