EASTER, A.D. 843,
The Benedictine Convent in Seligenstadt on the Main.
To my dear wife and present sister in Christ,
Emma, from Eginhard, formerly secretary to Charles the Great, now a monk in Seligenstadt on the Main:
Passion-week is at an end, and the Resurrection days are here; spring has melted the frost; mind and memory have woken, and the past rises up again.
Yesterday, on Easter Eve, I walked in the convent garden, and thought of my vanished five and seventy years. I thought of the fine things which were said in the learned circle or academy of the Great Unforgettable, when we played with words and thoughts, like chess-players with their pieces.
“What is man?” asked our teacher, our wisest, Alcuin, whom we called Flaccus.
Angilbert, the Emperor’s son-in-law, the husband of the beautiful Bertha, answered, “Man is the slave of death, a flying traveller, a guest in his own dwelling.”
“Yes, truly,” I said to myself, “a guest; and soon I will pack my knapsack, pay my account, and journey on.”
I went along the river-bank and thought, “The same river, always the same river, but always new water; the same water never runs twice past. Such is life, such is the river of time, the heroes and events of history–the panorama of time, the years and the glory of them, all pass and perish.”
I then wished to pluck the first Easter lilies to send to you, who were once my wife, and went to the gardener down by the carp-pond. Whom did I meet on the path under the ivy, this plant of eternity, which only knows of death and birth, but not the changes of the seasons? I met the last survivor of the great days, of the Emperor’s Round Table, Thiodolf the Goth, now Bishop of Orleans. I cannot describe to you my joy at meeting him again, nor depict my feelings when I read in the face of the old man the whole history of our life.
It was six o’clock in the evening, and after we had sung Vespers, our fast was at an end. I had a large round table placed in the refectory, only for us two, but with twelve chairs and twelve places laid. From the Bishop’s guest-room I had the largest armchair brought, and decorated it with leaves and flowers; it was that of the Emperor of blessed memory, who now rests in the cathedral at Aachen, the cathedral which I had the favour and honour of building. The other chairs I assigned to absent friends, first Alcuin, then the poet Angilbert-Homerus, the Irishman Clement, the Bavarian Leidrade, and others whom you knew, but have forgotten.
What an evening, what a night, we passed by the open garden window! We spoke naturally of the Great Unforgettable, and lived his rich and varied life again in our thoughts. We followed him against the Longobards and Saracens, against the Hungarians and other Slavs. But we did not like to linger over his thirty years’ war against the Saxons, chiefly out of reverence for his memory, for he ought to have used only spiritual weapons in his campaign of conversion. Remember the Frankish King who sent our friend Anschar to the wild Swedes. He had no armed men, but only God’s Holy Word. Certainly he was robbed by thieves like St. Paul, but when once he had arrived he won the King and the nobles of the country by his gentle bearing and preaching.
On the other hand, we lingered gladly in our conversation over the great Christmas Day of 800 A.D. in Rome, when the Western Roman Empire was restored, and the crown was bestowed on Germany. This had been prophesied by Tacitus, and Hermann in the Teutoburger Wald had shed his martyr’s blood for it. Rome and Germany! A spiritual and a worldly kingdom! Inscrutable are the ways of the Lord!
When we drank to the strong and gentle Carolus Magnus Augustus, we both rose, Thiodolf and I, and bowed before the empty chair, as though he sat there in bodily presence. Where is he now, the departed of blessed memory–where is his great kingdom, which only his powerful spirit could hold together? What he united has now been scattered by his successors! You know, after the last treaty at Verdun, the kingdom of Karl the Great has ceased to exist; in its place we now have three–Germany, France, and Italy. Perhaps it must be so, and perhaps a single man cannot rule so great an empire. But it is sad to perceive in history that every great achievement carries within it the seeds of decay, and that the heights are always bordered by deep abysses. Brother Thiodolf brought disquieting news from France. The Saxons, who were finally overthrown with their powerful chief Widukind, have devised a terrible revenge. They have invited Danish and Swedish pirates, called Vikings, into the country. These have sailed up the Rhine, up the Seine as far as Rouen, and up the Loire. These Scandinavians are of German stock, and are therefore of kin to us Franks, but are more nearly related to the Goths, Heruli, Rugieri, and Longobards, of whom the last three are Scandinavian. Odovacer, who overthrew the Western Roman Empire, and deposed the last Emperor Romulus Augustulus, was a Rugier from the Danish island Rugen. These men from the North seem to be now about to step on the stage. Possibly they are the Gog and Magog concerning whom the Old Testament prophesied that they should come from the North. We did not end our conversation till midnight, Thiodolf and I; then we walked up and down in the garden till early mass, for we could not sleep.
Now I close this letter, dear wife, by wishing you happy days far from all the tumult of the world. I only wait for my departure, for life has lost its relish for me, since my lord and Emperor has passed into the great silence. Greet the brethren and the few who still survive from the time of the Great Emperor, and accept, dear Emma, the greeting of your dead husband, whom you will not see before the Day of Resurrection, the great Easter, when we shall all meet again. Till then, “Be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of Jove and of peace shall be with you.”