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Page 34

CHAPTER I
FIFTH TO ELEVENTH CENTURIES - EARLY ENGLISH PERIOD

Priests pronounced the words in their Latin mass books, but very few could understand the language and put a Latin letter into English. The only hope of England lay in her king. It was happy for her that her king was Alfred the Great, and that this sovereign who could fight battles of swords and spears was of equal courage and wisdom in the warfare against ignorance. In his childhood he had visited Rome, perhaps spent several years in that city. He had paid a long visit to the Frankish court of Charlemagne's son. He had seen what knowledge could do, and he meant that his own people should have a chance to learn. Then it was that France repaid England for the loan of Alcuin, for priests who had been taught in the schools which he had founded were induced to cross the Channel and become the teachers of the English.
There were few English books, however, and there was no one to make them but this busy King; and just as simply as Bede had taken up his pen - to write a history of the land, so Alfred set to work to translate books for his kingdom. Among the books that he translated were two that must have been of special interest to the English, Bede's Ecclesiastical History, and a combined history and geography of the world, written nearly five hundred years before Alfred's day by a Spanish monk called Orosius. The latter had long been a favourite school-book in the convents ; but, naturally, a geography that was five hundred years old was in need of revision, and Alfred became not only a translator but a reviser. He never forgot that he was writing for his people, and whenever he came to an expression that would not be clear to them, he either explained

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