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invaluable repository of the events of so many years, bears ample
testimony to numerous instances of the loss of libraries and works of
art, from fire, or by the malice of designing foes. At some periods, so
general was this destruction, so unquenchable the rapacity of those who
caused it, that instead of feeling surprised at the manuscripts of those
ages being so few and scanty, we have cause rather to wonder that so many
have been preserved. For even the numbers which escaped the hands of the
early and unlettered barbarians met with an equally ignominious fate from
those for whom it would be impossible to hold up the darkness of their
age as a plausible excuse for the commission of this egregious folly.
These men over whose sad deeds the bibliophile sighs with mournful
regret, were those who carried out the Reformation, so glorious in its
results; but the righteousness of the means by which those results were
effected are very equivocal indeed. When men form themselves into a
faction and strive for the accomplishment of one purpose, criminal deeds
are perpetrated with impunity, which, individually they would blush and
scorn to do; they feel no direct responsibility, no personal restraint;
and, such as possess fierce passions, under the cloak of an organized
body, give them vent and gratification; and those whose better feelings
lead them to contemplate upon these things content themselves with the
conclusion, that out of evil cometh good.

The noble art of printing was unable, with all its rapid movements, to
rescue from destruction the treasures of the monkish age; the advocates
of the Reformation eagerly sought for and as eagerly destroyed those old
popish volumes, doubtless there was much folly, much exaggerated
superstition pervading them; but there was also some truth, a few facts
worth knowing, and perhaps a little true piety also, and it would have
been no difficult matter to have discriminated between the good and the
bad. But the careless grants of a licentious monarch conferred a
monastery on a court favorite or political partizan without one thought
for the preservation of its contents. It is true a few years after the
dissolution of these houses, the industrious Leland was appointed to
search and rummage over their libraries and to preserve any relic worthy
of such an honor; but it was too late, less learned hands had rifled
those parchment collections long ago, mutilated their finest volumes by
cutting out with childish pleasure the illuminations with which they were
adorned; tearing off the bindings for the gold claps which protected the
treasures within,[8] and chopping up huge folios as fuel for their
blazing hearths, and immense collections were sold as waste paper. Bale,
a strenuous opponent of the monks, thus deplores the loss of their books:
"Never had we bene offended for the losse of our lybraryes beynge so many
in nombre and in so desolate places for the moste parte, yf the chief
monuments and moste notable workes of our excellent wryters had bene
reserved, yf there had bene in every shyre of Englande but one solemyne
library to the preservacyon of those noble workers, and preferrement of
good learnynges in oure posteryte it had bene yet somewhat. But to
destroye all without consyderacion, is and wyll be unto Englande for ever
a most horryble infamy amonge the grave senyours of other nations. A
grete nombre of them whych purchased those superstycyose mansyons
reserved of those lybrarye bokes, some to serve theyr jakes, some to
scoure theyr candelstyckes, and some to rubbe theyr bootes; some they
solde to the grossers and sope sellers, and some they sent over see to
the bokebynders,[9] not in small nombre, but at tymes _whole shippes
ful_. I know a merchant man, whyche shall at thys tyme be nameless, that
boughte the contents of two noble lybraryes for xl shyllyngs pryce, a
shame is it to be spoken. Thys stuffe hathe he occupyed in the stide of
graye paper for the space of more than these ten years, and yet hath
store ynough for as many years to come. A prodyguose example is this, and
to be abhorred of all men who love theyr natyon as they shoulde do."[10]

However pernicious the Roman religion might have been in its practice, it
argues little to the honor of the reformers to have used such means as
this to effect its cure; had they merely destroyed those productions
connected with the controversies of the day, we might perhaps have
excused it, on the score of party feeling; but those who were
commissioned to visit the public libraries of the kingdom were often men
of prejudiced intellects and shortsighted wisdom, and it frequently
happened that an ignorant and excited mob became the executioners of
whole collections.[11] It would be impossible now to estimate the loss.
Manuscripts of ancient and classic date would in their hands receive no
more respect than some dry husky folio on ecclesiastical policy; indeed,
they often destroyed the works of their own party through sheer
ignorance. In a letter sent by Dr. Cox to William Paget, Secretary, he
writes that the proclamation for burning books had been the occasion of
much hurt. "For New Testaments and Bibles (not condemned by proclamation)
have been burned, and that, out of parish churches and good men's houses.
They have burned innumerable of the king's majesties books concerning our
religion lately set forth."[12] The ignorant thus delighted to destroy
that which they did not understand, and the factional spirit of the more
enlightened would not allow them to make one effort for the preservation
of those valuable relics of early English literature, which crowded the
shelves of the monastic libraries; the sign of the cross, the use of red
letters on the title page, the illuminations representing saints, or the
diagrams and circles of a mathematical nature, were at all times deemed
sufficient evidence of their popish origin and fitness for the

When we consider the immense number of MSS. thus destroyed, we cannot
help suspecting that, if they had been carefully preserved and examined,
many valuable and original records would have been discovered. The
catalogues of old monastic establishments, although containing a great
proportion of works on divine and ecclesiastical learning, testify that
the monks did not confine their studies exclusively to legendary tales or
superstitious missals, but that they also cultivated a taste for
classical and general learning. Doubtless, in the ruin of the sixteenth
century, many original works of monkish authors perished, and the
splendor of the transcript rendered it still more liable to destruction;
but I confess, as old Fuller quaintly says, that "there were many volumes
full fraught with superstition which, notwithstanding, might be useful to
learned men, except any will deny apothecaries the privilege of keeping
poison in their shops, when they can make antidotes of them. But besides
this, what beautiful bibles! Rare fathers! Subtle schoolmen! Useful
historians! Ancient! Middle! Modern! What painful comments were here
amongst them! What monuments of mathematics all massacred together!"[14]

More than a cart load of manuscripts were taken away from Merton College
and destroyed, and a vast number from the Baliol and New Colleges,
Oxford;[15] but these instances might be infinitely multiplied, so
terrible were those intemperate outrages. All this tends to enforce upon
us the necessity of using considerable caution in forming an opinion of
the nature and extent of learning prevalent during those ages which
preceded the discovery of the art of printing.


[7] The sad page in the Annals of Literary History recording the
destruction of books and MSS. fully prove this assertion. In France,
in the year 1790, 4,194,000 volumes were burnt belonging to the
suppressed monasteries, about 25,000 of these were manuscripts.

[8] "About this time (Feb. 25, 1550) the Council book mentions the
king's sending a letter for the purging his library at Westminster.
The persons are not named, but the business was to cull out all
superstitious books, as missals, legends, and such like, and to
deliver the garniture of the books, being either gold or silver, to
Sir Anthony Aucher. These books were many of them plated with gold
and silver and curiously embossed. This, as far as we can collect,
was the superstition that destroyed them. Here avarice had a very
thin disguise, and the courtiers discovered of what spirit they were
to a remarkable degree." - Collier's Eccle. History, vol. ii. p. 307.

[9] Any one who can inspect a library of ancient books will find
proof of this. A collection of vellum scraps which I have derived
from these sources are very exciting to a bibliomaniac, a choice
line so abruptly broken, a monkish or classical verse so cruelly
mutilated! render an inspection of this odd collection, a
tantalizing amusement.

[10] Bale's Leland's Laboryouse Journey, Preface.

[11] The works of the Schoolmen, viz.: of P. Lombard, T. Aquinas,
Scotus and his followers and critics also, and such that had popish
scholars in them they cast out of all college libraries and private
studies. - _Wood's Hist. Oxon._, vol. i. b. 1. p. 108. And "least
their impiety and foolishness in this act should be further wanting,
they brought it to pass that certain rude young men should carry
this great spoil of books about the city on biers, which being so
done, to set them down in the common market place, and then burn
them, to the sorrow of many, as well as of the Protestants as of the
other party. This was by them styled 'the funeral of Scotus the
Scotists.' So that at this time and all this king's reign was seldom
seen anything in the universities but books of poetry, grammar, idle
songs, and frivolous stuff." - _Ibid., Wood is referring to the reign
of Edward VI._

[12] Wood's Hist. Oxon, b. i. p. 81.

[13] "Gutch has printed in his 'Collectiana' an order from the
Queen's commissioners to destroy all capes, vestments, albes,
missals, books, crosses, and such other idolatrous and superstitious
monuments whatsoever.' - vol. ii. p. 280."

[14] Fuller's Church History, b. vi. p. 335.

[15] Wood's Oxon, vol. i. b. i. p. 107


_Duties of the monkish librarian. - Rules of the library. - Lending
books. - Books allowed the monks for private reading. - Ridiculous
signs for books. - How the libraries were supported. - A monkish
blessing on books, etc._

In this chapter I shall proceed to inquire into the duties of the monkish
amanuensis, and show by what laws and regulations the monastic libraries
were governed. The monotonous habits of a cloistered bibliophile will,
perhaps, appear dry and fastidious, but still it is curious and
interesting to observe how carefully the monks regarded their vellum
tomes, how indefatigably they worked to increase their stores, and how
eagerly they sought for books. But besides being regarded as a literary
curiosity, the subject derives importance by the light it throws on the
state of learning in those dark and "bookless" days, and the
illustrations gleaned in this way fully compensate for the tediousness of
the research.

As a bibliophile it is somewhat pleasing to trace a deep book passion
growing up in the barrenness of the cloister, and to find in some cowled
monk a bibliomaniac as warm and enthusiastic in his way as the renowned
"Atticus," or the noble Roxburghe, of more recent times. It is true we
can draw no comparison between the result of their respective labors. The
hundreds, which in the old time were deemed a respectable if not an
extensive collection, would look insignificant beside the ostentatious
array of modern libraries.

But the very tenor of a monastic life compelled the monk to seek the
sweet yet silent companionship of books; the rules of his order and the
regulations of his fraternity enforced the strictest silence in the
execution of his daily and never-ceasing duties. Attending mass, singing
psalms, and midnight prayers, were succeeded by mass, psalms and prayers
in one long undeviating round of yearly obligations; the hours
intervening between these holy exercises were dull and tediously
insupportable if unoccupied. Conversation forbidden, secular amusements
denounced, yet idleness reproached, what could the poor monk seek as a
relief in this distress but the friendly book; the willing and obedient
companion of every one doomed to lonely hours and dismal solitude?

The pride and glory of a monastery was a well stored library, which was
committed to the care of the armarian, and with him rested all the
responsibility of its preservation. According to the Consuetudines
Canonicorum Regularium, it was his duty to have all the books of the
monastery in his keeping catalogued and separately marked with their
proper names.[16] Some of these old catalogues have been preserved, and,
viewed as bibliographical remains of the middle ages, are of considerable
importance; indeed, we cannot form a correct idea of the literature of
those remote times without them. Many productions of authors are recorded
in these brief catalogues whose former existence is only known to us by
these means. There is one circumstance in connexion with them that must
not be forgotten: instead of enumerating all the works which each volume
contained, they merely specified the first, so that a catalogue of fifty
or a hundred volumes might probably have contained nearly double that
number of distinct works. I have seen MSS. formerly belonging to
monasteries, which have been catalogued in this way, containing four or
five others, besides the one mentioned. Designed rather to identify the
book than to describe the contents of each volume, they wrote down the
first word or two of the second leaf - this was the most prevalent usage;
but they often adopted other means, sometimes giving a slight notice of
the works which a volume contained; others took the precaution of noting
down the last word of the last leaf but one,[17] a great advantage, as
the monkish student could more easily detect at a glance whether the
volume was perfect. The armarian was, moreover, particularly enjoined to
inspect with scrupulous care the more ancient volumes, lest the
moth-worms should have got at them, or they had become corrupt or
mutilated, and, if such were the case, he was with great care to restore
them. Probably the armarian was also the bookbinder to the monastery in
ordinary cases, for he is here directed to cover the volumes with tablets
of wood, that the inside may be preserved from moisture, and the
parchment from the injurious effects of dampness. The different orders of
books were to be kept separate from one another, and conveniently
arranged; not squeezed too tight, lest it should injure or confuse them,
but so placed that they might be easily distinguished, and those who
sought them might find them without delay or impediment.[18]
Bibliomaniacs have not been remarkable for their memory or punctuality,
and in the early times the borrower was often forgetful to return the
volume within the specified time. To guard against this, many rules were
framed, nor was the armarian allowed to lend the books, even to
neighboring monasteries, unless he received a bond or promise to restore
them within a certain time, and if the person was entirely unknown, a
book of equal value was required as a security for its safe return. In
all cases the armarian was instructed to make a short memorandum of the
name of the book which he had lent or received. The "great and precious
books" were subject to still more stringent rules, and although under the
conservation of the librarian, he had not the privilege of lending them
to any one without the distinct permission of the abbot.[19] This was,
doubtless, practised by all the monastic libraries, for all generously
lent one another their books. In a collection of chapter orders of the
prior and convent of Durham, bearing date 1235, it is evident that a
similar rule was observed there, which they were not to depart from
except at the desire of the bishop.[20] According to the constitutions
for the government of the Abingdon monastery, the library was under the
care of the Cantor, and all the writings of the church were consigned to
his keeping. He was not allowed to part with the books or lend them
without a sufficient deposit as a pledge for their safe return, except to
persons of consequence and repute.[21] This was the practice at a much
later period. When that renowned bibliomaniac, Richard de Bury, wrote his
delightful little book called _Philobiblon_, the same rules were strictly
in force. With respect to the lending of books, his own directions are
that, if any one apply for a particular volume, the librarian was to
carefully consider whether the library contained another copy of it; if
so, he was at liberty to lend the book, taking care, however, that he
obtained a security which was to exceed the value of the loan; they were
at the same time to make a memorandum in writing of the name of the book,
and the nature of the security deposited for it, with the name of the
party to whom it was lent, with that of the officer or librarian who
delivered it.[22]

We learn by the canons before referred to, that the superintendence of
all the writing and transcribing, whether in or out of the monastery,
belonged to the office of the armarian, and that it was his duty to
provide the scribes with parchment and all things necessary for their
work, and to agree upon the price with those whom he employed. The monks
who were appointed to write in the cloisters he supplied with copies for
transcription; and that no time might be wasted, he was to see that a
good supply was kept up. No one was to give to another what he himself
had been ordered to write, or presume to do anything by his own will or
inclination. Nor was it seemly that the armarian even should give any
orders for transcripts to be made without first receiving the permission
of his superior.[23]

We here catch a glimpse of the quiet life of a monkish student, who
labored with this monotonous regularity to amass his little library. If
we dwell on these scraps of information, we shall discover some marks of
a love of learning among them, and the liberality they displayed in
lending their books to each other is a pleasing trait to dwell upon. They
unhesitatingly imparted to others the knowledge they acquired by their
own study with a brotherly frankness and generosity well becoming the
spirit of a student. This they did by extensive correspondence and the
temporary exchange of their books. The system of loan, which they in
this manner carried on to a considerable extent, is an important feature
in connection with our subject; innumerable and interesting instances of
this may be found in the monastic registers, and the private letters of
the times. The cheapness of literary productions of the present age
render it an absolute waste of time to transcribe a whole volume, and
except with books of great scarcity we seldom think of borrowing or
lending one; having finished its perusal we place it on the shelf and in
future regard it as a book of reference; but in those days one volume did
the work of twenty. It was lent to a neighboring monastery, and this
constituted its publication; for each monastery thus favored, by the aid
perhaps of some half dozen scribes, added a copy to their own library,
and it was often stipulated that on the return of the original a correct
duplicate should accompany it, as a remuneration to its author. Nor was
the volume allowed to remain unread; it was recited aloud at meals, or
when otherwise met together, to the whole community. We shall do well to
bear this in mind, and not hastily judge of the number of students by a
comparison with the number of their books. But it was not always a mere
single volume that the monks lent from their library. Hunter has
printed[24] a list of books lent by the Convent of Henton, A. D. 1343, to
a neighboring monastery, containing twenty volumes. The engagement to
restore these books was formally drawn up and sealed.

In the monasteries the first consideration was to see that the library
was well stored with those books necessary for the performance of the
various offices of the church, but besides these the library ought,
according to established rules, to contain for the "edification of the
brothers" such as were fit and needful to be consulted in common study.
The Bible and great expositors; _Bibliothecæ et majores expositores_,
books of martyrs, lives of saints, homilies, etc.;[25] these and other
large books the monks were allowed to take and study in private, but the
smaller ones they could only study in the library, lest they should be
lost or mislaid. This was also the case with respect to the rare and
choice volumes. When the armarian gave out books to the monks he made a
note of their nature, and took an exact account of their number, so that
he might know in a moment which of the brothers had it for perusal.[26]
Those who studied together were to receive what books they choose; but
when they had satisfied themselves, they were particularly directed to
restore them to their assigned places; and when they at any time received
from the armarian a book for their private reading, they were not allowed
to lend it to any one else, or to use it in common, but to reserve it
especially for his own private reading. The same rule extended to the
singers, who if they required books for their studies, were to apply to
the abbot.[27] The sick brothers were also entitled to the privilege of
receiving from the armarian books for their solace and comfort; but as
soon as the lamps were lighted in the infirmary the books were put away
till the morning, and if not finished, were again given out from the
library.[28] In the more ancient monasteries a similar case was observed
with respect to their books. The rule of St. Pacome directed that the
utmost attention should be paid to their preservation, and that when the
monks went to the refectory they were not to leave their books open, but
to carefully close and put them in their assigned places. The monastery
of St. Pacome contained a vast number of monks; every house, says
Mabillon, was composed of not less than forty monks, and the monastery
embraced thirty or forty houses. Each monk, he adds, possessed his book,
and few rested without forming a library; by which we may infer that the
number of books was considerable.[29] Indeed, it was quite a common
practice in those days, scarce as books were, to allow each of the monks
one or more for his private study, besides granting them access to the
library. The constitutions of Lanfranc, in the year 1072, directed the
librarian, at the commencement of Lent, to deliver a book to each of the
monks for their private reading, allowing them a whole year for its
perusal.[30] There is one circumstance connected with the affairs of the
library quite characteristic of monkish superstition, and bearing painful
testimony to their mistaken ideas of what constituted "good works." In
Martene's book there is a chapter, _De Scientia et Signis_ - degrading and
sad; there is something withal curious to be found in it. After enjoining
the most scrupulous silence in the church, in the refectory, in the
cloister, and in the dormitory, at all times, and in all seasons;
transforming those men into perpetual mutes, and even when "actually
necessary," permitting only a whisper to be articulated "in a low voice
in the ear," _submissa voce in aure_, it then proceeds to describe a
series of fantastic grimaces which the monks were to perform on applying
to the armarian for books. The general sign for a book, _generali signi
libri_, was to "extend the hand and make a movement as if turning over
the leaves of a book." For a missal the monk was to make a similar
movement with a sign of the cross; for the gospels the sign of the cross
on the forehead; for an antiphon or book of responses he was to strike
the thumb and little finger of the other hand together; for a book of
offices or gradale to make the sign of a cross and kiss the fingers; for
a tract lay the hand on the abdomen and apply the other hand to the
mouth; for a capitulary make the general sign and extend the clasped
hands to heaven; for a psalter place the hands upon the head in the form
of a crown, such as the king is wont to wear.[31] Religious intolerance

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