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
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
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
Having mastered his vernacular, the prince
then undertook the learning of Latin, the