Old English Prose: Alfred, Aelfric and Wolfstein

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     In the history of any literature, poetry has made its first appearance long before the first prose was written down in the history of Old English literature also poetry has arrived first. The Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain brought with them their own poetry, but there is no evidence of their having possessed any literary prose tradition. The development of Old English prose does not, therefore, go back to the earlier Germanic origin, as poetry does. English Prose takes place wholly in England and largely as a result of the Christianisation of England. Behind the rise of English Prose three names are chiefly remembered they are King Alfred of Wessex, his companion and contemporary Aelfric and Wolfstein.

Behind the rise of English Prose three names, King Alfred, Aelfric and Wolfstein.
Old English Prose

      King Alfred :- In the political history of the Anglo Saxon King Alfred is a renowned name. At the same time, his name is forever associated with the evolution of English prose literature. No other single name of that remote period has so much contribution to the development of old English literature. It is to him that English prose owns its origin and growth. It is due to his writing effort that the loose, detached prose of the period become a solid and complete literature.

      Alfred's contribution to the development of Anglo-Saxon prose is marked in and three fold way. First Alfred developed the Anglo-Saxon chronicle and he had enriched the entire chronicle with necessary historical facts. Secondly, King Alfred had contributed a lot to the development of old English prose by his translation. As a translator, he is chiefly remembered for Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English", Gregory's "Cura Pastoralis", Orosius's The History of the World. And finally, Alfred also translated Saint. Augustine's "Soliloquy" at the same time immensely enriched the old English dialects. Thus Alfred's literacy achievement is of immense significance and for his unique contribution to the making of old English prose. He is justly regarded as the father of English prose.

     Aelfric :- Of the makers of Anglo Saxon prose the name of Aelfric comes next to that of Alfred. A solid foundation for old English prose was found by Alfred and Alfred added to its perfection and force. Aelfric as an another of the teutonic age had increased the entire bulk of old English prose literature. His contribution to Old English prose is manifested mainly in the two way. In the first place he tried to develop English prose with his attempt to instruct Latin to his people. His two notable works are 'Colloquium' and 'Catholic Homilies'. Aelfric also attempted to write a Latin English dictionary. Secondly, Aelfric is found to have immensely developed the style of Anglo-Saxon prose literature.

      Wolfstein :- Anglo-Saxon prose had its solid basis under the pioneering achievement of the great English King Alfred. It was further developed by Aelfric and finally, with the writing of Wolfstein, the circle of old English prose and its development was completed. Wolfstein was an artist and he added to the growth of the english prose style. A new forceful artistic shape he is famous war 'Letters' addressed to the English is acclaimed still now as a remarkable specimen of Anglo Saxon prose. This reveals his patriotic zeal as well as impulsive mood of writing. Wolfsaint's other remarkable work is 'Homilies' which contain some reach instructive passage.

      Poetry was the predominant type in Anglo-Saxon literature. Regular prose was of a late development. Hence prose works in old English were very rare. The few specimens left of early prose are not far removed from poetry as regards spirit and form. Subject-matter treated was of an epic character and the style was formless, abrupt and non-continuous and sometimes alliterative like poetry. This sort of poetic prose continued till the ninth century. Then under the Latin influence brought through the priest, a regular prose with essential features began to develop. The object of this early prose literature was not to delight and please but simply to inform and instruct. So it moved in all the two channels - history and chronicle, sermon and homily. King Alfred and his followers contributed to the first type and clerks like Aelfric and Wulfstan contributed to the second.

      Alfred belonged to the later ninth and beginning of the tenth century. Father of English prose, he himself translated and encouraged others to translate Latin works in order to civilize his people. Works attributed to him are Chronicles of Winchester and Translation of the Universal History of Orosius. Works executed under his guidance include Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English, Gregory's Cura Pastoralis and Consolation of Boethius. Under Alfred's influence old English prose was freed from ornamentation and became simple, smooth and regular.

      Alfred's literary work was interrupted for about a century. Degenerate priests continued a sort of prose with strong secular tendencies. Aelfric and Wulfstan brought about a reformation in prose style. Aelfric wrote in the earlier eleventh century. Works attributed to him are (1) Colloquium for teaching Latin by Conversation first English dictionary ; (2) Homilies. These are compilations and translations from church fathers. Aelfric's prose unlike Alfred's is meant to be spoken and has therefore a rhythm. It is divided in sections frequently alliterative. It marked an advance over Alfred's prose in aiming at beauty, measure and harmony and being remarkably clear and finished.

      Wulfstan wrote at the time of Danish invasion during the early eleventh century. In his 'homilies' he deplores with deep feeling the immortality of the people to which he attributes the misfortunes of the country. Wulfstan is less of a finished prose writer than Aelfric but popular emphasis of his language gives it color and lovely tones.

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