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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.

VI. Alfred and the Old English Prose of his Reign

§ 6. The metres in Alfred’s Boethius

Much discussion has arisen with regard to the authorship of the alliterative metres which are to be found in the British Museum MS. of Boethius (Otho A. 6). The younger MS. at Oxford contains a prose version of these metres. It is generally agreed that the verse renderings are based, not on the Latin directly, but on a West Saxon prose version. In the British Museum MS. the text is preceded by two prefaces, one of which is in alliterative verse; the other, in prose, attributes the metres to Alfred. Thomas Wright was the first to doubt the king’s authorship of the metres, but his arguments have been largely disproved. Leicht was able to bring forward a more formidable case. While admitting the weakness of Wright’s argument, he contended that the case for Alfred’s authorship rests on an unsound basis. He agreed with Ten Brink in the opinion that the preface ascribing the verses to Alfred is not authentic, and maintained that the king, in attempting to render his own prose into verse, would scarcely have clung so closely to his model as is the case. On the other hand, Hartmann has pointed out that Alfred’s skill in prose argues no facility in verse-making. The two poems in Cura Pastoralis have no more distinction than those in the British Museum MS. Again, there are certain expressions in this MS., not to be found in the Oxford type, which definitely refer to passages in the latter. The author of the verses appears to identify himself with the author of the prose translation. On the whole, the question must be left open, though it would seem that it rests with those who deny the king’s authorship to establish their case. It is known that Alfred was an enthusiast in regard to Old English verse, and it is not improbable that he was well acquainted with the verses of his kinsman, Aldhelm. A spirit of emulation may have led him to try his hand at versification.