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and the deeds of my own master, who after Egbert received
the insignia of the venerable see, called Albert the wise. A
man good and just, generous, pious and kindly, defender,
teacher, and lover of the catholic faith, rector of this church,
teacher, advocate, pupil." Then after more lines of a tombstone
kind of praise, he proceeds : " In speaking of whom, you the
youth of York will gladly accompany me in my poetic excur-
sion, since he often drenched your senses with nectar, pouring
forth sweet juices from his honey-flowing bosom, he whom
fair philosophy caught up out of his earliest cradle and carried
to the top of the citadel of learning, opening to him the
innermost recesses of wisdom ". Born of sufficiently noble
parents " he was soon sent by their care to kindly studies and
entered in the Minster in his boyish years ".

It is unfortunate for the history of education and of the
Church in England that the word Minster should be only
translatable into Latin by the word monastery, from which it
is itself derived, which in old English meant any great church,
just as monasteriolum, or little minster, meant any small church,
even an ordinary parish church. In later medieval and
modern times the word minster came to be used exclusively
for cathedral or collegiate churches, not of monks, but of the
secular clergy, like York, Ripon, Beverley, and Southwell
Minsters in the North, Lincoln and Lichfield in East and Mid
England, and Wimborne Minster in the South. The name
survives in the Minster Pool close to the cathedral at Lichfield,
and in Minster Street just outside the cathedral precinct at
Winchester itself. The use of the term gives a totally
erroneous impression of their constitution and the char-
acter of their inmates. So that the great colleges of secular
canons have been claimed as monasteries ; and Mr. Loftie
in his History of London was actually misled into speaking


of St Paul's as a monastery. Albert was not, any more
than Egbert, a monk. " In his boyhood as he grew beauti-
ful in body, so he became proficient in genius for books."
He became a Levite, Le. deacon, as a youth (adolescens]
and a priest when still a quite young man (juvenis). " Then
pious and wise, teacher at once and priest, he was made a
thane (comes) of Bishop Egbert to whom he was nearly allied
by right of blood. By him he is made advocate of the clergy
and at the same time is preferred as master in the city of
York." This is a striking phrase, because it exactly de-
scribes the duties of that one of the four principal officers of
every cathedral church of secular canons in post-Conquest
times, who was called at first Schoolmaster and afterwards
Chancellor. The defensor cleri was the official and advocate
of the clergy, the lawyer of the establishment, who drafted
deeds and letters, as well as taught school. It is noteworthy
too, as an indication of the continuity of the institution from
Alcuin's time to later years, that Alcuin speaks of " the school,"
not of the church, but " of the city," of York. Et simul Euborica
praefertur in urbe magister. In later times we shall find the
school called indiscriminately the grammar school of the
church and of the city of York. The school, in other words,
was, in the eighth as in the fifteenth and twentieth centuries,
a public school, for the benefit alike of the church and the city
and diocese of York.

Alcuin was evidently a good deal more interested in the
educational than in the legal work of the York schoolmaster.
For he proceeds to give us, if not a curriculum, at least a
conspectus of the subjects taught in the school. And a very
varied and extensive list of subjects it is.

" There he (Albert) moistened thirsty hearts with divers
streams of teaching and varied dews of study ; busily giving to
some the arts of the science of grammar (grammaticae rationis
artes), pouring into others the streams of the tongues of orators ;
these he polished on the whet-stone of law, those he taught to
sing in Ionian chant, making others play on the flute of
Castaly, and run with the lyre over the hills of Parnassus.
But others, the said master made to know the harmony of
heaven and the sun, the labours of the moon, the five belts of
the sky, the seven planets, the laws of the fixed stars, their


rising and setting, the movements of the air and the sun, the
earth's quake, the nature of men, cattle, birds, and beasts, the
different kinds of number and various (geometrical) figures :
and he gave sure return to the festival of Easter ; above all,
revealing the mysteries of holy writ, for he opened the abysses
of the old and rude law."

In fact, the school was Encyclopaedias The one master
taught all the subjects of learning, not only the trivium,
grammar, rhetoric, and logic ; and the quadrivium, arithmetic,
geometry, music, and astronomy ; but the subjects of the higher
faculties, law, and " above all " divinity. He therefore per-
formed the functions afterwards separated by division of labour
between the Grammar Schoolmaster, the Song Schoolmaster,
and the Chancellor at the cathedrals themselves ; and between
the boys' schools on the one hand and the universities and
colleges for men on the other. Alcuin's poem is one of the earliest
and most weighty witnesses to the truth, sometimes, but vainly,
sought to be denied, that the universities grew out of the
schools, and particularly not out of monastic schools, if such in
any real sense there were, but as being purely the creation of the
secular clergy, out of the schools of the cathedral and collegiate
churches. This is, however, to leap over some four centuries.
In the middle of the eighth century University and Grammar
School were one.

Under Albert York School was a boarding school. " What-
ever youths he saw of eminent intelligence, those he joined to
himself, he taught, he fed, he loved : and so the teacher had
many disciples in the sacred volumes, advanced in various
arts." If we ask what kind of youth is referred to, the answer
is, much the same kind as in the public school to-day. It was
no mere choristers' school or ecclesiastical seminary.

Albert travelled abroad and went to Rome, and was every-
where received as a prince of doctors, and kings and princes
tried to get him to stay and " irrigate their lands with learning ".
When he returned home, at the request of the people he became,
in 766, archbishop. "But his old fervent industry for reading
the Scriptures diminished not for the weight of his cares, and
he was made both a wise doctor and a pious priest." He built
a great altar where King Edwin had received baptism, covered
with silver, gold, and precious stones, and dedicated it to


" Paul the doctor of the world, whom as a doctor he especially
loved ". He rebuilt the cathedral, " supported on lofty columns
standing on carved arches, and all glorious within with ceilings
and windows, and surrounded by thirty chapels (porticibus},
holding many upper chambers under divers roofs, and contain-
ing thirty altars with their various ornaments ". This build-
ing was erected by his two pupils, Eanbald and Alcuin, under
Albert's directions, and was consecrated to the Holy Wisdom
ten days before he died. In 776, two years and two months
before his death, Albert retired into private life, handing on
the archbishopric to Eanbald. " But he gave the dearer
treasures of his books to the other son, who was always close
to his father's side, thirsting to drink the floods of learning.
His name, if you care to know it, these verses on the face of
them will at once betray. Between them he divided his
wealth of differing kinds : to the one the rule of the Church,
the ornaments (thesauros), the lands, the money (talentd] ; to
the other the sphere of wisdom, the school (studium\ the
master's chair (sedem), the books, which the illustrious master
had collected, piling up glorious treasures under one roof." To
use later terms, while one pupil became Archbishop, Precentor,
and Treasurer, the other became Chancellor, i.e. Librarian,
Lawyer, and Schoolmaster.

Then follows the famous catalogue of the York Minster
Library. " There you will find," says the Master, with pardon-
able exaggeration, " the footsteps of the old fathers, whatever
the Roman has of himself in the sphere of Latin, or which
famous Greece passed on to the Latins, or which the Hebrew
race drinks from the showers above, or Africa has spread abroad
with light-giving lamp."

Theology comes first : Jerome, Hilarius, i.e. probably Hilary
of Poitiers, an anti-Arian writer, contemporary with St. Jerome,
Bishop Ambrose (of Milan), Augustine, St. Athanasius, Orosius,
who wrote his History in 416 ; the chief Doctor Gregory (the
Great), Pope Leo (II ? 683), Basil (Bishop of Caesarea, 33 1-379),
Chrysostom, who was schoolmaster at Antioch from 381 to 397
and was then Patriarch of Constantinople. Among the less-
known theologians are Fulgentius, a rhetorician, c. 395, and Vic-
torinus (Marius), who combated the Arians in 350. Boethius,
470-525, presumably for his De consolatione, figures rather


oddly among the theologians. Cassiodorus (Magnus Aurelius
Senator), a little later than Boethius, 468-575, was probably
mentioned largely because of his Reckoning of Easter, a most
important point in the controversy between the Eastern and
the Western Church, and in England between Celt and Saxon.
England brings up the rear with Aldhelm and " Bede the

Next mentioned are " the ancient historians," perhaps as
opposed to the modern Bede; Pompeius Trogus, meaning
probably the author of a Universal History finished in the
year 9, which only survives now in a fifth-century abridgment ;
and Pliny the elder's (23-79) encyclopaedic Natural History.
Then come rhetoricians, " the keen Aristotle himself and the
great rhetorician Tully," Cicero being prized chiefly for his un-
original treatise on rhetoric, the De Oratore. Four lines full of
the names of poets follow. Among them appear, but only at the
bottom of the list, three classical authors, Maro Virgilius, Statius,
and Lucan. In the van, the Miltons no doubt to Alcuin, and both
of them, like Alcuin and Milton, schoolmasters as well as poets,
were Sedulius, who wrote an Easter song, Carmen Paschale,
c. 460, and Juvencus, who turned the Gospels into verse in his
Historia Evangelica rather more than a century earlier, c. 330.
Next are mentioned Alcimus, whose name of Avitus Alcuin
for some reason transferred to Orosius, in 523 ; Prosper of Aqui-
taine, 379-45 5 ; Paulinus of Nola, who was consul and governor
in 380, became a Christian in 390, and as Bishop of Nola in
409 wrote Christian Sapphics and Horatian stanzas ; Arator
who in the middle of the sixth century versified, of all curious
books to versify, the Acts of the Apostles ; Venantius Fortuna-
tus, educated at Ravenna and settled at Tours, and later, bishop
of Poitiers, 535-600. Last comes (L. Cecilius) Lactantius
(Firmianus), tutor to the son of Constantine in Gaul in 313,
whose Institutions certainly contributed to inspire Milton, as
shown in a paper for the British Academy at the Milton Ter-

The grammarians naturally appeared in force. They are
headed by (M. Valerius) Probus of Beyrut, who from soldier
turned scholar, circa A.D. 56, and wrote a treatise on Nouns and
Verbs, called " Catholica," a name which from this work became
the regular term in medieval times for a word-book or die-


denary. Next came Focas, i.e. Phocas, who wrote on genders
in the fifth century. Then follow Donatus and Priscian, the
two great names in grammar for a thousand years. ^Elius
Donatus was a schoolmaster at Rome about the middle of the
fourth century. He is perhaps best known now as having
had St. Jerome under him as a boy. Expounding the remark
in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun, Jerome
quotes Terence's " every good thing has been said before," on
which he says, " my Master Donatus used to say, ' Perish those
who have said our good things before us ' ". Pereant qui ante
nos nostra diverunt. He wrote two grammars, a " greater " and
a " lesser ". A study of the " Ars Major " in three books was
required for the B.A. degree at Oxford in 1264. But it was
the "Ars Minor" or the "Lesser Catechism in the Parts of
Speech," which was the primer in use throughout Europe, and
made his name a household word. A " Donat " or " Donet "
came to be used for an elementary work in any subject from
theology to haberdashery; Piers Plowman, in speaking of
learning the art of fraudulent shopkeeping as " going among
drapers my donet to learn ". There is a ninth-century Donat
in Anglo-Saxon characters in the British Museum. William
of Wykeham in 1400 required that the candidates for scholar-
ships at Winchester should know " reading, singing, and old
Donatus". Even in 1535, Tindal's parallel to Macaulay's
" fifth-form boy " is to say, " I had nede go lerne my Donate
and accidence again ". Priscian was the great Constantinople
compiler or translator, a knowledge of whose " Ars Major "
was required of every B.A. at Oxford in the thirteenth century,
and who lived between 450 and 515. Servius was the great
Virgilian commentator of the fourth century, who is even now
quoted. Eutychius, or Eutyches, who wrote on the Aspirate,
was a pupil of Priscian's and wrote circa 526. Pompeius
(Maurus) was an African, of Mauretania, who wrote a com-
mentary on Donatus in the sixth century, which is quoted by
Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans, in 798.

Alcuin concludes his list : " You will find, reader, many
other masters eminent in the schools, in art, in oratory, who
have written many a volume of sound sense, but whose names
it seemed longer to write in song than the usage of the bow
allows ". This is tantalizing indeed, as we should like to

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know who the other authors were. It is idle to speculate,
though one cannot help wondering whether on the one hand
Ovid, so often quoted in the twelfth century, was not omitted
because his name was impossible for hexameters (though Naso
presented a way round) ; and whether, on the other, Caedmon,
or Aldhelm's Saxon poems, found a place in this school and
minster library.

Alcuin reigned as schoolmaster at York from 776 till he
was persuaded by Charlemagne, with whom he stayed in 781
on returning from Rome with the pallium for his fellow-pupil,
Eanbald, to transfer his doctor's throne to the Prankish
Court. This he did in 782 and remained master of the
Palace School till he retired in old age to be Abbot of Tours.
He always retained, however, a keen interest in England and
things English, especially in York and its minster, and above
all its school. In a letter to the canons of York, written
about 793, he refers with affection to his school time both
as boy and master. " You," he says to the seniors, " nourished
my tender years of childhood with a mother's love, you
endured with pious patience the frolics of my boyhood, and
with the discipline of fatherly chastisements educated me till
I was grown up, and strengthened me with the learning of
the holy rules." Then addressing the juniors he adds:
" You who in age are my sons, but by the holiness of your
lives my fathers, never, I beseech you by God's mercy, forget
the master of your learning. For He who sees my heart
is witness how devotedly it always desired your profit in
ecclesiastical study and spiritual learning. Remember me. I
am yours in life and death, and perhaps God in His pity will
grant that you will bury in old age him whose infancy you
nourished." He concludes with some good advice "to avoid
fine clothes like the laity," and " to tread the holy threshold
of the church instead of gadding about the muddy streets of
a dirty town ". Three years later Alcuin wrote to congratu-
late the then Archbishop of York, Eanbald II (not his fellow-
pupil, Eanbald I), on his accession. He congratulates himself,
" the lowest slave of the Church, that I have educated one of
my sons to labour in my stead in the church, where I was
nurtured and educated, and to preside over those treasures of
wisdom to which my beloved master, Archbishop Albert, left


me heir". In a passage, which is unfortunately corrupt,
Alcuin then urges Eanbald to " provide masters for the boys
and the clerks, and to separate the spheres of those who read
books, who serve the chanting, and who are assigned to the
writing school, having for each class their own masters, so that
they may not make a business of pleasure and wander about
the place, practising useless games, or becoming addicted
to other futilities ". The division of labour, thus recommended,
was destined to become permanent. The writing became
afterwards a separate and inferior study. It was relegated to
monks or to a professional class of scribes, clerics of course,
but of an inferior order. The twin masters of grammar and
song continued to provide for public education throughout the
Middle Ages. But though the Precentor, as a minster officer
in later times and in most cathedrals, though not at St. Paul's,
took precedence of the Chancellor, the Chancellor's deputy, the
Grammar Schoolmaster occupied everywhere a much superior
position to that of the Precentor's deputy, the Song School-
master. The latter tended to sink into an elementary or
preparatory schoolmaster, " to teach the petties " reading and
singing. One of Alcuin's last letters, written after he had re-
tired on the abbacy of Tours, was a request for some books
from the library at York to be sent him "that he might
spread the sweet savours of England on the banks of the

We have evidence that York School continued to flourish
after Alcuin's day in a letter written between 849 and 854
by Lupus, Abbot of Ferrieres, an abbey Alcuin at one time
held, in which he writes to Abbot Altsig at York asking for
some books of Jerome's and Bede's, and also for the twelve
books of Quintilian's Institutes of Rhetoric to be copied and
returned. This is curious as Quintilian afterwards survived
only in fragments, and the re-discovery of a complete copy
at St. Gall by Poggio in 1416 was one of the great events of
the early Renaissance.

We have seen that Hexham School dated probably from
678. Apparently the school had not been maintained with
such vigour as under Acca. For in 797 Alcuin writes to
Ethelbert, Bishop of Hexham, "and all the congregation in
the church," not, be it noted, a monastery "of St. Andrew,"


urging him to teach the boys and youth there the knowledge
of books, to lead them to God, for " he who does not sow,
neither shall he reap, and he who does not learn cannot teach,
and such a place without teachers shall not, or hardly, be
saved. It is a great work of charity to feed the poor with
food for the body ; but a greater to fill the hungry soul with
spiritual learning. . . . The increase of the flock is the glory
of the shepherd and the multiplication of learned men is
the salvation of the world " a sentiment which sounds more
like the middle of the fifteenth or i sixteenth than the end
of the eighth century. This letter is of itself sufficient to
show that when a Council at Rome in the year 826, held by
Pope Eugenius II, ordered that all bishops should take "care
that masters and teachers should be established for their sub-
jects, and in other places, where need was, to teach grammar
and the liberal arts ", they were only crystallizing into positive
statute what was already the customary law of the Church.

There is another letter of Alcuin's which reveals to us
another field of educational interest in the kingdom of Mercia.
Very little is known of the internal history of Mercia until
the days of King Offa, who came to the throne in 755, and
so established Mercian ascendancy in England that he pro-
cured in 788 the erection of Lichfield into an independent
archbishopric with seven bishoprics under it. Offa, who was
in close communication with Charlemagne, seems to have
desired to emulate him both as a promoter of education and
as an imperial ruler, and to have tried to get Alcuin to
desert the Prankish for the Mercian Court. For a letter from
Alcuin to Offa written about 792 begins by saying that, desiring
as always faithfully to carry out Offa's wishes, Alcuin has sent
him his most illustrious son, as he had asked, praying him
to receive him honourably until Alcuin himself, D.V., comes
to him. Meanwhile, however, Alcuin rather takes away his
illustrious son's character, as he goes on: "Do not let him
wander about with nothing to do, nor become the slave of
drink, but provide him with pupils, and order him to teach
them diligently. I know that he is a good speaker (if bene
dicit is the right reading it is more probably docef), and I trust
he will prove proficient, for the proficiency of my pupils is my
profit with God." Alcuin concludes with expressing the great



pleasure he had in hearing of Offa's projects for learning, so
that the light of wisdom may shine in his kingdom, as it was
being extinguished in many places. It looked at that time as
if a United Kingdom of England was being definitely estab-
lished by Mercia's becoming England. If so, the chief schools
of England would have had to be sought in the Midlands
and the North, not in the South. But the Danish inva-
sions, which began in Offa's last years, changed the balance
of power. Sea-power became the dominant factor, and Wessex,
which at first suffered most, saved itself by organizing its
naval as well as its military forces and thereby obtained the
supremacy of England.



IN the history of education it will be found that, almost
invariably, the development of schools has followed on
the development of power. Power breeds wealth, and
wealth creates a demand for literature and learning. So in
Saxon England schools followed the standard of the Bretwalda.
A gloomy interval in the history of English education ensued
after the death of Offa and the widespread devastation caused
by the Viking invasions. When the curtain rises again, the
scene has shifted from the North and the Midlands to the
South, and centres in the great figure of Alfred.

It has been said that Alfred's father, Ethelwulf, and Alfred
himself had been educated by St. Swithun, who became Bishop of
Winchester in 852, and that Ethelwulf had even taken deacon's
or subdeacon's orders. There is not the smallest real author-
ity for either statement. The story as to Ethelwulf is derived
from William of Malmesbury, and he derived it from a pro-
fessional hagiographer, Goscelin, of the eleventh century, who
probably invented it. For a writer of a century earlier, Lan-
fert, a priest and monk, whose contemporary account of the
translation of St. Swithun and of the miracles afterwards
wrought at his tomb is extant, states plainly that the life of
St. Swithun was unknown because no materials existed for it.
So says also ^Elfric in his Lives of the Saints, written in
English in 996 : " His life is not known to us, but that he was
buried at his bishop's stool west of the church ". Needless to
say, the account of the translation of St. Swithun contains no
hint of the rain legend, the affair going off without a hitch,
the only thing mentioned as flowing freely being wine, not



water, two butlers being employed the whole time of the
feast in going up and down to the cellar.

There is even less probable foundation for the story that
Swithun educated Alfred. Dean Kitchin, in his history
of Winchester in Historic Towns, says unqualifiedly : " The

Online LibraryArthur Francis LeachThe schools of medieval England → online text (page 7 of 39)