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HUE AND CRY AFTER CHLORIS,
(From “ Select Ayres,” printed for J. Playford, 1669.)
Tell me, ye wandering spirits of the air,
Go search the valleys, pluck up every rose,
But stay awhile, I have inform’d you ill;
As it was a principal object of this Miscellany, to collect such a series of early poetry as should exhibit specimens of our language through all its gradations, it may, perhaps, be convenient to the reader to bring into one point of view, the various conclusions or conjectures which these specimens have suggested. These are dispersed through the first volume of the work, so as to form a succinct and intelligible, if not a satisfactory, history of the formation and early progress of the English language.
The Saxon conquerors of this country, having been converted to Christianity, towards the close of the sixth century, appear to have engaged in the pursuit of learning, with the usual eagerness of proselytes. Great numbers of them, travelling to Rome, in quest of religious truth, distinguished themselves by their zeal and industry, and, returning to their own country, brought with thein considerable stores of such learning, as that age could furnish. At a time when single books were estimated so highly, as to form no trifling part of a valuable patrimony, large libraries were founded at Weremouth, in Northumberland, at Hexham, at York, and other places; and the writings of Venerable Bede, of · Alcuinus, and many other scholars who issued from these seminaries, excited universal and merited admiration.
But the scholars of the eighth century, communicating only with each other, and taking little interest in the concerns of such of their fellowcreatures as were unable to express their happiness or misery in Greek or Latin, do not seem to have produced very extensive benefits to mankind. So much of life was wasted in acquiring erudition, that little remained for the application of it; and, as nature seldom produces a long suc
cession of prodigies, learning expired with its first · professors. Alfred is said to have lamented that,
in his youth, very few priests, south of the Humber, understood the ordinary service of the church; and that he knew none, south of the Thames, who were capable of turning a piece of Latin into Saxon.
It may perhaps have been matter of regret to this great monarch that he was unable to naturalize among his subjects the languages of Greece and Rome, which he considered as the depositaries of much useful information ; but, by translating into