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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Alfred’s Preface to the Version of Pope Gregory’s ‘Pastoral Care’
By Alfred the Great (849–899)
 
KING ALFRED bids greet Bishop Wærferth with his words lovingly and with friendship; and I let it be known to thee that it has very often come into my mind, what wise men there formerly were throughout England, both of sacred and secular orders; and what happy times there were then throughout England; and how the kings who had power of the nation in those days obeyed God and his ministers; and they preserved peace, morality, and order at home, and at the same time enlarged their territory abroad; and how they prospered both with war and with wisdom; and also the sacred orders, how zealous they were, both in teaching and learning, and in all the services they owed to God; and how foreigners came to this land in search of wisdom and instruction, and how we should now have to get them from abroad if we would have them. So general was its decay in England that there were very few on this side of the Humber who could understand their rituals in English, or translate a letter from Latin into English; and I believe there were not many beyond the Humber. There were so few that I cannot remember a single one south of the Thames when I came to the throne. Thanks be to God Almighty that we have any teachers among us now. And therefore I command thee to do as I believe thou art willing, to disengage thyself from worldly matters as often as thou canst, that thou mayst apply the wisdom which God has given thee wherever thou canst. Consider what punishments would come upon us on account of this world if we neither loved it (wisdom) ourselves nor suffered other men to obtain it: we should love the name only of Christian, and very few of the virtues.  1
  When I considered all this I remembered also how I saw, before it had been all ravaged and burnt, how the churches throughout the whole of England stood filled with treasures and books, and there was also a great multitude of God’s servants; but they had very little knowledge of the books, for they could not understand anything of them, because they were not written in their own language. As if they had said, “Our forefathers, who formerly held these places, loved wisdom, and through it they obtained wealth and bequeathed it to us. In this we can still see their tracks, but we cannot follow them, and therefore we have lost both the wealth and the wisdom, because we would not incline our hearts after their example.”  2
  When I remembered all this, I wondered extremely that the good and wise men, who were formerly all over England, and had perfectly learnt all the books, did not wish to translate them into their own language. But again, I soon answered myself and said, “They did not think that men would ever be so careless, and that learning would so decay; therefore they abstained from translating, and they trusted that the wisdom in this land might increase with our knowledge of languages.”  3
  Then I remember how the law was first known in Hebrew, and again, when the Greeks had learnt it, they translated the whole of it into their own language, and all other books besides. And again, the Romans, when they had learnt it, they translated the whole of it through learned interpreters into their own language. And also all other Christian nations translated a part of them into their own language. Therefore it seems better to me, if ye think so, for us also to translate some books which are most needful for all men to know, into the language which we can all understand, and for you to do as we very easily can if we have tranquillity enough; that is, that all the youth now in England of free men, who are rich enough to be able to devote themselves to it, be set to learn as long as they are not fit for any other occupation, until that they are well able to read English writing: and let those be afterward taught more in the Latin language who are to continue learning and be promoted to a higher rank. When I remember how the knowledge of Latin had formerly decayed throughout England, and yet many could read English writing, I began among other various and manifold troubles of this kingdom, to translate into English the book which is called in Latin ‘Pastoralis,’ and in English ‘Shepherd’s Book,’ sometimes word by word and sometimes according to the sense, as I had learnt it from Plegmund, my archbishop, and Asser, my bishop, and Grimbold, my mass-priest, and John, my mass-priest. And when I had learnt it as I could best understand it, and as I could most clearly interpret it, I translated it into English; and I will send a copy to every bishopric in my kingdom; and on each there is a clasp worth fifty mancus. And I command, in God’s name, that no man take the clasp from the book or the book from the minister: it is uncertain how long there may be such learned bishops as now, thanks be to God, there are nearly everywhere; therefore, I wish them always to remain in their place, unless the bishop wish to take them with him, or they be lent out anywhere, or any one make a copy from them.  4
 
 
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