Caedmon or Cedmon
Caedmon Or Cedmon, an Anglo-Saxon Benedictine and poet, born in Northumberland, died at Whitby in 676 or 680. He is' the first person of whom we possess any metrical composition in our vernacular. It is a kind of ode, of eighteen lines, celebrating the praises of the Creator, preserved in Alfred's translation of Bede. "Bede gives the following account. Caedmon seems to have had the care of the cattle of the monks of Whitby. It appears to have been the custom of our Saxon forefathers to amuse themselves at supper with improvisatore descants accompanied by the harp, as is still practiced at meetings of the Welsh bards. Caedmon, when the harp passed round among the guests, was fain, as it approached him, to shrink away from the assembly and retire to his own house. Once, after it had thus happened, as he was sleeping at night, some one seemed to say to him, 'Cadmon, sing me something.' 'He replied, 'I cannot sing;' and he told how his inability to sing had been the cause of his quitting the hall. 'Yet thou must sing to me,' said the voice. 'What must I sing?' said he. 'Sing me the origin of things.' The subject thus given him, he composed the short ode in question. When he awoke, the words were fast in his mind. Caedmon in the morning told his vision and repeated his song. The effect was, that the abbeas Hilda, and the learned men whom she had collected round her in her monastery at Whitby, believed that he had received from heaven the gift of song, and when on the morrow he returned with a poetic paraphrase of a passage of Scripture which they had given him to versify as a test of his inspiration, they at once acknowledged the verity, and earnestly besought him to become a member of their company. He composed numerous poems on sacred subjects, which were sung in the abbey. Sacred subjects were his delight, and to them he confined himself. He continued in the monastery for the remainder of his life, and there he died, as is conjectured, about 680. The authenticity of the little poem above mentioned is perhaps unquestionable. But, besides this, a very long Saxon poem, which is a metrical paraphrase on parts of the Scriptures, is attributed to Caedmon. An edition of it was printed at Amsterdam in 1655, under the care of Junius. Hickes expresses doubts whether this poem can be attributed to so early a period as the time of Caedmon. He thinks he perceives certain Dano: Saxonisms in it which would lead him to refer it to a much later period.' It has been again printed, with a much more accurate text, by Mr. Thorpe, as a publication by the Society of Antiquaries (Lond. 8vo, 1832). Mr. Thorpe is of opinion that it is substantially the work of Cedmon, but with some sophistications of a later period, and in this opinion our best Anglo-Saxon scholars appear inclined to coincide." — Penny Cyclopvadia, s.v.; Hoefer, Biographie Generale, 8:84.