The Northern Way


Page 4

The revival of good taste and of good sense, and of the good old custom adopted by most nations of the civilised world -- that of writing their own history in their own language -- was happily exemplified at length in the laborious works of our English chroniclers and historians.

Many have since followed in the same track; and the importance of the whole body of English History has attracted and employed the imagination of Milton, the philosophy of Hume, the simplicity of Goldsmith, the industry of Henry, the research of Turner, and the patience of Lingard. The pages of these writers, however, accurate and luminous as they generally are, as well as those of Brady, Tyrrell, Carte, Rapin, and others, not to mention those in black letter, still require correction from the "Saxon Chronicle"; without which no person, however learned, can possess anything beyond a superficial acquaintance with the elements of English History, and of the British Constitution.

Some remarks may here be requisite on the CHRONOLOGY of the "Saxon Chronicle". In the early part of it (32) the reader will observe a reference to the grand epoch of the creation of the world. So also in Ethelwerd, who closely follows the "Saxon Annals". It is allowed by all, that considerable difficulty has occurred in fixing the true epoch of Christ's nativity (33), because the Christian aera was not used at all till about the year 532 (34), when it was introduced by Dionysius Exiguus; whose code of canon law, joined afterwards with the decretals of the popes, became as much the standard of authority in ecclesiastical matters as the pandects of Justinian among civilians. But it does not appear that in the Saxon mode of computation this system of chronology was implicitly followed. We mention this circumstance, however, not with a view of settling the point of difference, which would not be easy, but merely to account for those variations observable m different MSS.; which arose, not only from the common mistakes or inadvertencies of transcribers, but from the liberty which the original writers themselves sometimes assumed in this country, of computing the current year according to their own ephemeral or local custom. Some began with the Incarnation or Nativity of Christ; some with the Circumcision, which accords with the solar year of the Romans as now restored; whilst others commenced with the Annunciation; a custom which became very prevalent in honour of the Virgin Mary, and was not formally abolished here till the year 1752; when the Gregorian calendar, commonly called the New Style, was substituted by Act of Parliament for the Dionysian. This diversity of computation would alone occasion some confusion; but in addition to this, the INDICTION, or cycle of fifteen years, which is mentioned in the latter part of the "Saxon Chronicle", was carried back three years before the vulgar aera, and commenced in different places at four different periods of the year! But it is very remarkable that, whatever was the commencement of the year in the early part of the "Saxon Chronicle", in the latter part the year invariably opens with Midwinter-day or the Nativity. Gervase of Canterbury, whose Latin chronicle ends in 1199, the aera of "legal" memory, had formed a design, as he tells us, of regulating his chronology by the Annunciation; but from an honest fear of falsifying dates he abandoned his first intention, and acquiesced in the practice of his predecessors; who for the most part, he says, began the new year with the Nativity (35).

Having said thus much in illustration of the work itself, we must necessarily be brief in our account of the present edition. It was contemplated many years since, amidst a constant succession of other occupations; but nothing was then projected beyond a reprint of Gibson, substituting an English translation for the Latin. The indulgence of the Saxon scholar is therefore requested, if we have in the early part of the chronicle too faithfully followed the received text. By some readers no apology of this kind will be deemed necessary; but something may be expected in extenuation of the delay which has retarded the publication. The causes of that delay must be chiefly sought in the nature of the work itself. New types were to be cast; compositors to be instructed in a department entirely new to them; manuscripts to be compared, collated, transcribed; the text to be revised throughout; various readings of great intricacy to be carefully presented, with considerable additions from unpublished sources; for, however unimportant some may at first sight appear, the most trivial may be of use. With such and other difficulties before him, the editor has, nevertheless, been blessed with health and leisure sufficient to overcome them; and he may now say with Gervase the monk at the end of his first chronicle,

     "Finito libro reddatur gratia Christo." (36)

Of the translation it is enough to observe, that it is made as literal as possible, with a view of rendering the original easy to those who are at present unacquainted with the Saxon language. By this method also the connection between the ancient and modern language will be more obvious. The same method has been adopted in an unpublished translation of Gibson's "Chronicle" by the late Mr. Cough, now in the Bodleian Library. But the honour of having printed the first literal version of the "Saxon Annals" was reserved for a learned LADY, the Elstob of her age (37); whose Work was finished in the year 1819. These translations, however, do not interfere with that in the present edition; because they contain nothing but what is found in the printed texts, and are neither accompanied with the original, nor with any collation of MSS.


(32) See A.D. xxxiii., the aera of Christ's crucifixion, p. 23, and the notes below. Back

(33) See Playfair's "System of Chronology", p. 49. Back

(34) Playfair says 527: but I follow Bede, Florence of Worcester, and others, who affirm that the great paschal cycle of Dionysius commenced from the year of our Lord's incarnation 532 -- the year in which the code of Justinian was promulgated. "Vid. Flor. an." 532, 1064, and 1073. See also M. West. "an." 532. Back

(35) "Vid. Prol. in Chron." Bervas. "ap. X." Script. p. 1338. Back

(36) Often did the editor, during the progress of the work, sympathise with the printer; who, in answer to his urgent importunities to hasten the work, replied once in the classical language of Manutius: "Precor, ut occupationibus meis ignoscas; premor enim oneribus, et typographiae cura, ut vix sustineam." Who could be angry after this? Back

(37) Miss Gurney, of Keswick, Norfolk. The work, however, was not published. Back

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