Слике страница


THE Anglo-Saxons breakfasted at nine o'clock. This meal consisted probably of bread, meat, and ale, but was a lighter repast than that taken when the hurry of the day lay behind. It was eaten often in the bower. Between breakfast and noon-meat at three lay the most active period of the day. Let me picture a few scenes in Anglo-Saxon life, as displayed in the chief occupations of the time.

Leaving the ladies of his household to linger among the roses and lilies of their gardens, or to ply their embroidering needles in some cool recess of the orchard, festooned with broad vine leaves and scented with the smell of apples, the earl or thane went out to the porch of his dwelling, and, sitting there upon a fixed throne, gave alms to a horde of beggars, or presided over the assembly of the local court.

Autumn brought delightful days to the royal and noble sportsmen of Anglo-Saxon England. Galloping down from his home, perched, as were all great Saxon houses, on the crest of a commanding hill, the earl, with all care or thought of work flung aside, dashed with his couples of deep-chested Welsh hounds into the glades of a neighbouring forest, already touched with the red and gold of September. Gaily through the shadowy avenues rang the music of the horns, startling red deer and wild boars from their coverts in the brushwood. Away after the dogs, maddened by a fresh scent, goes the gallant hunt-past swine-herds with their goads, driving vast herds of pigs into the dales, where beech-mast and acorns lie thick upon the ground-past wood-cutters, hewing fuel for the castle fire or munching their scanty meal of oaten bread about noon; nor is bridle drawn until the game, antlered or tusked, has rushed into the strong nets spread by attendants at some pass among the trees. Then knife or spear does its bloody work. Among the Anglo-Saxons, as among the Normans and the English of a later day, the bow was a favourite weapon

[blocks in formation]

in the deer-forest. When better game proved scarce, they shot or netted hares.

Hawking long held the place of our modern shooting. Even the grave and business-like Alfred devoted his pen to this enticing subject. And we can well understand the high spirits and merry talk of a hawking party, cantering over rustling leaves, all white and crisp with an October frost, on their way to the reedy mere, where they made sure of abundant game. On each rider's wrist sat a hooded falcon, caught young, perhaps in a dark pine-wood of Norway, and carefully trained by the falconer, who was no unimportant official in an Anglo-Saxon establishment. Arrived at the water, the party broke into sets; and as the blue heron rose on his heavy wing, or a noisy splashing flight of ducks sprang from their watery rest, the hood was removed, and the game shown to the sharp-eyed bird, which, soaring loose into the air from the up-flung wrist, cleft his way in pursuit with rapid pinion, rose above the doomed quarry, and descending with a sudden swoop, struck fatal talons and yet more fatal beak into its back and head, and bore it dead to the ground. A sharp gallop over the broken surface had meantime brought the sportsman up in time to save the game, and restore the red-beaked victor to his hood and perch.

But hunting and hawking were the pastimes of the rich. While fat deer fell under the hunter's dart, and blue feathers strewed the banks of lake and river, the smith hammered red iron on his ringing anvil the carpenter cut planks for the mead-bench or the bower-wall, or shaped cart-wheels and plough-handles for the labours of the farm-the shoemaker, who also tanned leather and fashioned harness, plied his busy knife and needle-the furrier prepared skins for the lining of stately robes-and in every cloister monks, deep in the mysteries of the furnace, the graving-tool, the paint-brush, and a score of similar instruments, manufactured the best bells, crucifixes, jewellery, and stained glass then to be found in the land.

The Anglo-Saxon farmers were rather graziers than tillers of the soil. Sheep for their wool, swine for their flesh, kine for their beef and hides, dotted the pastures and grubbed in the forests

near every steading. But there was agriculture too. A picture of an Anglo-Saxon farm-house would present, though of course in ruder form, many features of its modern English successor. Amid fields, often bought for four sheep an acre, and scantily manured with marl after the old British fashion, stood a timbered house, flanked by a farm-yard full of ox-stalls, and stocked with geese and fowl. A few bee-hives-the islands of the sugar-cane not being yet discovered-suggested a mead-cask always well filled, and a good supply of sweatmeats for the board; while an orchard, thick with laden boughs, supplied pears and apples, nuts and almonds, and in some districts figs and grapes. From the illustrations of an Anglo-Saxon manuscript we know something of the year's farm-work. January saw the wheel of the iron plough drawn down the brown furrows by its four oxen, harnessed with twisted willow ropes or thongs of thick whale-skin. They dug their vineyards in February, their gardens in March. In April, when seed-time was past, they took their ease over horns of ale. May prepared for the shearing of the wool. June saw the sickles in the wheat; July heard the axe among the trees.* In August barley was mown with scythes. In September and October hounds and hawks engrossed every day of good weather. Round November fires farming implements were mended or renewed; and the whirling flail, beating the grain from its husk, beat also December chills from the swiftly-running blood. We find in the threshing scene a steward, who stands keeping count, by notches on a stick, of the full baskets of winnowed grain which are pouring into the granary.

Ships came from the Continent to Anglo-Saxon England, laden with furs and silk, gems and gold, rich dresses, wine, oil, and ivory; bearing back, most probably, blood-horses, wool for the looms of Flanders, and in earlier times English slaves for the markets of Aix-la-Chapelle and Rome. The backward condition of trade may be judged from a law which enacted that no bargain should be made except in open court, in presence of the sheriff, the mass-priest, or the lord of the manor. Merchants, travelling

It is thought that the artist has here transposed June and July by mistake.

in bands for safety, and carrying their own tents, passed round the different country towns at certain times, when holiday was kept and village sports filled the green with noisy mirth. The wives and daughters of Anglo-Saxon cottages loved bright ribands and showy trinkets, after the fashion of their sex. So while Gurth was wrestling on the grass or grinning at the antics of the dancing bear, Githa was investing her long-hoarded silver pennies in some strings of coloured beads or an ivory comb. Close to the merchant or peddler (if we give him the name which best expresses to modern ears the habit of his life) stood an attendant with a pair of scales, ready to weigh the money in case of any considerable sale. Slaves and cattle formed, in early Saxon days, a common medium of exchange. Whenever gold shone in the merchant's sack, it was chiefly the Byzantine gold solidus, shortly called Byzant, worth something more than nine of our shillings. Silver Byzants, worth two shillings, also passed current; and in earlier times Roman money, stamped with the heads of emperors, found its way into Saxon and Anglian purses.

By the Anglo-Saxon a journey was never undertaken for mere pleasure, for many perils beset the way. The rich went short journeys in heavy waggons, longer journeys on horseback-the ladies riding on side-saddles as at present. But most travelling was performed afoot. Horsemen carried spears, for defence against robbers or wild beasts; pedestrians held a stout oak staff, which did double work in aiding and defending the traveller. The stirrup was of an odd triangular shape, the spur a simple spike. A cover wrapped the head; a mantle, the body of travellers. That they sometimes carried umbrellas we know; but these were probably very rare, being confined, like gloves, to the very highest class.

Plenty of ale-houses, in which too much Anglo-Saxon time was spent, filled the towns; but in country districts inns were scarce. There were indeed places, like the Eastern caravanserai, where travellers, carrying their own provisions, found a refuge from wind and rain by night within bare stone walls, the patched-up ruins, perhaps, of an old Roman villa or barrack, which afforded a cheer

less shelter to the wearied, dripping band. But the hospitality of the Anglo-Saxons, implanted both by custom and by law, not after the narrow modern fashion of entertaining friends, who give parties in return, but the welcoming to bed and board of all comers, known and unknown, caused the lack of inns to be scarcely felt, except in the wilder districts of the land. No sooner did a stranger show his face at the iron-banded door of an Anglo-Saxon dwelling than water was brought to wash his hands and feet; and when he had deposited his arms with the keeper of the door, he took his place at the board among the family and friends of the host. For two nights no question pried into his business or his name; after that time the host became responsible for his character. There were few solitary wayfarers; for the very fact of being alone excited suspicion, and exposed the traveller to the risk of being arrested, or perhaps slain, as a thief.


The central picture in Anglo-Saxon life-the great event of the Anglo-Saxon day-was Noon-meat or dinner in the great hall. A little before three the chief and all his household, with any stray guests who might have dropped in, met in the hall, which stood in the centre of its encircling bowers-the principal apartment of every Saxon house. Clouds of wood-smoke, rolling up from a fire which blazed in the middle of the floor, blackened the carved and gilded rafters of the arched roof before it found its way out of the hole above, which did duty as a chimney. Tapestries of purple dye, or glowing with variegated pictures of saints and heroes, hung, or, if the day was stormy, flapped upon the chinky walls. In palaces and earls' mansions coloured tiles, wrought like Roman tessera into a mosaic, formed a clean and pretty pavement; but the common flooring of the time was of clay, baked dry with the heat of winter evenings and summer noons. The only articles

« ПретходнаНастави »