Anglo-Saxon prose is earnestly practical and instructionally religious. Contrasted with Anglo-Saxon poetry, it reveals no originality of thought or of emotion but is remarkably free from its parallelisms, inversions, periphrases, and excessive use of metaphor and epithet. Loose in its compound sentence structure, common in its simple sentence arrangement, if somewhat stiff, it was generally direct and clear, forceful, occasionally rhythmical.
Alfred, the Great,(848-901), King of Wessex(871-901), is called the Father of English prose. To give impetus to the development of English letters and culture at a time when the English social and political life was in utter disarray owing to the Danish invasions, Alfred began a series of translations from Latin works. In this he was assisted by Bishop Asser of Sherbourne. These translations include Pope Gregory’s Cura Pastoralis (“Pastoral Care”) which defends Alfred’s use of the vernacular; Historia Universalis (“History of the World”) by Orosius, intended by the author to refute the view that the sack of Rome in 410 A.D. was provoked by the wrath of the Pagan gods at the triumph of Christianity, and virtually made into a new book by Alfred who condensed the original and also added original matter like geographical details about Germany and reports of sea-farers like Ohthere; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People-an over-literal translation in which un-English constructions are not infrequent; The Consolations of Philosophy by Boethius. The central doctrine of the work sets forth the problem of Fate and Free Will. Alfred’s translation is somewhat free but is his most important work, which propels the lofty thoughts of the original by vivid figures of speech.
Alfred took liberties with his translations, condensing the material or expanding it by interpolating original matter. While his language is occasionally long and involved, it is, on the whole, simple, direct, and non-ornamental.