Even on the assumption that the existing verses are a retranslation, it would still be certain that they differ very slightly from what the original must have been. It is of course possible to hold that the story of the dream is pure fiction, and that the lines which Baeda translated were not Caedmon's at all. But there is really nothing to justify this extreme of scepticism. As the hymn is said to have been Caedmon's first essay in verse, its lack of poetic merit is rather an argument for its genuineness than against it. Whether Baeda's narrative be historical or not - and it involves nothing either miraculous or essentially improbable - there is no reason to doubt that the nine lines of the Moore MS. are Caedmon's composition.

This poor fragment is all that can with confidence be affirmed to remain of the voluminous works of the man whom Baeda regarded as the greatest of vernacular religious poets. It is true that for two centuries and a half a considerable body of verse has been currently known by his name; but among modern scholars the use of the customary designation is merely a matter of convenience, and does not imply any belief in the correctness of the attribution. The so-called Caedmon poems are contained in a MS. written about A.D. 1000, which was given in 1651 by Archbishop Ussher to the famous scholar Francis Junius, and is now in the Bodleian library. They consist of paraphrases of parts of Genesis, Exodus and Daniel, and three separate poems the first on the lamentations of the fallen angels, the second on the "Harrowing of Hell," the resurrection, ascension and second coming of Christ, and the third (a mere fragment) on the temptation. The subjects correspond so well with those of Caedmon's poetry as described by Baeda that it is not surprising that Junius, in his edition, published in 1655, unhesitatingly attributed the poems to him.

The ascription was rejected in 1684 by G. Hickes, whose chief argument, based on the character of the language, is now known to be fallacious, as most of the poetry that has come down to us in the West Saxon dialect is certainly of Northumbrian origin. Since, however, we learn from Baeda that already in his time Caedmon had had many imitators, the abstract probability is rather unfavourable than otherwise to the assumption that a collection of poems contained in a late 10th century MS. contains any of his work. Modern criticism has shown conclusively that the poetry of the "Caedmon MS." cannot be all by one author. Some portions of it are plainly the work of a scholar who wrote with his Latin Bible before him. It is possible that some of the rest may be the composition of the Northumbrian herdsman; but in the absence of any authenticated example of the poet's work to serve as a basis of comparison, the internal evidence can afford no ground for an affirmative conclusion. On the other hand, the mere unlikeness of any particular passage to the nine lines of the Hymn is obviously no reason for denying that it may have been by the same author.

The Genesis contains a long passage (ii. 235-851) on the fall of the angels and the temptation of our first parents, which differs markedly in style and metre from the rest. This passage, which begins in the middle of a sentence (two leaves of the MS. having been lost) is one of the finest in all Old English poetry. In 1877 Professor E. Sievers argued, on linguistic grounds, that it was a translation, with some original insertions, from a lost poem in Old Saxon, probably by the author of the Heliand. Sievers's conclusions were brilliantly confirmed in 1894 by the discovery in the Vatican library of a MS. containing 62 lines of the Heliand and three fragments of an old Saxon poem on the story of Genesis. The first of these fragments includes the original of 28 lines of the interpolated passage of the Old English Genesis. The Old Saxon Biblical poetry belongs to the middle of the 9th century; the Old English translation of a portion of it is consequently later than this.

As the Genesis begins with a line identical in meaning, though not in wording, with the opening of Caedmon's Hymn, we may perhaps infer that the writer knew and used Caedmon's genuine poems. Some of the more poetical passages may possibly echo Caedmon's expressions; but when, after treating of the creation of the angels and the revolt of Lucifer, the paraphrast comes to the Biblical part of the story, he follows the sacred text with servile fidelity, omitting no detail, however prosaic. The ages of the antediluvian patriarchs, for instance, are accurately rendered into verse. In all probability the Genesis is of Northumbrian origin. The names assigned to the wives of Noah and his three sons (Phercoba, Olla, Olliua, Olliuani[2]) have been traced to an Irish source, and this fact seems to point to the influence of the Irish missionaries in Northumbria.

The Exodus is a fine poem, strangely unlike anything else in Old English literature. It is full of martial spirit, yet makes no use of the phrases of the heathen epic, which Cynewulf and other Christian poets were accustomed to borrow freely, often with little appropriateness. The condensation of the style and the peculiar vocabulary make the Exodus somewhat obscure in many places. It is probably of southern origin, and can hardly be supposed to be even an imitation of Caedmon.

The Daniel is often unjustly depreciated. It is not a great poem but the narration is lucid and interesting. The author has borrowed some 70 lines from the beginning of a poetical rendering of the Prayer of Azarias and the Song of the Three Children, of which there is a copy in the Exeter Book. The borrowed portion ends with verse 3 of the canticle, the remainder of which follows in a version for the most part independent, though containing here and there a line from Azarias. Except in inserting the prayer and the Benedicite, the paraphrast draws only from the canonical part of the book of Daniel. The poem is obviously the work of a scholar, though the Bible is the only source used.

The three other poems, designated as "Book II" in the Junius MS., are characterized by considerable imaginative power and vigour of expression, but they show an absence of literary culture and are somewhat rambling, full of repetitions and generally lacking in finish. They abound in passages of fervid religious exhortation. On the whole, both their merits and their defects are such as we should expect to find in the work of the poet celebrated by Baeda, and it seems possible, though hardly more than possible, that we have in these pieces a comparatively little altered specimen of Caedmon's compositions.

Of poems not included in the Junius MS., the Dream of the Rood (see Cynewulf) is the only one that has with any plausibility been ascribed to Caedmon. It was affirmed by Professor G. Stephens that the Ruthwell Cross, on which a portion of the poem is inscribed in runes, bore on its top-stone the name "Cadmon";[3] but, according to Professor W. Vietor, the traces of runes that are still visible exclude all possibility of this reading. The poem is certainly Northumbrian and earlier than the date of Cynewulf. It would be impossible to prove that Caedmon was not the author, though the production of such a work by the herdsman of Streanaeshalch would certainly deserve to rank among the miracles of genius.

Certain similarities between passages in Paradise Lost and parts of the translation from Old Saxon interpolated in the Old English Genesis have given occasion to the suggestion that some scholar may have talked to Milton about the poetry published by Junius in 1655, and that the poet may thus have gained some hints which he used in his great work. The parallels, however, though very interesting, are only such as might be expected to occur between two poets of kindred genius working on what was essentially the same body of traditional material.

The name Caedmon (in the MSS. of the Old English version of Baeda written Cedmon, Ceadmann) is not explicable by means of Old English; the statement that it means "boatman" is founded on the corrupt gloss liburnam, ced, where ced is an editorial misreading for ceol. It is most probably the British Cadman, intermediate between the Old Celtic Catumanus and the modern Welsh Cadfan. Possibly the poet may have been of British descent, though the inference is not certain, as British names may sometimes have been given to English children. The name Caedwalla or Ceadwalla was borne by a British king mentioned by Baeda and by a king of the West Saxons. The initial element Caed - or Cead (probably adopted from British names in which it represents catu, war) appears combined with an Old English terminal element in the name Caedbaed (cp., however, the Irish name Cathbad), and hypocoristic forms of names containing it were borne by the English saints Ceadda (commonly known as St Chad) and his brother Cedd, called Ceadwealla in one MS. of the Old English Martyrology. A Cadmon witnesses a Buckinghamshire charter of about A.D. 948.

The older editions of the so-called "Caedmon's Paraphrase" by F. Junius (1655); B. Thorpe (1832), with an English translation; K.W. Bouterwek (1851-1854); C.W.M. Grein in his Bibliothek der angelsächsischen Poesie (1857) are superseded, so far as the text is concerned, by R. Wülker's re-edition of Grein's Bibliothek, Bd. ii. (1895). This work contains also the texts of the Hymn and the Dream of the Rood. The pictorial illustrations of the Junius MS. were published in 1833 by Sir H. Ellis.

(H. Br.)

[1] It is a significant fact that the Alfredian version, instead of translating this sentence, introduces the verses with the words, "This is the order of the words."

[2] The invention of these names was perhaps suggested by Pericope Oollae et Oolibae, which may have been a current title for the 23rd chapter of Ezekiel.

[3] Stephens read the inscription on the top-stone as Cadmon mae fauaepo, which he rendered "Cadmon made me." But these words are mere jargon, not belonging to any known or possible Old English dialect.