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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

§ 9. Gregory’s Dialogues

The West Saxon translation of Gregory’s Dialogues owed its inspiration directly to Alfred. The authorship of the translation has never been called in question; both Asser and William of Malmesbury attribute it to Werferth, bishop of Worcester, who undertook the task at the king’s bidding. The book is partly in dialogue form. Gregory is found by his deacon, Peter, sitting “in a solitary place, very fit for a sad and melancholy disposition.” The stories which Gregory proceeds to tell, serve to relieve his mind of its weight of thought. The monk, Martinius, impresses the sign of the cross upon a hearth-cake with a motion of the hand; a sweet fragrance miraculously arises from the grave of count Theophanius; bishop Frigidianus turns the course of the Serchio by marking out its bed with a rake. Book II is exclusively devoted to St. Benedict. The collection was an attempt to complete the accepted lives of the saints by a recital of miraculous deeds performed in Italy. Towards the end of the book Gregory leaves Italy and tells the story of St. Hermenegild and his brother king Recarede. The preface, in the Oxford and Cambridge MSS., is the work of the king and is thus of particular interest—

  • I, Alfred, by God’s grace, dignified with the title of king, have perceived and often learnt from the reading of sacred books, that we, to whom God hath given so much worldly honour, have particular need to humble and subdue our minds to the divine laws in the midst of wordly cares; accordingly, I besought my faithful friends that they would write down out of holy books concerning the miracles of the saints the following narrative; that I, strengthened in my mind by admonition and love, might think upon spiritual things in the midst of my worldly cares.
  • The MSS. of the Dialogues have given rise to interesting problems. The Cambridge and British Museum types are closely related and stand apart from that of Oxford. From this fact Krebs deduced the theory that the Dialogues were translated on two separate occasions. A more careful comparison of the MSS. has shown that they are all derived from a single original, of which the Oxford type represents a revised version.

    The West Saxon Martyrology may be ascribed to Alfred’s reign. Cockayne was of opinion that the oldest MS.—that in the British Museum—dates from the ninth century. It is noteworthy that the saints referred to belong either to the period preceding the king’s reign or to the reign itself. Another proof of the age of the collection is the fact that under 5 August Oswald is described as buried at Bardney, though his body was moved to Gloucester soon after Alfred’s death. The story of St. Milus (15 November) seems to have been derived from the east. The Leech-book attests Alfred’s relations with Elias, the patriarch of Jerusalem, whose rule extended from 897 to 907. The Martyrology is incomplete, but it extends from 31 December to 21 December