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The Literary Contributions of King Alfred the GreatOur understanding of the literary achievements of King Alfred depend very muchupon what we believe about his early education If we are content to accept the stories ofAsser the famous biographer of Alfred that he reached his twelfth birthday before helearned to read Keynes 75 then we must reckon his literary career as a phenomenonwhich can only be described not explained Or if that is not satisfactory we maycompare him in his adult life to his grandfathers Egbert contemporary Charles the Baldgrandson of Charlemange who being illiterate knew the value of learning andsurrounded himself with educated men Collins 297As a child Alfred received little formal training or schooling He did possess ahighly retentive memory and particularly enjoyed listening to the court bards recitingpoetry One day his mother holding a fine manuscript book in her hand said to Alfredand his elder brothers I will give this book to whichever of you can learn it mostquickly Although he could not read Alfred was greatly attracted to the book and wasdetermined to own it Forestalling his brothers he took it to his teacher who read it tohim He then went back to his mother and repeated the entire book from memory to herFadiman 14 Keynes 75 This talent was the foundation of Alfreds later reputation as ascholar translator and patron of learningAs Alfreds role as king and patron began he solemnly noted on several occasionshis disappointment in the state of educational opportunity in England Formerly theKing wrote bitterly men came hither from foreign lands to seek for instruction and nowwhen we desire it we can only obtain it from abroad Collins 329 Smyth 249-250 Buthis efforts were far from being imprisoned within his own island He sent shipmasters tothe seas and coasts of the continent and surrounding islands in search of dialogue withothersIt was with the Franks from central Europe present day Germany France andsurrounding countries that his dealings were closest
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