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was sent by his parents to Evesham, and afterwards to Peterborough, where
he gave great indications of learning. His schoolmaster, who was an
Anglo-Saxon named Erventus, was a clever calligraphist, and is said to
have been highly proficient in the art of illuminating; he instructed
Wulstan in these accomplishments, who wrote under his direction a
sacramentary and a psalter, and illuminated the capitals with many
pictures painted in gold and colors; they were executed with so much
taste that his master presented the sacramentary to Canute, and the
psalter to his queen."[233]

From these few facts relative to Peterborough Monastery, the reader will
readily perceive how earnestly books were collected by the monks there,
and will be somewhat prepared to learn that a catalogue of 1,680 volumes
is preserved, which formerly constituted the library of that fraternity
of bibliophiles. This fine old catalogue, printed by Gunton in his
history of the abbey, covers fifty folio pages; it presents a faithful
mirror of the literature of its day, and speaks well for the
bibliomanical spirit of the monks of Peterborough. Volumes of patristic
eloquence and pious erudition crowd the list; chronicles, poetry, and
philosophical treatises are mingled with the titles of an abundant
collection of classic works, full of the lore of the ancient world.
Although the names may be similar to those which I have extracted from
other catalogues, I must not omit to give a few of them; I find works
of -

Isagoge of Porphry.
Entyci Grammatica.

But although they possessed these fine authors and many others equally
choice, I am not able to say much for the biblical department of their
library, I should have anticipated a goodly store of the Holy Scriptures,
but in these necessary volumes they were unusually poor. But I suspect
the catalogue to have been compiled during the fifteenth century, and I
fear too, that in that age the monks were growing careless of Scripture
reading, or at least relaxing somewhat in the diligence of their studies;
perhaps they devoured the attractive pages of Ovid, and loved to read his
amorous tales more than became the holiness of their priestly
calling.[234] At any rate we may observe a marked change as regards the
prevalence of the Bible in monastic libraries between the twelfth and the
fifteenth century. It is true we often find them in those of the later
age; but sometimes they are entirely without, and frequently only in
detached portions.[235] I may illustrate this by a reference to the
library of the Abbey of St. Mary de la Pré at Leicester, which gloried in
a collection of 600 volumes, of the choicest and almost venerable
writers. It was written in the year 1477, by William Chartye,[236] prior
of the abbey, and an old defective and worn out Bible, _Biblie defect et
usit_, with some detached portions, was all that fine library contained
of the Sacred Writ. The bible _defect et usit_ speaks volumes to the
praise of the ancient monks of that house, for it was by their constant
reading and study, that it had become so thumbed and worn; but it stamps
with disgrace the affluent monks of the fifteenth century, who, while
they could afford to buy, in the year 1470,[237] some thirty volumes with
a Seneca, Ovid, Claudian, Macrobius, Æsop, etc., among them, and who
found time to transcribe twice as many more, thought not of restoring
their bible tomes, or adding one book of the Holy Scripture to their
crowded shelves. But alas! monachal piety was waxing cool and indifferent
then, and it is rare to find the honorable title of an _Amator
Scripturarum_ affixed to a monkish name in the latter part of the
fifteenth century.


[215] Gough's Hist. Croyland in Bibl. Top. Brit. xi. p. 3.

[216] Inguph. in Gale's Script. tom. i. p. 53.

[217] "Debit iste Abbas Egebricus communi bibliothecæ clanstralium
monachorum magna volumina diversorum doctorum originalia numero
quadraginta; minora vero volumina de diversæ tractatibus et
historiis, quæ numerum centenarium excedibant." Ingul. p. 53.

[218] The fire occurred in 1091. Ingulphus relates with painful
minuteness the progress of the work of destruction, and enumerates
all the rich treasures which those angry flames consumed. I should
have given a longer account of this event had not the Rev. Mr.
Maitland already done so in his interesting work on the "_Dark

[219] Gale's Remin. Ang. Scrip. i. p. 98.

[220] Ingulph. ap. Gale i. p. 25.

[221] See Gunter's Peterborough, suppl. 263.

[222] Hugo Candid, p. 31; Tamer Bib. Brit. et Hib. p. 175. Candidus
says, "Flos literaris disciplina, torrens eloquentiæ, decus et norma
rerum divinarum et secularium."

[223] Hugo Candid. ap. Sparke, Hist. Ang. Scrip. p. 41. Gunter's
Peterboro, p. 15, ed. 1686.

[224] Hugo Candid. p. 42.

[225] Leland de Scrip. Brit. p. 217.

[226] Published by Hearne, 2 vol. 8vo. _Oxon._ 1735.

[227] Rt. Swap. ap. Sparke, p. 97. "Erat. enin literarum scientiæ
satis imbutus; regulari disciplina optime instructus; sapientia
seculari plenissime eruditus."

[228] Swapham calls this "Egregium volumen," p. 98.

[229] Now preserved in the library of the Society of Antiquaries.

[230] Gunter, Peterborough, p. 29.

[231] Ibid, p. 37.

[232] Walter de Whytlesse apud Sparke, p. 173.

[233] Gunter's Hist. of Peterborough, p. 259.

[234] At any rate, we find about thirty volumes of Ovid's works
enumerated, and several copies of "de Arte Amandi," and "de Remedis

[235] Let the reader examine Leland's Collect., and the Catalogues
printed in Hunter's Tract on Monastic Libraries. See also Catalogue
of Canterbury Library, MS. Cottonian Julius, c. iv. 4., in the
British Museum.

[236] Printed by Nichols, in Appendix to Hist. of Leicester, from a
MS. Register. It contains almost as fine a collection of the
classics and fathers as that at Peterborough, just noticed,
Aristotle, Virgil, Plato, Ovid, Cicero, Euclid, Socrates, Horace,
Lucan, Seneca, etc., etc. are among them, pp. 101 to 108. It is
curious that Leland mentions only six MSS. as forming the library at
the time he visited the Abbey of Leicester, all its fine old volumes
were gone. He only arrived in time to pick up the crumbs.

[237] At least during the time of William Charteys priorship. See
Nichols, p. 108.


_King Alfred an "amator librorum" and an author._

The latter part of the tenth century was a most memorable period in the
annals of monkish bibliomania, and gave birth to one of the brightest
scholars that ever shone in the dark days of our Saxon forefathers. King
Alfred, in honor of whose talents posterity have gratefully designated
the Great, spread a fostering care over the feeble remnant of native
literature which the Danes in their cruel depredations had left
unmolested. The noble aspirations of this royal student and patron of
learning had been instilled into his mind by the tender care of a fond
parent. It was from the pages of a richly illuminated little volume of
Saxon poetry, given to him by the queen as a reward for the facility with
which he had mastered its contents, that he first derived that intense
love of books which never forsook him, though the sterner duties of his
after position frequently required his thoughts and energies in another
channel. Having made himself acquainted with this little volume, Alfred
found a thirst for knowledge grow upon him, and applied his youthful mind
to study with the most zealous ardor; but his progress was considerably
retarded, because he could not, at that time, find a Grammaticus capable
of instructing him,[238] although he searched the kingdom of the West
Saxons. Yet he soon acquired the full knowledge of his own language, and
the Latin it is said he knew as well, and was able to use with a fluency
equal to his native tongue; he could comprehend the meaning of the Greek,
although perhaps he was incapable of using it to advantage. He was so
passionately fond of books, and so devoted to reading, that he constantly
carried about him some favorite volume which, as a spare moment occurred,
he perused with the avidity of an _helluo librorum_. This pleasing
anecdote related by Asser[239] is characteristic of his natural

When he ascended the throne, he lavished abundant favors upon all who
were eminent for their literary acquirements; and displayed in their
distribution the utmost liberality and discrimination. Asser, who
afterwards became his biographer, was during his life the companion and
associate of his studies, and it is from his pen we learn that, when an
interval occurred inoccupied by his princely duties, Alfred stole into
the quietude of his study to seek comfort and instruction from the pages
of those choice volumes, which comprised his library. But Alfred was not
a mere bookworm, a devourer of knowledge without purpose or without
meditation of his own, he thought with a student's soul well and deeply
upon what he read, and drew from his books those principles of
philanthropy, and those high resolves, which did such honor to the Saxon
monarch. He viewed with sorrow the degradation of his country, and the
intellectual barrenness of his time; the warmest aspiration of his soul
was to diffuse among his people a love for literature and science, to
raise them above their Saxon sloth, and lead them to think of loftier
matters than war and carnage. To effect this noble aim, the highest to
which the talents of a monarch can be applied, he for a length of time
devoted his mind to the translation of Latin authors into the vernacular
tongue. In his preface to the Pastoral of Gregory which he translated, he
laments the destruction of the old monastic libraries by the Danes. "I
saw," he writes, "before alle were spoiled and burnt, how the churches
throughout Britain were filled with treasures and books,"[240] which must
have presented a striking contrast to the illiterate darkness which he
tells us afterwards spread over his dominions, for there were then very
few _paucissimi_ who could translate a Latin epistle into the Saxon

When Alfred had completed the translation of Gregory's Pastoral, he sent
a copy to each of his bishops accompanied with a golden stylus or
pen,[241] thus conveying to them the hint that it was their duty to use
it in the service of piety and learning. Encouraged by the favorable
impression which this work immediately caused, he spared no pains to
follow up the good design, but patiently applied himself to the
translation of other valuable books which he rendered into as pleasing
and expressive a version as the language of those rude times permitted.
Besides these literary labors he also wrote many original volumes, and
became a powerful orator, a learned grammarian, an acute philosopher, a
profound mathematician, and the prince of Saxon poesy; with these exalted
talents he united those of an historian, an architect, and an
accomplished musician. A copious list of his productions, the length of
which proves the fertility of his pen, will be found in the Biographica
Britannica,[242] but names of others not there enumerated may be found
in monkish chronicles; of his Manual, which was in existence in the time
of William of Malmsbury, not a fragment has been found. The last of his
labors was probably an attempt to render the psalms into the common
language, and so unfold that portion of the Holy Scriptures to our Saxon

Alfred, with the assistance of the many learned men whom he had called to
his court, restored the monasteries and schools of learning which the
Danes had desecrated, and it is said founded the university of Oxford,
where he built three halls, in the name of the Holy Trinity; for the
doctors of divinity, philosophy, and grammar. The controversy which this
subject has given rise to among the learned is too long to enter into
here, although the matter is one of great interest to the scholar and to
the antiquary.

In the year 901, this royal bibliophile, "the victorious prince, the
studious provider for widows, orphanes, and poore people, most perfect in
Saxon poetrie, most liberall endowed with wisdome, fortitude, justice,
and temperance, departed this life;"[243] and right well did he deserve
this eulogy, for as an old chronicle says, he was "a goode clerke and
rote many bokes, and a boke he made in Englysshe, of adventures of kynges
and bataylles that had bene wne in the lande; and other bokes of gestes
he them wryte, that were of greate wisdome, and of good learnynge, thrugh
whych bokes many a man may him amende, that well them rede, and upon
them loke. And thys kynge Allured lyeth at Wynchestre."[244]


[238] Flor. Vigorn. sub. anno. 871. Brompton's Chron. in Alferi, p.

[239] Asser de Alfredi Gestis., Edit. Camden i. p. 5. William
Malmsbury, b. ii. c. iv.

[240] Preface to Pastoral.

[241] Much controversy has arisen as to the precise meaning of this
word. _Hearne_ renders this passage "with certain macussus or marks
of gold the purest of his coin," which has led some to suppose gold
coinage was known among the Saxons. _William of Malmsbury_ calls it
a golden style in which was a maucus of gold. "In Alfred's Preface
it is called an Æstel of fifty macuses." - _V. Asser a Wise_, 86 to
175; but the meaning of that word is uncertain. The stylus properly
speaking was a small instrument formerly used for writing on waxen
tablets, and made of iron or bone, see _Archæologia_, vol. ii. p.
75. But waxen tablets were out of use in Alfred's time. The Æstel or
style was most probably an instrument used by the scribes of the
monasteries, if it was not actually a pen. I am more strongly
disposed to consider it so by the evidence of an ancient MS.
illumination of Eadwine, a monk of Canterbury, in Trinity Coll.
Camb.; at the end of this MS. the scribe is represented with a
_metal pen in his hand_.

[242] Vol. i. pp. 54, 55.

[243] Stowe's Annals, 4to. 1615, p. 105.

[244] Cronycle of Englonde with the Fruyte of Tymes, 4to. 1515.


_Benedict Biscop and his book
tours. - Bede. - Ceolfrid. - Wilfrid. - Boniface the Saxon
Missionary - His love of books. - Egbert of York. - Alcuin. - Whitby
Abbey. - Cædmon. - Classics in the Library of Withby. - Rievall
Library. - Coventry. - Worcester. - Evesham. - Thomas of Marleberg,

The venerable Bede enables us to show that in the early Saxon days the
monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow possessed considerable collections of
books. Benedict Biscop, the most enthusiastic bibliomaniac of the age,
founded the monastery of Wearmouth in the year 674, in honor of the "Most
Holy Prince of the Apostles." His whole soul was in the work, he spared
neither pains or expense to obtain artists of well known and reputed
talent to decorate the holy edifice; not finding them at home, he
journeyed to Gaul in search of them, and returned accompanied by numerous
expert and ingenious workmen. Within a year the building was
sufficiently advanced to enable the monks to celebrate divine service
there. He introduced glass windows and other ornaments into his church,
and furnished it with numerous books of all descriptions, _innumerabilem
librorum omnis generis_. Benedict was so passionately fond of books that
he took five journeys to Rome for the purpose of collecting them. In his
third voyage he gathered together a large quantity on divine erudition;
some of these he bought, or received them as presents from his friends,
_vel amicorum dono largitos retulit_. When he arrived at Vienne on his
way home, he collected others which he had commissioned his friends to
purchase for him.[245] After the completion of his monastery he undertook
his fourth journey to Rome; he obtained from the Pope many privileges for
the abbey, and returned in the year 680, bringing with him many more
valuable books; he was accompanied by John the Chantor, who introduced
into the English churches the Roman method of singing. He was also a
great _amator librorum_, and left many choice manuscripts to the monks,
which Bede writes "were still preserved in their library." It was about
this time that Ecgfrid[246] gave Benedict a portion of land on the other
side of the river Wire, at a place called Jarrow; and that enterprising
and industrious abbot, in the year 684, built a monastery thereon. No
sooner was it completed, than he went a fifth time to Rome to search for
volumes to gratify his darling passion. This was the last, but perhaps
the most successful of his foreign tours, for he brought back with him a
vast quantity of sacred volumes and curious pictures.[247] How deeply is
it to be regretted that the relation of the travels which Ceolfrid his
successor undertook, and which it is said his own pen inscribed, has been
lost to us forever. He probably spoke much of Benedict in the volume and
recorded his book pilgrimages. How dearly would the bibliomaniac revel
over those early annals of his science, could his eye meet those
venerable pages - perhaps describing the choice tomes Benedict met with in
his Italian tours, and telling us how, and what, and where he gleaned
those fine collections; sweet indeed would have been the perusal of that
delectable little volume, full of the book experience of a bibliophile in
Saxon days, near twelve hundred years ago! But the ravages of time or the
fury of the Danes deprived us of this rare gem, and we are alone
dependent on Bede for the incidents connected with the life of this great
man; we learn from that venerable author that Benedict was seized with
the palsy on his return, and that languishing a few short years, he died
in the year 690; but through pain and suffering he often dwelt on the
sweet treasures of his library, and his solemn thoughts of death and
immortality were intermixed with many a fond bookish recollection. _His
most noble and abundant library which he brought from Rome_ he constantly
referred to, and gave strict injunctions that the monks should apply the
utmost care to the preservation of that rich and costly treasure, in the
collection of which so many perils and anxious years were spent.[248]

We all know the force of example, and are not surprised that the sweet
mania which ruled so potently over the mind of Benedict, spread itself
around the crowned head of royalty. Perhaps book collecting was beginning
to make "a stir," and the rich and powerful among the Saxons were
regarding strange volumes with a curious eye. Certain it is that Egfride,
or Ælfride, the proud king of Northumbria,[249] fondly coveted a
beautiful copy of the geographer's (_codice mirandi operis_), which
Benedict numbered among his treasures; and so eagerly too did he desire
its possession, that he gave in exchange a portion of eight hides of
land, near the river Fresca, for the volume; and Ceolfrid, Benedict's
successor, received it.

How useful must Benedict's library have been in ripening the mind that
was to cast a halo of immortality around that old monastery, and to
generate a renown which was long to survive the grey walls of that costly
fane; for whilst we now fruitlessly search for any vestiges of its former
being, we often peruse the living pages of Bede the venerable with
pleasure and instruction, and we feel refreshed by the breath of piety
and devotion which they unfold; yet it must be owned the superstition of
Rome will sometimes mar a devout prayer and the simplicity of a Christian
thought. But all honor to his manes and to his memory! for how much that
is admirable in the human character - how much sweet and virtuous humility
was hid in him, in the strict retirement of the cloister. The writings of
that humble monk outlive the fame of many a proud ecclesiastic or haughty
baron of his day; and well they might, for how homely does his pen record
the simple annals of that far distant age. Much have the old monks been
blamed for their bad Latin and their humble style; but far from
upbraiding, I would admire them for it; for is not the inelegance of
diction which their unpretending chronicles display, sufficiently
compensated by their charming simplicity. As for myself, I have sometimes
read them by the blaze of my cheerful hearth, or among the ruins of some
old monastic abbey,[250] till in imagination I beheld the events which
they attempt to record, and could almost hear the voice of the "_goode
olde monke_" as he relates the deeds of some holy man - in language so
natural and idiomatic are they written.

But as we were saying, Bede made ample use of Benedict's library; and the
many Latin and Greek books, which he refers to in the course of his
writings, were doubtless derived from that source.[251] Ceolfrid, the
successor of Benedict, "a man of great zeal, of acute wisdom, and bold in
action," was a great lover of books, and under his care the libraries of
Wearmouth and Jarrow became nearly doubled in extent; of the nature of
these additions we are unable to judge, but probably they were not

Wilfrid, bishop of Northumbria, was a dear and intimate friend of
Biscop's, and was the companion of one of his pilgrimages to Rome. In his
early youth he gave visible signs of a heart full of religion and piety,
and he sought by a steady perusal of the Holy Scriptures, in the little
monastery of Lindesfarne, to garnish his mind with that divine lore with
which he shone so brightly in the Saxon church. It was at the court of
Ercenbyrht, king of Kent, that he met with Benedict Biscop; and the
sympathy which their mutual learning engendered gave rise to a warm and
devoted friendship between them. Both inspired with an ardent desire to
visit the apostolic see, they set out together for Rome;[253] and it was
probably by the illustrious example of his fellow student and companion,
that Wilfrid imbibed that book-loving passion which he afterwards
displayed on more than one occasion. On his return from Rome, Alfred of
Northumbria bestowed upon him the monastery of Rhypum[254] in the year
661, and endowed it with certain lands. Peter of Blois records, in his
life of Wilfrid, that this "man of God" gave the monastery a copy of the
gospels, a library, and many books of the Old and New Testament, with
certain tablets made with marvellous ingenuity, and ornamented with gold
and precious stones.[255] Wilfrid did not long remain in the monastery of
Ripon, but advanced to higher honors, and took a more active part in the
ecclesiastical affairs of the time.[256] But I am not about to pursue his
history, or to attempt to show how his hot and imperious temper, or the
pride and avarice of his disposition, wrought many grievous animosities
in the Saxon church; or how by his prelatical ambition he deservedly lost
the friendship of his King and his ecclesiastical honors.[257]

About this time, and contemporary with Bede, we must not omit one who
appears as a bright star in the early Christian church. Boniface,[258]
the Saxon missionary, was remarked by his parents to manifest at an early
age signs of that talent which in after years achieved so much, and
advanced so materially the interests of piety and the cause of
civilization. When scarcely four years old his infant mind seemed prone
to study, which growing upon him as he increased in years, his parent
placed him in the monastery of Exeter. His stay there was not of long
duration, for he shortly after removed to a monastery in Hampshire under
the care of Wybert. In seclusion and quietude he there studied with
indefatigable ardor, and fortified his mind with that pious enthusiasm
and profound erudition, which enabled him in a far distant country to
render such service to the church. He was made a teacher, and when
arrived at the necessary age he was ordained priest. In the year 710, a
dispute having occurred among the western church of the Saxons, he was
appointed to undertake a mission to the archbishop of Canterbury on the
subject. Pleased perhaps with the variety and bustle of travel, and

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