Page 1211

1211 THE AGE OF CHARLEMAGNE-ALFRED AND HIS SUCCESSORS.

distressed the British Islands. But the horrors of the plague counterbalanced the immunity from famine. Many of the best and

noblest Saxons, including not a few of the

most powerful Thanes in Wessex, were carried off. At the same time the murrain broke

out among the English cattle, so that death

in the city was answered by death in the field.

It was in the midst of these dangers, distresses, and sorrows that the virtues of

the greatest and wisest of the early English kings were tried in the fire and found pure

gold.

The career of Alfred was already drawing to a close. His labors in the camp, the

field, and the court were as unceasing as

those of Charlemagne; but the equable tempered English monarch was a man of far

finer fiber and mold than his great Frankish

contemporary. In his boyhood Alfred was

enfeebled by disease, and about the time of

reaching his majority he was attacked by

another and painful malady, which afflicted

him through life. Even in times of his greatest activity he was seldom free from pain.

Soon after the retirement of the Danes

from the kingdom, his health began rapidly

to decline. In the month of October, 901,

the good king, being then in the fifty-third

year of his age, died and was buried in the

monastery which he had founded at Winchester.

The estimate of the life and work of Alfred the Great can hardly be overdrawn. His goodness of character was acknowledged by his contemporaries and has been con-

firmed by the judgment of modern times.

His genius was equaled by his beneficence,

and his wisdom by his success. In his childhood he was carefully trained by his mother.

He accompanied his father through France

and Italy to Rome. Nor is it doubtful that,

though but eight years of age, his mind was

deeply impressed with the superiority of

the art and refinement of the South. One

year of his boyhood was spent in the Eternal City and one in Paris. The active mind

of the prince could but have been much

occupied with the painful contrast between

the colossal structures of stone in the old

and the new capital and the poor wooden

houses and low, mud huts of his own

country.

These episodes in the early life of the great

king, no doubt, did much to inspire within

him the love of letters. He conceived the

great project of raising his people from

barbarism and bringing them to the light.

He began this work with the cultivation of

his own mind. He listened with delight to

the gleemen as they recited in his father's

court the wild and warlike ballads' of the

Anglo-Saxons. He learned his country's

songs by heart, and his own poetic genius,

even in boyhood, was thus kindled into a

flame.

Having mastered his vernacular, the prince

then undertook the learning of Latin, the