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THE history of the Anglo-Saxon church has exercised the industry of several writers, whose researches and discoveries have been rewarded with the approbation of the public. It is not my wish to encroach upon their labours. With patient and meriti rious accuracy they have discussed and detailed the foundations of churches, the succession of bishops, the decrees of councils, and the chronological series of events. Mine is a more limited attempt, to describe the ecclesiastical polity and religious practices of our ancestors, the disciplinc, revenues, and learning of the clerical and monastic orders, and the more important revolutions, which promoted or impaired the prosperity of the AngloSaxon church.
Of these subjects I am not ignorant that some have been fiercely debated by religious polemics. The great event of the refo .nation, while it gave a new impulse to the powers, imbittered with .ncour the writings of the learned. Controversy pervaded ever; department of literature: and history, as well as the sister sciences, was alternately pressed into the service of the contending parties. By opposite writers the same facts were painted in opposite colours : unfavourable circumstances were carefully concealed, or artially disguised. and the nien, whom tie catholic exhibited as models of virtue and objects of veneration, the protestant condemned for their interested real, their pride, their ignorance, and their superstition. I will not deny, that the hope of acquiring additionai information nas induced me to peruse the
works of these partial advocates. But if I have sometimes listened to their suggestions, it has been with jealousy and caution. My object is truth: and in the pursuit of truth, I have made it a religious duty to consult the original historians. Who would draw from the troubled stream, when he may drink at the fountain head ?
It may, perhaps, be expected that I should offer an apology for the freedom with which I have occasionally noticed the mistakes of preceding historians. It is certainly an ungracious, but, I think, a useful office. On almost every subject the public mind is guided by the wisdom or prejudices of a few favourite writers : their reputation consecrates their opinions; and their errors are received by the incautious reader as the dictates of truth. On such occasions to be silent is criminal, as it serves to perpetuate deception : and to contradict, without attempting to prove, may create doubt, but cannot impress conviction. As often, therefore, as it has been my lot to dissent from our more popular historians, I have been careful to fortify my own opinion by frequent references to the sources, from which I have derived my information. No writer should expect to obtain credit on his bare assertion: and the reader, who wishes to judge for himself, will gratefully peruse the quotations, with which I have sometimes loaded the page. To the Anglo-Saxon extracts, when their importance seemed to demand it, is subjoined a literal translation. The knowledge of that language, though an easy, is not a common acquirement. If I am not deceived a by natuwal, but, I.trust, venial partiali
. ty, the subject which Ichive.undertaken to. Jejicidate, is in itself highly curious and interesting. The Anglo-Saxons were originally hordes of ferocious pirates. By religion they were reclaimed from savage life, and faiged to a degree of civilization, which,
at one period, excited the wonder of the other nations of Europe. The following pages are destined to describe the nature and the practices of that religion, the duties and qualifications of its ministers, and the events which confirmed its influence over the minds of its professors. Such researches, whatever may be the nation to which they refer, are pleasing to an inquisitive reader. When they relate to our own progenitors, they will be perused. with additional interest.
I must however acknowledge, that I am far from being satisfied with the performance. On several subjects my information has been necessarily incomplete. After the revolutions of more than a thousand years, the records of Anglo-Saxon antiquity can exist only in an imperfect and mutilated state. If much has been preserved, much also has been lost. To collect and unite the scattered fragments, has been my wish and endeavour : but in despite of every exertion, many chasms will be discovered, which it was impossible to supply. If the deficiency of the materials be not admitted as a sufficient apology, the reader must accuse the skill of the artist : his industry, he trusts, may defy reproof, and on it he rests his only claim to commendation.