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classical student has perhaps ere this condemned them for their want of
taste, and felt indignant at the absence of those authors of antiquity
whose names and works he venerates. But the monks, far from neglecting
those precious volumes, were ever careful of their preservation; they
loved Virgil, Horace, and even Ovid, "heathen dogs" as they were, and
enjoyed a keen relish for their beauties. I find in this catalogue the
following choice names of antiquity occur repeatedly: -


Here were rich mines of ancient eloquence, and fragrant flowers of poesy
to enliven and perfume the dull cloister studies of the monks. It is not
every library or reading society even of our own time that possess so
many gems of old. But other treasures might yet be named which still
further testify to the varied tastes and literary pursuits of these
monastic bibliophiles; but I shall content myself with naming Peter of
Blois, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, of which they had several copies,
some enriched with choice commentaries and notes, the works of Thomas
Aquinas and others of his class, a "Liber Ricardi," Dictionaries,
Grammars, and the writings of "Majestri Robi Grostete," the celebrated
Bishop of Lincoln, renowned as a great _amator librorum_ and collector of
Grecian literature. I might easily swell this notice out to a
considerable extent by enumerating many other book treasures in this
curious collection: but enough has been said to enable the reader to
judge of the sort of literature the monks of Ramsey collected and the
books they read; and if he should feel inclined to pursue the inquiry
further, I must refer him to the original manuscript, promising him much
gratification for his trouble.[367] It only remains for me to say that
the Vandalism of the Reformation swept all traces of this fine library
away, save the broken, tattered catalogue we have just examined. But this
is more than has been spared from some. The abbey of St. Edmunds
Bury[368] at one time must have enjoyed a copious library, but we have no
catalogue that I am aware of to tell of its nature, not even a passing
notice of its well-stored shelves, except a few lines in which Leland
mentions some of the old manuscripts he found therein.[369] But a
catalogue of their library in the flourishing days of their monastery
would have disclosed, I imagine, many curious works, and probably some
singular writings on the "_crafft off medycyne_," which Abbot Baldwin,
"_phesean_" to Edward the Confessor,[370] had given the monks, and of
whom Lydgate thus speaks -

"Baldewynus, a monk off Seynt Denys,
Gretly expert in crafft of medycyne;
Full provydent off counsayl and right wys,
Sad off his port, functuons off doctryne;
After by grace and influence devyne,
Choose off Bury Abbot, as I reede
The thyrdde in order that did ther succeade."[371]

We may equally deplore the loss of the catalogue of the monastery of Ely,
which, during the middle ages, we have every reason to suppose possessed
a library of much value and extent. This old monastery can trace its
foundation back to a remote period, and claim as its foundress,
Etheldredæ,[372] the daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles, she was
the wife of King Ecgfrid,[373] with whom she lived for twelve long years,
though during that time she preserved the glory of perfect virginity,
much to the annoyance of her royal spouse, who offered money and lands
to induce that illustrious virgin to waver in her resolution, but without
success. Her inflexible determination at length induced her husband to
grant her oft-repeated prayer; and in the year 673 she retired into the
seclusion of monastic life,[374] and building the monastery of Ely,
devoted her days to the praise and glory of her heavenly King. Her pure
and pious life caused others speedily to follow her example, and she soon
became the virgin-mother of a numerous progeny dedicated to God. A series
of astounding miracles attended her monastic life; and sixteen years
after her death, when her sister, the succeeding abbess, opened her
wooden coffin to transfer her body to a more costly one of marble, that
"holy virgin and spouse of Christ" was found entirely free from
corruption or decay.[375]

A nunnery, glorying in so pure a foundress, grew and flourished, and for
"two hundred years existed in the full observance of monastic
discipline;" but on the coming of the Danes in the year 870, those sad
destroyers of religious establishments laid it in a heap of ruins, in
which desolate condition it remained till it attracted the attention of
the celebrated Ethelwold, who under the patronage of King Edgar restored
it; and endowing it with considerable privileges appointed Brithnoth,
Prior of Winchester, its first abbot.[376]

Many years after, when Leoffin was abbot there, and Canute was king, that
monarch honored the monastery of Ely with his presence on several
occasions. Monkish traditions say, that on one of these visits as the
king approached, he heard the pious inmates of the monastery chanting
their hymn of praise; and so melodious were the voices of the devotees,
that his royal heart was touched, and he poured forth his feelings in a
Saxon ballad, commencing thus:

"Merry sang the monks of Ely,
When Canute the king was sailing by;
Row ye knights near the land,
And let us hear these monks song."[377]

It reads smoother in Strutt's version; he renders it

"Cheerful sang the monk of Ely,
When Canute the king was passing by;
Row to the shore knights, said the king,
And let us hear these churchmen sing."[378]

In addition to the title of a poet, Canute has also received the
appellation of a bibliomaniac. Dibdin, in his bibliomania, mentions in a
cursory manner a few monkish book collectors, and introduces Canute
among them.[379] The illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels in the
Danish tongue, now in the British Museum, he writes, "and once that
monarch's own book leaves not the shadow of a doubt of his bibliomanical
character!" I cannot however allow him that title upon such equivocal
grounds; for upon examination, the MS. turns out to be in the Theotisc
dialect, possessing no illuminations of its own, and never perhaps once
in the hands of the royal poet.[380]

From the account books of Ely church we may infer that the monks there
enjoyed a tolerable library; for we find frequent entries of money having
been expended for books and materials connected with the library; thus in
the year 1300 we find that they bought at one time five dozen parchment,
four pounds of ink, eight calf and four sheep-skins for binding books;
and afterwards there is another entry of five dozen vellum and six pair
of book clasps, a book of decretals for the library, 3s., a Speculum
Gregor, 2s., and "_Pro tabula Paschalis fac denova et illuminand_,"
4s.[381] They frequently perhaps sent one of the monks to distants parts
to purchase or borrow books for their library; a curious instance of this
occurs under the year 1329, when they paid "the precentor for going to
Balsham to enquire for books, 6s. 7d." The bookbinder two weeks' wages,
4s.; twelve iron chains to fasten books, 4s.; five dozen vellum, 25s. 8d.
In the year 1396, they paid their librarian 53s. 4d., and a tunic for his
services during one year.[382]

Nigel, Bishop of Ely, by endowing the Scriptorium, enabled the monks to
produce some excellent transcripts; they added several books of
Cassiodorus, Bede, Aldelem, Radbert, Andres, etc., to the library;[383]
and they possessed at one time no less than thirteen fine copies of the
Gospels, which were beautifully bound in gold and silver.[384]


[351] Those learned in such matters refer the foundation of
Winchester cathedral and monastery to a remote period. An old writer
says that it was "built by King Lucius, who, abolishing Paganisme,
embraced Christ the first yere of his reigne, being the yeere of our
Lord 180." - _Godwin's Cat._ p. 157. See also _Usher de Primordiis_.
fo. 126.

[352] "Ecclesiarum ac diversorum operum magnus ædificator, et dum
esset abbas et dum esset episcopus." - _Wolstan. Vita Æthelw. ap.
Mabillon Actæ S. S. Benedict, Sæc._ v. p. 614.

[353] Dugdale's Monasticon, vol. i. p. 614.

[354] MS. belonging to the Society of Antiquaries, No. 60, fo. 34.
See Dugdale Monast. vol. i. p. 382. He gave to the monks of Abingdon
a copy of the Gospels cased in silver, ornamented with gold and
precious stones.

[355] _Archæologia_, vol. xxiv. p. 22; and _Dibdin's_ delightful
"_Decameron_," vol. i. p. lix.

[356] Wuls. Act. S. S. Benedict. p. 616.

[357] Archæolog. vol. xxiv.

[358] Regist. Priorat. S. Swithin Winton. - _Warton_ II, _Dissert._

[359] _Ibid._

[360] _Marked Titus_, D. 27.

[361] It is called "_Calendarium, in quo notantur dies obitus
plurimorum monachorum, abbatum, etc.; temp. regum Anglo-Saxonum_."

[362] It was a little cell dependant on the Abbey of Thorney.

[363] MS. _Harleian_, No. 3658, fo. 74, b. It will be found printed
in _Dugdale's Monasticon_, vol. iv. p. 167. The catalogue was
evidently written about the year 1350.

[364] Cottonian Charta, 11-16. I am sorry to observe so little
attention paid to this curious fragment, which, insignificant as it
may appear to some, is nevertheless quite a curiosity of literature
in its way. Its tattered condition calls for the care of Sir
Frederick Madden.

[365] Leland Script. Brit. p. 321, and MSS. Bibl. Lambeth, Wharton,
L. p. 661. Libris Prioris Gregorii de Ramsey, _Prima pars
Bibliothecæ Hebraice_, etc. Warton Dissert ii. Eng. Poetry.

[366] Bale, iv. 41, et ix. 9. Leland. Scrip. Brit. p. 452.

[367] Ailward, Bishop of London, gave many books to the library of
Ramsey monastery, _Hoveden Scrip. post. Bedam._ 1596, fol. 252.
Dugdale's Monasticon, vol. ii.

[368] In the year 1327, the inhabitants of Bury besieged the abbey,
wounded the monks, and "bare out of the abbey all the gold, silver
ornaments, _bookes, charters, and other writings_." Stowe Annals, p.

[369] He particularly notices a Sallust, a very ancient copy,
_vetustis simus_.

[370] And also to Lanfranc, he was elected in the year 1065.

[371] Harleian MS. No. 2278.

[372] Or Atheldryth.

[373] The youngest son of Osway, King of Northumbria; he succeeded
to the throne on the death of his father in the year 670.

[374] She seems to have been principally encouraged in this
fanatical determination by Wilfrid; probably this was one of the
causes of Ecgfrid's displeasure towards him. So highly was the
purity of the body regarded in the early Saxon church, that Aldhelm
wrote a piece in its praise, in imitation of the style of Sedulius,
but in most extravagant terms. Bede wrote a poem, solely to
commemorate the chastety of Etheldreda.

"Let Maro wars in loftier numbers sing
I sound the praises of our heavenly King;
Chaste is my verse, nor Helen's rape I write,
Light tales like these, but prove the mind as light."
_Bede's Eccl. Hist. by Giles_, b. iv. c. xx.

[375] Bede's Eccl. Hist. b. iv. c. xx.

[376] Saxon Chronicle translated by Ingram, p. 118. Dugdale's
Monasticon, vol. i. p. 458.

[377] Sharon Turner's Hist. of the Anglo-Saxons, vol. ii. p. 288.

[378] Strutt's Saxon Antiquities, vol. i. p. 83.

[379] _Dibdin's Bibliomania_, p. 228.

[380] Dibdin alludes to the "Harmony of the Four Gospels," preserved
among the Cotton MSS. _Caligula_, A. vii. and described as
"_Harmonia Evangeliorum, lingua Francica capitulis, 71, Liber
quondam (dicit Jamesius) Canuti regis_." See also Hicke's Gram.
Franco-Theotisca, p. 6. But there is no ground for the supposition
that it belonged to Canute; and the several fine historical
illuminations bound up with it are evidently of a much later age.

[381] An entry occurs of 6s. 8d. for writing two processionals.

[382] Stevenson's Suppl. to Bentham's church of Ely, p. 52. "It is
worth notice," says Stevenson, "that in the course of a few years,
about the middle of the 14th century, the precentor purchased
upwards of seventy dozen parchment and thirty dozen vellum."

[383] Spelman Antiquarii Collectanea, vol. iii. p. 273. Nigel, who
was made bishop in 1133, was plundered by some of King Stephen's
soldiers, and robbed of his own copy of the Gospels which he had
adorned with many sacred relics; see _Anglia Sacra_, i. p. 622.

[384] _Warton's Anglia Sacra_, it is related that William Longchamp,
bishop in 1199, sold them to raise money towards the redemption of
King Richard, _pro Regis Ricardi redemptione_, tom. i. 633. Dugd.
Monast. i. p. 463.


_St. Alban's. - Willigod. - Bones of St. Alban. - Eadmer. - Norman
Conquest. - Paul and the Scriptorium. - Geoffry de
Gorham. - Brekspere the "Poor Clerk". - Abbot Simon and his "multis
voluminibus". - Raymond the
Prior. - Wentmore. - Whethamstede. - Humphrey, Duke of
Gloucester. - Lydgate. - Guy, Earl of Warwick._

The efficacy of "Good Works" was a principle ever inculcated by the monks
of old. It is sad to reflect, that vile deeds and black intentions were
too readily forgiven and absolved by the Church on the performance of
some _good deed_; or that the monks should dare to shelter or to gloss
over those sins which their priestly duty bound them to condemn, because
forsooth some wealthy baron could spare a portion of his broad lands or
coffered gold to extenuate them. But this forms one of the dark stains of
the monastic system; and the monks, I am sorry to say, were more readily
inclined to overlook the blemish, because it proved so profitable to
their order. And thus it was, that the proud and noble monastery of St.
Alban's was endowed by a murderer's hand, and built to allay the fierce
tortures of an assassin's conscience. Ethelbert, king of the East Angles,
fell by the regal hand of Offa, king of Mercia; and from the era of that
black and guilty deed many a fine monastery dates its origin and owes its

St. Alban's was founded, as its name implies, in honor of the English
protomartyr, whose bones were said to have been discovered on that
interesting site, and afterwards preserved with veneration in the abbey.
In the ancient times, the building appears to have covered a considerable
space, and to have been of great magnitude and power; for ruins of its
former structure mark how far and wide the foundation spreads.

"The glorious king Offa," as the monks in their adulation style him,
richly endowed the monastery on its completion, as we learn from the old
chronicles of the abbey; and a succession of potent sovereigns are
emblazoned on the glittering parchment, whose liberalty augmented or
confirmed these privileges.[385]

Willigod, the first abbot, greatly enriched the monastery, and bestowed
especial care upon the relics of St. Alban. It is curious to mark how
many perils those shrivelled bones escaped, and with what anxious care
the monks preserved them. In the year 930, during the time of Abbot
Eadfrid, the Danes attacked the abbey, and after many destroying acts
broke open the repository, and carried away some of the bones of St.
Alban into their own country.[386] The monks took greater care than ever
of the remaining relics; and their anxiety for their safety, and the
veneration with which they regarded them, is curiously illustrated by an
anecdote of Abbot Leofric, elected in the year 1006. His abbacy was,
therefore, held in troubled times; and in the midst of fresh invasions
and Danish cruelties. Fearing lest they should a second time reach the
abbey, he determined to protect by stratagem what he could not effect by
force. After hiding the genuine bones of St. Alban in a place quite
secure from discovery, he sent an open message to the Abbot of Ely,
entreating permission to deposit the holy relics in his keeping; and
offering, as a plausible reason, that the monastery of Ely, being
surrounded by marshy and impenetrable bogs, was secure from the
approaches of the barbarians. He accompanied this message with some false
relics - the remains of an old monk belonging to the abbey enclosed in a
coffin - and sent with them a worn antiquated looking mantle, pretending
that it formerly belonged to Amphibalus, the master of St. Alban.[387]
The monks of Ely joyfully received these precious bones, and displayed
perhaps too much eagerness in doing so. Certain it is, that when the
danger was past and the quietude of the country was restored, Leofric,
on applying for the restitution of these "holy relics," found some
difficulty in obtaining them; for the Abbot of Ely attempted by
equivocation and duplicity to retain them. After several ineffectual
applications, Leofric was compelled, for the honor of his monastery, to
declare the "pious fraud" he had practised; which he proved by the
testimony of several monks of his fraternity, who were witnesses of the
transaction. It is said, that Edward the Confessor was highly incensed at
the conduct of the Abbot of Ely.

I have stated elsewhere, that the learned and pious Ælfric gave the
monastery many choice volumes. His successor, Ealdred, abbot, about the
year 955, was quite an antiquary in his way; and no spot in England
afforded so many opportunities to gratify his taste as the site of the
ancient city of Verulam. He commenced an extensive search among the
ruins, and rescued from the earth a vast quantity of interesting and
valuable remains. He stowed all the stone-work and other materials which
were serviceable in building away, intending to erect a new edifice for
the monks: but death prevented the consummation of these designs. Eadmer,
his successor, a man of great piety and learning, followed up the
pursuit, and made some important accessions to these stores. He found
also a great number of gold and silver ornaments, specimens of ancient
art, some of them of a most costly nature, but being idols or figures
connected with heathen mythology, he cared not to preserve them. Matthew
Paris is prolix in his account of the operations and discoveries of this
abbot; and one portion of it is so interesting, and seems so connected
with our subject, that I cannot refrain from giving it to the reader.
"The abbot," he writes, "whilst digging out the walls and searching for
the ruins which were buried in the earth in the midst of the ancient
city, discovered many vestiges of the foundation of a great palace. In a
recess in one of the walls he found the remains of a library, consisting
of a number of books and rolls; and among them a volume in an unknown
tongue, and which, although very ancient, had especially escaped
destruction. This nobody in the monastery could read, nor could they at
that time find any one who understood the writing or the idiom; it was
exceedingly ancient, and the letters evidently were most beautifully
formed; the inscriptions or titles were written in gold, and encircled
with ornaments; bound in oak with silken bands, which still retained
their strength and beauty; so perfectly was the volume preserved. But
they could not conceive what the book was about; at last, after much
search and diligent inquiry, they found a very feeble and aged priest,
named Unwon, who was very learned in writings _literis bene eruditum_,
and imbued with the knowledge of divers languages. He knew directly what
the volume was about, and clearly and fluently read the contents; he also
explained the other _Codices_ found in the same library _in eodem
Almariolo_ of the palace with the greatest ease, and showed them to be
written in the characters formerly in use among the inhabitants of
Verulam, and in the language of the ancient Britons. Some, however, were
in Latin; but the book before-mentioned was found to be the history of
Saint Alban, the English proto-martyr, according to that mentioned by
Bede, as having been daily used in the church. Among the other books were
discovered many contrivances for the invocation and idolatrous rites of
the people of Verulam, in which it was evident that Phoebus the god Sol
was especially invoked and worshipped; and after him Mercury, called in
English Woden, who was the god of the merchants. The books which
contained these diabolical inventions they cast away and burnt; but that
precious treasure, the history of Saint Alban, they preserved, and the
priest before-mentioned was appointed to translate the ancient English or
British into the vulgar tongue.[388] By the prudence of the Abbot Eadmer,
the brothers of the convent made a faithful copy, and diligently
explained it in their public teaching; they also translated it into
Latin, in which it is now known and read; the historian adds that the
ancient and original copy, which was so curiously written,
instantaneously crumbled into dust and was destroyed for ever."[389]

Although the attention of the Saxon abbots was especially directed to
literary matters, and to the affairs connected with the making of books,
we find no definite mention of a Scriptorium, or of manuscripts having
been transcribed as a regular and systematic duty, till after the Norman
conquest. That event happened during the abbacy of Frederic, and was one
which greatly influenced the learning of the monks. Indeed, I regard the
Norman conquest as a most propitious event for English literature, and
one which wrought a vast change in the aspect of monastic learning; the
student of those times cannot fail to perceive the revolution which then
took place in the cloisters; visibly accomplished by the installation of
Norman bishops and the importation of Norman monks, who in the well
regulated monasteries of France and Normandy had been initiated into a
more general course of study, and brought up in a better system of mental
training than was known here at that time.

But poor Frederic, a conscientious and worthy monk, suffered severely by
that event, and was ultimately obliged to seek refuge in the monastery of
Ely to evade the displeasure of the new sovereign; but his earthly course
was well nigh run, for three days after, death released him from his
worldly troubles, and deprived the conqueror of a victim. Paul, the first
of the Norman abbots, was appointed by the king in the year 1077. He was
zealous and industrious in the interest of the abbey, and obtained the
restitution of many lands and possessions of which it had been deprived;
he rebuilt the old and almost ruined church, and employed for that
purpose many of the materials which his predecessors had collected from
the ruins of Verulam; and even now, I believe, some remnants of these
Roman tiles, etc., may be discerned. He moreover obtained many important
grants and valuable donations; among others a layman named Robert, one
of the Norman leaders, gave him two parts of the tythes of his domain at
Hatfield, which he had received from the king at the distribution.

"This he assigned," says Matthew Paris, "to the disposal of Abbot Paul,
who was a lover of the Scriptures, for the transcription of the necessary
volumes for the monastery. He himself indeed was a learned soldier, and a
diligent hearer and lover of Scripture; to this he also added the tythes
of Redburn, appointing certain provisions to be given to the scribes;
this he did out of "charity to the brothers that they may not thereby
suffer, and that no impediment might be offered to the writers." The
abbot thereupon sought and obtained from afar many renowned scribes, to
write the necessary books for the monastery. And in return for these
abundant favors, he presented, as a suitable gift to the warlike Robert,
for the chapel in his palace at Hatfield, two pair of vestments, a silver
cup, a missal, and the other needful books (_missale cum aliis libris
necessariis_). Having thus presented to him the first volumes produced by
his liberality, he proceeded to construct a scriptorium, which was set
apart (_præelectos_) for the transcription of books; Lanfranc supplied
the copies. They thus procured for the monastery twenty-eight notable

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