Aldhelm, St.

, an English divine, was bishop of Shireburn in the time of the Saxon heptarchy, and in the eighth century. William of Malmesbury says that he was the son of Kenred, or Kenter, brother of Ina king of the West-Saxons. He was born at Caer Bladon, now Malmesbury, in Wiltshire. He had part of his education abroad in France and Italy, and part at home under Maildulphus, an Irish Scot, who had built a little monastery where Malmesbury now stands. Upon the death of Maildulphus, Aldhelm, by the help of Eleutherius bishop of Winchester, built a stately monastery there, and was himself the first abbot. When Hedda, bishop of the WestSaxons, died, the kingdom was divided into two dioceses; viz. Winchester and Shireburn, and king Ina promoted Aldhelm to the latter, comprehending Dorsetshire, Wiltshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall: he was consecrated at Rome by pope Sergius I. and Godwin tells us that he had the courage to reprove his holiness for having a bastard. Aldhelm, by the directions of a diocesan synod, wrote a book against the mistake of the Britons concerning the celebration of Easter, which brought over many of them to the catholic usage in that point. He likewise wrote a piece, partly in prose and partly in nexameter verse, in praise of virginity, dedicated to Ethelburga abbess of Barking, and published amongst Bede’s Opuscula, besides several other treatises, which are mentioned by Bale and William of Malmesbury, the latter of whom gives him the following character as a writer: “The language of the Greeks,” says he, “is close and concise, that of the Romans splendid, and that of the English pompous and swelling as for Aldhelm, he is moderate in his style; seldom makes use of foreign terms, and never without necessity; his catholic meaning is clothed with eloquence, and his most vehement assertions adorned with the colours of rhetoric: if you read him with attention, you would take him for a Grecian by his acuteness, a Roman by his elegance, and an Englishman by the pomp of his language.” He is | said to have been the first Englishman who ever wrote in Latin; and, as he himself tells us in one of his treatises on metre, the first who introduced poetry into EnglandThese things,” says he, “have I written concerning the kinds and measures of verse, collected with much labour, but whether useful I know not; though I am conscious to myself I have a right to boast as Virgil did:

I first, returning to my native plains,

Will bring the Aonian choir, if life remains.”

William of Malmesbury tells us, that the people in Aidhelm’s time were half-barbarians, and little attentive to religious discourses: wherefore the holy man, placing himself upon a bridge, used often to stop them, and sing ballads of his own composition: he thereby gained the favour and attention of the populace, and insensibly mixing grave and religious things with those of a jocular kind, he by this means succeeded better than he could have done by austere gravity. Aldhelm lived in great esteem till his death, which happened May the 25th, in the year 709.

Such is the account that has been commonly given of this extraordinary man. We shall now advert to some circumstances upon which modern research has thrown a new light. All the accounts represent Aldhelm as having been a very considerable man for the time in which he lived. It is evident, says Dr, Henry, from his works, which are still extant, that he had read the most celebrated authors of Greece and Rome, and that he was no contemptible critic in the languages in which these authors wrote. In the different seminaries in which he was educated, he acquired such a stock of knowledge, and became so eminent for his literature, not only in England but in foreign countries, that he was resorted to by many persons from Scotland, Ireland, and France. Artville, a prince of Scotland, sent his works to Aldhelm to be examined by him, and entreated him to give them their last polish, by rubbing off their Scotch rust. Besides the instructions which Aldhelm received from Maildulphus, in France and Italy, he had part of his education, and as it would seem the most considerable part, at Canterbury, under Theodore, archbishop of that city, and Adrian, the most learned professor of the sciences, who had ever been in England. The ardour with which he prosecuted his studies at that place, is well represented in a letter written by him to Hedda, | bishop of Winchester; which letter also gives a good account of the different branches of knowledge in the cultivation of which he was then engaged. These were, the Roman jurisprudence, the rules of verses ard the musical modulation of words and syllables, the doctrine of the seven divisions of poetry, arithmetic. LreMomy, and astrology. It is observable, that Aldhcim speaks in very pompous terms of arithmetic, as a high and difficult attainment: though it is now so generally taught, as not to be reckoned a part of a learned education. In apposition to what has been commonly understood, that Aldhelm was the first of the Saxons who taught his countrymen.tie art of Latin versification, Mr. Warton, in his History of Poetry, informs us, that Conringius, a very intelligent antiquary in this sort of literature, mentions in unonymous Latin poer, who wrote the life of Charlemagne in verse, and adds that he was the first of the Saxons that attempted-to write L<t in verse. But it ought to have been recollected, that Aldbeim died above thirty years before Charlemagne was born. Aidhelm’s Latin compositions, whether in prose or verse, as novelties, were deemed extraordinary performances, an,d excited the attention and adruiration of scholars in other countries. His skill in music has obtained for hhn a con-­siderable place in sir John Hawkins’s History of Music.

His works are, 1. “De octo vitiis principal! bus/ 5 extant in Canisius’s Bibliotheca Palrum. 2.” Enigmaturn versus inille,“”published with other of his poems by Martin Delrio at Mentz, 1601, 8vo 3. “A book addressed to a certain king of Northumberland, named Alfrid, on various subjects.” 4. “De vita Monaehorum.” 5. “De laude Sanctorum.” 6. “De Arithmctica.” 7. “De Astrologia.” 8. “On the mistake of the Britons concerning the celebration of Easter, printed by Sonius,1576. 9. “De laude Virginitatis,” published among Bede’s Opuscula besides many epistles, homilies, and sonnets, in the Saxon language. 1

1

Biog. Brit. Fox’s Acts, vol. I. p. 139. Cave, vol. I. Tanner. Warton’s Hist, of Poetry, vol. I. Dissert, p. 26. Brucker. —Saxii Onomasticon.