EGBERT, king of the West Saxons, who reigned at Winchester, is counted as the first king of all England. His four grandsons had dreadful battles with the Danes all their lives, and the three eldest died quite young. The youngest was the greatest and best king England ever had,—Alfred the truth-teller. As a child Alfred had excited the hopes and admiration of all who saw him; and while his brothers were busy with their sports, it was his delight to kneel at his mother's knee, and recite to her the Saxon ballads which his tutor had read to him, inspiring him, at that early age, with the ardent patriotism and the passionate love of literature which rendered his character so illustrious. He was only twenty-two years old when he came to the throne, and the kingdom was over-run everywhere with the Danes. In the northern part some had even settled down, and made themselves at home, and more kept coming over in ships; so that though Alfred beat them in battle again and again, there was no such thing as driving them away. At last he had so very few faithful men left with him that he thought it wise to send them away; and hide himself in the Somerset shire marsh country. There is a pretty story told of him, that he was hidden in the hut of a poor herdsman, whose wife, thinking he was a poor wandering soldier, as he sat by the fire mending his bow and arrows, desired him to turn the cakes she had set to bake upon the hearth. Presently she found them burning, and cried out angrily, "Lazy rogue! You can't turn the cakes, though you can eat them fast enough."

However, that same spring, the brave English gained more victories; Alfred came out of his hiding place, and gathering them all together, beat the Danes, so that they asked for peace. He said he would allow those who had settled in the north of England to stay there, provided they would become Christians; and he stood god-father to their chief, and gave him the name of Ethelatane.

After this, Alfred had stout English ships built to meet the Danes at sea before they could come and land in England; and thus he kept them off; so that for all the rest of his reign, and that of his son and grandsons, they could do very little mischief, and for a time left off coming at all, but went to rob other countries that were not so well guarded by brave kings.

But Alfred was not only a brave warrior. He

was a most good and holy man, who feared God above all things, and tried to do his very best for his people. He made good laws for them, and took care that every one should be justly treated, and that nobody should do his neighbor wrong without being punished. So many abbeys had been burnt, and the monks killed by the Danes, that there were hardly any books to be had, or scholars to read them. He invited learned men from abroad, and wrote and translated books himself for them; and he had a school in his house, where he made the young nobles learn with his own sons. He built up the churches, and gave alms to the poor; and he was always ready to hear the troubles of any poor man. Though he was always working so hard, he had a disease that used to cause him terrible pain almost every day.

His last years were less peaceful than the middle ones of his reign, for the Danes tried to come again; but he beat them off by his ships at sea, and when he died at fifty-two years of age, in the year 901, he left England at rest and quiet, and we always think of him as one of the greatest and best kings who ever reigned in England, or in any other country. As long as his children after him and his people went on in the good way he had taught them, all prospered with them, and no enemies hurt them; and this was all through the reigns of his son, his grandson, and great grandsons.—



Young Folks' History of England.