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_With an Introduction by_
Librarian of Case Library


Copyright, 1900
By Meyer Bros. & Co.

Louis Weiss & Co.
118 Fulton Street
... New York

Bibliomania in the Middle Ages



_From the Anglo-Saxon and Norman Periods to the Introduction of Printing
into England, with Anecdotes Illustrating the History of the Monastic
Libraries of Great Britain in the Olden Time by_ F. Somner Merryweather,
_with an Introduction by_ Charles Orr, _Librarian of Case Library._


In every century for more than two thousand years, many men have owed
their chief enjoyment of life to books. The bibliomaniac of today had his
prototype in ancient Rome, where book collecting was fashionable as early
as the first century of the Christian era. Four centuries earlier there
was an active trade in books at Athens, then the center of the book
production of the world. This center of literary activity shifted to
Alexandria during the third century B. C. through the patronage of
Ptolemy Soter, the founder of the Alexandrian Museum, and of his son,
Ptolemy Philadelphus; and later to Rome, where it remained for many
centuries, and where bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs were gradually
evolved, and from whence in time other countries were invaded.

For the purposes of the present work the middle ages cover the period
beginning with the seventh century and ending with the time of the
invention of printing, or about seven hundred years, though they are more
accurately bounded by the years 500 and 1500 A. D. It matters little,
however, since there is no attempt at chronological arrangement.

About the middle of the present century there began to be a disposition
to grant to mediæval times their proper place in the history of the
preservation and dissemination of books, and Merryweather's _Bibliomania
in the Middle Ages_ was one of the earliest works in English devoted to
the subject. Previous to that time, those ten centuries lying between the
fall of the Roman Empire and the revival of learning were generally
referred to as the Dark Ages, and historians and other writers were wont
to treat them as having been without learning or scholarship of any kind.

Even Mr. Hallam,[1] with all that judicial temperament and patient
research to which we owe so much, could find no good to say of the Church
or its institutions, characterizing the early university as the abode of
"indigent vagabonds withdrawn from usual labor," and all monks as
positive enemies of learning.

The gloomy survey of Mr. Hallam, clouded no doubt by his antipathy to all
things ecclesiastical, served, however, to arouse the interest of the
period, which led to other studies with different results, and later
writers were able to discern below the surface of religious fanaticism
and superstition so characteristic of those centuries, much of interest
in the history of literature; to show that every age produced learned and
inquisitive men by whom books were highly prized and industriously
collected for their own sakes; in short, to rescue the period from the
stigma of absolute illiteracy.

If the reader cares to pursue the subject further, after going through
the fervid defense of the love of books in the middle ages, of which this
is the introduction, he will find outside of its chapters abundant
evidence that the production and care of books was a matter of great
concern. In the pages of _Mores Catholici; or Ages of Faith_, by Mr.
Kenelm Digby,[2] or of _The Dark Ages_, by Dr. S. R. Maitland,[3] or of
that great work of recent years, _Books and their Makers during the
Middle Ages_, by Mr. George Haven Putnam,[4] he will see vivid and
interesting portraits of a great multitude of mediæval worthies who were
almost lifelong lovers of learning and books, and zealous laborers in
preserving, increasing and transmitting them. And though little of the
mass that has come down to us was worthy of preservation on its own
account as literature, it is exceedingly interesting as a record of
centuries of industry in the face of such difficulties that to workers of
a later period might have seemed insurmountable.

A further fact worthy of mention is that book production was from the art
point of view fully abreast of the other arts during the period, as must
be apparent to any one who examines the collections in some of the
libraries of Europe. Much of this beauty was wrought for the love of the
art itself. In the earlier centuries religious institutions absorbed
nearly all the social intellectual movements as well as the possession of
material riches and land. Kings and princes were occupied with distant
wars which impoverished them and deprived literature and art of that
patronage accorded to it in later times. There is occasional mention,
however, of wealthy laymen, whose religious zeal induced them to give
large sums of money for the copying and ornamentation of books; and there
were in the abbeys and convents lay brothers whose fervent spirits,
burning with poetical imagination, sought in these monastic retreats and
the labor of writing, redemption from their past sins. These men of faith
were happy to consecrate their whole existence to the ornamentation of a
single sacred book, dedicated to the community, which gave them in
exchange the necessaries of life.

The labor of transcribing was held, in the monasteries, to be a full
equivalent of manual labor in the field. The rule of St. Ferreol, written
in the sixth century, says that, "He who does not turn up the earth with
the plough ought to write the parchment with his fingers."

Mention has been made of the difficulties under which books were
produced; and this is a matter which we who enjoy the conveniences of
modern writing and printing can little understand. The hardships of the
_scriptorium_ were greatest, of course, in winter. There were no fires in
the often damp and ill-lighted cells, and the cold in some of the parts
of Europe where books were produced must have been very severe.
Parchment, the material generally used for writing upon after the
seventh century, was at some periods so scarce that copyists were
compelled to resort to the expedient of effacing the writing on old and
less esteemed manuscripts.[5] The form of writing was stiff and regular
and therefore exceedingly slow and irksome.

In some of the monasteries the _scriptorium_ was at least at a later
period, conducted more as a matter of commerce, and making of books
became in time very profitable. The Church continued to hold the keys of
knowledge and to control the means of productions; but the cloistered
cell, where the monk or the layman, who had a penance to work off for a
grave sin, had worked in solitude, gave way to the apartment specially
set aside, where many persons could work together, usually under the
direction of a _librarius_ or chief scribe. In the more carefully
constructed monasteries this apartment was so placed as to adjoin the
calefactory, which allowed the introduction of hot air, when needed.

The seriousness with which the business of copying was considered is well
illustrated by the consecration of the _scriptorium_ which was often
done in words which may be thus translated: "Vouchsafe, O Lord, to bless
this work-room of thy servants, that all which they write therein may be
comprehended by their intelligence and realized in their work."

While the work of the scribes was largely that of copying the scriptures,
gospels, and books of devotion required for the service of the church,
there was a considerable trade in books of a more secular kind.
Particularly was this so in England. The large measure of attention given
to the production of books of legends and romances was a distinguishing
feature of the literature of England at least three centuries previous to
the invention of printing. At about the twelfth century and after, there
was a very large production and sale of books under such headings as
chronicles, satires, sermons, works of science and medicine, treatises on
style, prose romances and epics in verse. Of course a large proportion of
these were written in or translated from the Latin, the former indicating
a pretty general knowledge of that language among those who could buy or
read books at all. That this familiarity with the Latin tongue was not
confined to any particular country is abundantly shown by various

Mr. Merryweather, whose book, as has been intimated, is only a defense
of bibliomania itself as it actually existed in the middle ages, gives
the reader but scant information as to processes of book-making at that
time. But thanks to the painstaking research of others, these details are
now a part of the general knowledge of the development of the book. The
following, taken from Mr. Theodore De Vinne's _Invention of Printing_,
will, we think, be found interesting:

"The size most in fashion was that now known as the demy folio, of which
the leaf is about ten inches wide and fifteen inches long, but smaller
sizes were often made. The space to be occupied by the written text was
mapped out with faint lines, so that the writer could keep his letters on
a line, at even distance from each other and within the prescribed
margin. Each letter was carefully drawn, and filled in or painted with
repeated touches of the pen. With good taste, black ink was most
frequently selected for the text; red ink was used only for the more
prominent words, and the catch-letters, then known as the rubricated
letters. Sometimes texts were written in blue, green, purple, gold or
silver inks, but it was soon discovered that texts in bright color were
not so readable as texts in black.

"When the copyist had finished his sheet he passed it to the designer,
who sketched the border, pictures and initials. The sheet was then given
to the illuminator, who painted it. The ornamentation of a mediæval book
of the first class is beyond description by words or by wood cuts. Every
inch of space was used. Its broad margins were filled with quaint
ornaments, sometimes of high merit, admirably painted in vivid colors.
Grotesque initials, which, with their flourishes, often spanned the full
height of the page, or broad bands of floriated tracery that occupied its
entire width, were the only indications of changes of chapter or subject.
In printer's phrase the composition was "close-up and solid" to the
extreme degree of compactness. The uncommonly free use of red ink for the
smaller initials was not altogether a matter of taste; if the page had
been written entirely in black ink it would have been unreadable through
its blackness. This nicety in writing consumed much time, but the
mediæval copyist was seldom governed by considerations of time or
expense. It was of little consequence whether the book he transcribed
would be finished in one or in ten years. It was required only that he
should keep at his work steadily and do his best. His skill is more to be
commended than his taste. Many of his initials and borders were
outrageously inappropriate for the text for which they were designed. The
gravest truths were hedged in the most childish conceits. Angels,
butterflies, goblins, clowns, birds, snails and monkeys, sometimes in
artistic, but much oftener in grotesque and sometimes in highly offensive
positions are to be found in the illuminated borders of copies of the
gospels and writings of the fathers.

"The book was bound by the forwarder, who sewed the leaves and put them
in a cover of leather or velvet; by the finisher, who ornamented the
cover with gilding and enamel. The illustration of book binding,
published by Amman in his Book of Trades, puts before us many of the
implements still in use. The forwarder, with his customary apron of
leather, is in the foreground, making use of a plow-knife for trimming
the edges of a book. The lying press, which rests obliquely against the
block before him, contains a book that has received the operation of
backing-up from a queer shaped hammer lying upon the floor. The workman
at the end of the room is sewing together the sections of a book, for
sewing was properly regarded as a man's work, and a scientific operation
altogether beyond the capacity of the raw seamstress. The work of the
finisher is not represented, but the brushes, the burnishers, the
sprinklers and the wheel-shaped gilding tools hanging against the wall
leave us no doubt as to their use. There is an air of antiquity about
everything connected with this bookbindery which suggests the thought
that its tools and usages are much older than those of printing.
Chevillier says that seventeen professional bookbinders found regular
employment in making up books for the University of Paris, as early as
1292. Wherever books were produced in quantities, bookbinding was set
apart as a business distinct from that of copying.

"The poor students who copied books for their own use were also obliged
to bind them, which they did in a simple but efficient manner by sewing
together the folded sheets, attaching them to narrow parchment bands, the
ends of which were made to pass through a cover of stout parchment at the
joint near the back. The ends of the bands were then pasted down under
the stiffening sheet of the cover, and the book was pressed. Sometimes
the cover was made flexible by the omission of the stiffening sheet;
sometimes the edges of the leaves were protected by flexible and
overhanging flaps which were made to project over the covers; or by the
insertion in the covers of stout leather strings with which the two
covers were tied together. Ornamentation was entirely neglected, for a
book of this character was made for use and not for show. These methods
of binding were mostly applied to small books intended for the pocket;
the workmanship was rough, but the binding was strong and serviceable."

The book of Mr. Merryweather, here reprinted, is thought worthy of
preservation in a series designed for the library of the booklover. Its
publication followed shortly after that of the works of Digby and
Maitland, but shows much original research and familiarity with early
authorities; and it is much more than either of these, or of any book
with which we are acquainted, a plea in defense of bibliomania in the
middle ages. Indeed the charm of the book may be said to rest largely
upon the earnestness with which he takes up his self-imposed task. One
may fancy that after all he found it not an easy one; in fact his
"Conclusion" is a kind of apology for not having made out a better case.
But this he believes he has proven, "that with all their superstition,
with all their ignorance, their blindness to philosophic light - the monks
of old were hearty lovers of books; that they encouraged learning,
fostered it, and transcribed repeatedly the books which they had rescued
from the destruction of war and time; and so kindly cherished and
husbanded them as intellectual food for posterity. Such being the case,
let our hearts look charitably upon them; and whilst we pity them for
their superstition, or blame them for their pious frauds, love them as
brother men and workers in the mines of literature."

Of the author himself little can be learned. A diligent search revealed
little more than the entry in the London directory which, in various
years from 1840 to 1850, gives his occupation as that of bookseller, at
14 King Street, Holborn. Indeed this is shown by the imprint of the
title-page of _Bibliomania_, which was published in 1849. He published
during the same year _Dies Dominicæ_, and in 1850 _Glimmerings in the
Dark_, and _Lives and Anecdotes of Misers_. The latter has been
immortalized by Charles Dickens as one of the books bought at the
bookseller's shop by Boffin, the Golden Dustman, and which was read to
him by the redoubtable Silas Wegg during Sunday evenings at "Boffin's


[1] Hallam, Henry. "Introduction to the Literature of Europe." 4
vols. London.

[2] Digby, Kenelm. "Mores Catholici; or Ages of Faith." 3 vols.
London, 1848.

[3] Maitland, S. R. "The Dark Ages; a Series of Essays Intended to
Illustrate the State of Religion and Literature in the Ninth, Tenth,
Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries." London, 1845.

[4] Putnam, George Haven. "Books and their Makers during the Middle
Ages; a Study of the Conditions of the Production and Distribution
of Literature from the Fall of the Roman Empire to the Close of the
Seventeenth Century."

[5] Lacroix, Paul. "Arts of the Middle Ages." Our author, however
(_vide_ page 58, _note_), quotes the accounts of the Church of
Norwich to show that parchments sold late in the thirteenth century
at about 1 d. per sheet; but Putnam and other writers state that up
to that time it was a very costly commodity.

[6] Dickens's Mutual Friend.


_Introductory Remarks - Monachism - Book Destroyers - Effects of the
Reformation on Monkish Learning, etc._

In recent times, in spite of all those outcries which have been so
repeatedly raised against the illiterate state of the dark ages, many and
valuable efforts have been made towards a just elucidation of those
monkish days. These labors have produced evidence of what few
anticipated, and some even now deny, viz., that here and there great
glimmerings of learning are perceivable; and although debased, and often
barbarous too, they were not quite so bad as historians have usually
proclaimed them. It may surprise some, however, that an attempt should be
made to prove that, in the olden time in "merrie Englande," a passion
which Dibdin has christened Bibliomania, existed then, and that there
were many cloistered bibliophiles as warm and enthusiastic in book
collecting as the Doctor himself. But I must here crave the patience of
the reader, and ask him to refrain from denouncing what he may deem a
rash and futile attempt, till he has perused the volume and thought well
upon the many facts contained therein. I am aware that many of these
facts are known to all, but some, I believe, are familiar only to the
antiquary - the lover of musty parchments and the cobwebbed chronicles of
a monastic age. I have endeavored to bring these facts together - to
connect and string them into a continuous narrative, and to extract from
them some light to guide us in forming an opinion on the state of
literature in those ages of darkness and obscurity; and here let it be
understood that I merely wish to give a fact as history records it. I
will not commence by saying the Middle Ages were dark and miserably
ignorant, and search for some poor isolated circumstance to prove it; I
will not affirm that this was pre-eminently the age in which real piety
flourished and literature was fondly cherished, and strive to find all
those facts which show its learning, purposely neglecting those which
display its unlettered ignorance: nor let it be deemed ostentation when I
say that the literary anecdotes and bookish memoranda now submitted to
the reader have been taken, where such a course was practicable, from
the original sources, and the references to the authorities from whence
they are derived have been personally consulted and compared.

That the learning of the Middle Ages has been carelessly represented
there can be little doubt: our finest writers in the paths of history
have employed their pens in denouncing it; some have allowed difference
of opinion as regards ecclesiastical policy to influence their
conclusions; and because the poor scribes were monks, the most licentious
principles, the most dismal ignorance and the most repulsive crimes have
been attributed to them. If the monks deserved such reproaches from
posterity, they have received no quarter; if they possessed virtues as
christians, and honorable sentiments as men, they have met with no reward
in the praise or respect of this liberal age: they were monks!
superstitious priests and followers of Rome! What good could come of
them? It cannot be denied that there were crimes perpetrated by men
aspiring to a state of holy sanctity; there are instances to be met with
of priests violating the rules of decorum and morality; of monks
revelling in the dissipating pleasures of sensual enjoyments, and of nuns
whose frail humanity could not maintain the purity of their virgin vows.
But these instances are too rare to warrant the slanders and scurrility
that historians have heaped upon them. And when we talk of the sensuality
of the monks, of their gross indulgences and corporeal ease, we surely do
so without discrimination; for when we speak of the middle ages thus, our
thoughts are dwelling on the sixteenth century, its mocking piety and
superstitious absurdity; but in the olden time of monastic rule, before
monachism had burst its ancient boundaries, there was surely nothing
physically attractive in the austere and dull monotony of a cloistered
life. Look at the monk; mark his hard, dry studies, and his midnight
prayers, his painful fasting and mortifying of the flesh; what can we
find in this to tempt the epicure or the lover of indolence and sloth?
They were fanatics, blind and credulous - I grant it. They read gross
legends, and put faith in traditionary lies - I grant it; but do not say,
for history will not prove it, that in the middle ages the monks were
wine bibbers and slothful gluttons. But let not the Protestant reader be
too hastily shocked. I am not defending the monastic system, or the
corruption of the cloister - far from it. I would see the usefulness of
man made manifest to the world; but the measure of my faith teaches
charity and forgiveness, and I can find in the functions of the monk much
that must have been useful in those dark days of feudal tyranny and
lordly despotism. We much mistake the influence of the monks by mistaking
their position; we regard them as a class, but forget from whence they
sprang; there was nothing aristocratic about them, as their constituent
parts sufficiently testify; they were, perhaps, the best representatives
of the people that could be named, being derived from all classes of
society. Thus Offa, the Saxon king, and Cædman, the rustic herdsman, were
both monks. These are examples by no means rare, and could easily be
multiplied. Such being the case, could not the monks more readily feel
and sympathize with all, and more clearly discern the frailties of their
brother man, and by kind admonition or stern reproof, mellow down the
ferocity of a Saxon nature, or the proud heart of a Norman tyrant? But
our object is not to analyze the social influence of Monachism in the
middle ages: much might be said against it, and many evils traced to the
sad workings of its evil spirit, but still withal something may be said
in favor of it, and those who regard its influence in _those days alone_
may find more to admire and defend than they expected, or their
Protestant prejudices like to own.

But, leaving these things, I have only to deal with such remains as
relate to the love of books in those times. I would show the means then
in existence of acquiring knowledge, the scarcity or plentitude of books,
the extent of their libraries, and the rules regulating them; and bring
forward those facts which tend to display the general routine of a
literary monk, or the prevalence of Bibliomania in those days.

It is well known that the great national and private libraries of Europe
possess immense collections of manuscripts, which were produced and
transcribed in the monasteries, during the middle ages, thousands there
are in the rich alcoves of the Vatican at Rome, unknown save to a choice
and favored few; thousands there are in the royal library of France, and
thousands too reposing on the dusty shelves of the Bodleian and Cottonian
libraries in England; and yet, these numbers are but a small portion - a
mere relic - of the intellectual productions of a past and obscure
age.[7] The barbarians, who so frequently convulsed the more civilized
portions of Europe, found a morbid pleasure in destroying those works
which bore evidence to the mental superiority of their enemies. In
England, the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans were each successively
the destroyers of literary productions. The Saxon Chronicle, that

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