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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

VII. From Alfred to the Conquest

§ 3. Blickling Homilies

It is possible that the Blickling Homilies, so called because the MS. is preserved at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, were also due to this religious revival. They are nineteen in number, but several are incomplete, and some are mere fragments. The earlier homilies are sermons, properly so called; but the later are largely narrative in character, and are based on legendary sources.

The style of these homilies stands midway between the style of Alfred and that of Aelfric; it is more developed than the one, more primitive than the other; it is rude, vehement and homely, more indulgent of legend and shows the primitive love for recitative; the syntax is clumsy, and the vocabulary often archaic. On the other hand the treatment is sometimes very poetical, though this characteristic appears rather in simile and metaphor than in rhythm of structure. “The redness of the rose glitters in thee, and the whiteness of the lily shines in thee,” says Gabriel to Mary; and Heaven is pictured as a place where there “is youth without age; nor is there hunger nor thirst, nor wind nor storm nor rush of waters.” The palm branch in the hand of the angel who announces to the Virgin her approaching death is “bright as the morning star,” and the Lord appears to Andrew with a face “like that of a fair child.” Equally poetical are the passages that deal with more sombre themes, such as doomsday, the lamentation of the lost at the harrowing of hell and the vision of St. Paul of the souls clinging to the cliffs from which the devils sought to drag them away. Morris has pointed out that there is a good deal of similarity between this last passage and the well-known lines in Beowulf which describes the “rimy groves” which grew above the abyss where Grendel had his home. But exactly similar descriptions are found in all other versions of this aged legend Aelfric, it is true, rejected the legend on critical grounds, but the coming centuries were to see it become the basis of a masterpiece of the world’s poetry. Comparisons of these Old English legends with their sources and cognate branches lead to the conclusion that the poetic element which was inherent in them could scarcely be destroyed altogether, however poor the translation might be.

The probable date of these homilies is towards the close of the third quarter of the tenth century; they refer to the universal belief, based on a misunderstanding of the Talmudic metaphor prevailing throughout the Revelation of St. John, that the year 1000 would see the end of the world; and one of them, the eleventh, contains a statement to the effect that it was composed in 971. This date cannot be accepted as indisputably that of the whole collection; the passage may be an interpolation, and, moreover, there is nothing to prove that all the homilies were composed at the same time, or by one writer.