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classic language of his times. He became a

skillful translator and sought diligently to

improve the taste of his people by rendering the works of the Latin authors into

the Anglo-Saxon vernacular. He urged the

same work upon the scholars who frequented

his court, and on one occasion addressed

to the bishops of the kingdom an earnest

appeal, in which he recommended that all

good and useful books be translated into

the language which we all understand; so

that all the youths of England, but more

especially those who are of gentle kind and

easy circumstances, may be grounded in

letters-for they can not profit in any pursuit until they are well able to read English.

The king was not by any means content

with the culture of his court. He availed

himself of every opportunity to sow the seeds

of enlightenment in all parts of the kingdom.

He conceived the grand project of popular

education, and his work in this. respect far

surpassed that of Charlemagne in France.

On his accession to the throne the outlook for

English culture was by no means encouraging.

The seats of learning had been ravaged by the

Danes. The once flourishing schools of Northumberland were either destroyed or had fallen

into decay. The ignorance of the English

people was amazing for its grossness. At the

time of the death of Ethelred there was

scarcely a professional teacher in all Wessex,

and the Anglo-Saxon language could not

boast of a single text-book. In his efforts to

organize public schools the king was obliged

to send to Mercia for teachers, and

even in that kingdom none were

found competent for the work except

the priests. A few instructors were

brought over from France. Bishop

Asser, upon whom Alfred most relied

in the prosecution of his educational

enterprises, was a Welshman. In order to supply the text-books necessary

for his people, the king recommended

the translation of works already existing in Latin or French; and thus by

precept and example he sought to

implant in the nascent mind of England the fundamentals of culture and


The reputation of King Alfred as

a diligent scholar, no less than a warlike sovereign, is as wide as the fame

of the English race. It is a matter

of surprise how, amid the arduous

duties of government and the dangers and disasters of war, this benign

sovereign found time and opportunity

for those laudable pursuits in which

he so greatly delighted. Nothing

but the most methodical division

of his time could have enabled him,

with the meager facilities at his command,

to make so great progress in scholarship and


The greatest of King Alfred's works as an

author are his translations of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy and of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English. Measured by modern standards, neither of these works

would be considered preeminent as a translation. The king sought to reproduce the

spirit rather than the letter of the original.

The work of Boethius was rendered by