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was rampant when this rule was framed; hot and rancorous denunciation was
lavished with amazing prodigality against works of loose morality or
heathen origin; nor did the monks feel much compassion - although they
loved to read them - for the old authors of antiquity. Pagans they were,
and therefore fit only to be named as infidels and dogs, so the monk was
directed for a secular book, "which some pagan wrote after making the
general sign to scratch his ear with his hand, just as a dog itching
would do with his feet, because infidels are not unjustly compared to
such creatures - _quia nec immerito infideles tali animanti
contparantur_."[32] Wretched bigotry and puny malice! Yet what a sad
reflection it is, that with all the foul and heartburning examples which
those dark ages of the monks afford, posterity have failed to profit by
them - religious intolerance, with all its vain-glory and malice,
flourishes still, the cankering worm of many a Christian blossom! Besides
the duties which we have enumerated, there were others which it was the
province of the armarian to fulfil. He was particularly to inspect and
collate those books which, according to the decrees of the church, it was
unlawful to possess different from the authorized copies; these were the
bible, the gospels, missals, epistles, collects graduales, antiphons,
hymns, psalters, lessions, and the monastic rules; these were always to
be alike even in the most minute point.[33] He was moreover directed to
prepare for the use of the brothers short tables respecting the times
mentioned in the capitulary for the various offices of the church, to
make notes upon the matins, the mass, and upon the different orders.[34]
In fact, the monkish amanuensis was expected to undertake all those
matters which required care and learning combined. He wrote the letters
of the monastery, and often filled the office of secretary to my Lord
Abbot. In the monasteries of course the services of the librarian were
unrequited by any pecuniary remuneration, but in the cathedral libraries
a certain salary was sometimes allowed them. Thus we learn that the
amanuensis of the conventual church of Ely received in the year 1372
forty-three shillings and fourpence for his annual duties;[35] and
Oswald, Bishop of Worcester, in the tenth century, gave considerable
landed possessions to a monk of that church as a recompense for his
services as librarian.[36] In some monasteries, in the twelfth century,
if not earlier, they levied a tax on all the members of the community,
who paid a yearly sum to the librarian for binding, preserving, and
purchasing copies for the library. One of these rules, bearing date 1145,
was made by Udon, Abbot of St. Père en Vallée à Chantres, and that it
might be more plausibly received, he taxed himself as well as all the
members of his own house.[37] The librarian sometimes, in addition to his
regular duties, combined the office of precentor to the monastery.[38]
Some of their account-books have been preserved, and by an inspection of
them, we may occasionally gather some interesting and curious hints, as
to the cost of books and writing materials in those times. As may be
supposed, the monkish librarians often became great bibliophiles, for
being in constant communication with choice manuscripts, they soon
acquired a great mania for them. Posterity are also particularly indebted
to the pens of these book conservators of the middle ages; for some of
the best chroniclers and writers of those times were humble librarians to
some religious house.

Not only did the bibliophiles of old exercise the utmost care in the
preservation of their darling books, but the religious basis of their
education and learning prompted them to supplicate the blessing of God
upon their goodly tomes. Although I might easily produce other instances,
one will suffice to give an idea of their nature: "O Lord, send the
virtue of thy Holy Spirit upon these our books; that cleansing them from
all earthly things, by thy holy blessing, they may mercifully enlighten
our hearts and give us true understanding; and grant that by thy
teaching, they may brightly preserve and make full an abundance of good
works according to thy will."[39]


[16] Cap. xxi. Martene de Antiquis Ecclesiæ Ritibus, tom. iii. p.

[17] See Catalogue of Hulne Abbey, Library MS. Harleian. No. 3897.

[18] Martene de Antiq. Eccle. Rit., tom. iii. p. 263.

[19] _Ibid._ Ingulphus tells us that the same rule was observed in
Croyland Abbey. - _Apud Gale_, p. 104.

[20] Marked b. iv. 26. Surtee Publications, vol. i. p. 121.

[21] Const. admiss. Abbat, et gubernatione Monast. Abendum Cottonian
M.S. Claudius, b. vi. p. 194.

[22] Philobiblon, 4to. _Oxon_, 1599, chap. xix.

[23] Martene de Ant. Eccl. Ribibus, tom. iii. p. 263. For an
inattention to this the Council of Soissons, in 1121, ordered some
transcripts of Abelard's works to be burnt, and severely reproved
the author for his unpardonable neglect. - _Histoire Littéraire de la
France_, tom. ix. p. 28.

[24] Catalogues of Monastic Libraries, pp. 16, 17.

[25] Const. Canon. Reg. ap. Martene, tom. iii. p. 263.

[26] _Ibid._

[27] _Ibid._, tom. iii. cap. xxxvi. pp. 269, 270.

[28] Martene, tom. iii. p. 331. For a list of some books applied to
their use, see MS. Cot. Galba, c. iv. fo. 128.

[29] Mabillon, Traité des Etudes Monastiques, 4to. _Paris_ 1691,
cap. vi. p. 34.

[30] Wilkin's Concil. tom. i. p. 332.

[31] Stat. pro Reform. ordin. Grandimont. ap. Martene cap. x.

[32] _Ibid._, tom. iv. pp. 289, 339.

[33] Const. Canon. Reg. ap. Martene, tom. iii. p. 263.

[34] _Ibid._, cap. xxi. p. 263.

[35] Stevenson's Supple. to Bentham's Hist. of the Church of Ely, p.

[36] Thomas' Survey of the Church of Worcester, p. 45.

[37] Mabillon. Annal. tom. vi. pp. 651 and 652. Hist. Litt. de la
France, ix. p. 140.

[38] They managed the pecuniary matters of the fraternity. William
of Malmsbury was precentor as well as librarian to his monastery.

[39] Martene de Antiq. Eccl. Ritibus ii. p. 302.


_Scriptoria and the Scribes. - Care in copying. - Bible reading
among the monks. - Booksellers in the middle ages. - Circulating
libraries. - Calligraphic art, etc._

As the monasteries were the schools of learning, so their occupants were
the preservers of literature, and, as Herault observes, had they not
taken the trouble to transcribe books, the ancients had been lost to us
for ever; to them, therefore, we owe much. But there are many, however,
who suppose that the monastic establishments were hotbeds of superstition
and fanaticism, from whence nothing of a useful or elevated nature could
possibly emanate. They are too apt to suppose that the human intellect
must be altogether weak and impotent when confined within such narrow
limits; but truth and knowledge can exist even in the dark cells of a
gloomy cloister, and inspire the soul with a fire that can shed a light
far beyond its narrow precincts. Indeed, I scarce know whether to
regret, as some appear to do, that the literature and learning of those
rude times was preserved and fostered by the Christian church; it is
said, that their strict devotion and religious zeal prompted them to
disregard all things but a knowledge of those divine, but such is not the
case; at least, I have not found it so; it is true, as churchmen, they
were principally devoted to the study of divine and ecclesiastical lore;
but it is also certain that in that capacity they gradually infused the
mild spirit of their Master among the darkened society over which they
presided, and among whom they shone as beacons of light in a dreary
desert. But the church did more than this. She preserved to posterity the
profane learnings of Old Greece and Rome; copied it, multiplied it, and
spread it. She recorded to after generations in plain, simple language,
the ecclesiastical and civil events of the past, for it is from the terse
chronicles of the monkish churchmen that we learn now the history of what
happened then. Much as we may dislike the monastic system, the cold,
heartless, gloomy ascetic atmosphere of the cloister, and much as we may
deplore the mental dissipation of man's best attributes, which the system
of those old monks engendered, we must exercise a cool and impartial
judgment, and remember that what now would be intolerable and monstrously
inconsistent with our present state of intellectuality, might at some
remote period, in the ages of darkness and comparative barbarism, have
had its virtues and beneficial influences. As for myself, it would be
difficult to convince me, with all those fine relics of their deeds
before me, those beauteous fanes dedicated to piety and God, those
libraries so crowded with their vellum tomes, so gorgeously adorned, and
the abundant evidence which history bears to their known charity and
hospitable love, that these monks and their system was a scheme of dismal
barbarism; it may be so, but my reading has taught me different; but, on
the other hand, although the monks possessed many excellent qualities,
being the encouragers of literature, the preservers of books, and
promulgators of civilization, we must not hide their numerous and
palpable faults, or overlook the poison which their system of monachism
_ultimately_ infused into the very vitals of society. In the early
centuries, before the absurdities of Romanism were introduced, the
influence of the monastic orders was highly beneficial to our Saxon
ancestors, but in after ages the Church of England was degraded by the
influence of the fast growing abominations of Popedom. She drank
copiously of the deadly potion, and became the blighted and ghostly
shadow of her former self. Forgetting the humility of her divine Lord,
she sought rather to imitate the worldly splendor and arrogance of her
Sovereign Pontiff. The evils too obviously existed to be overlooked; but
it is not my place to further expose them; a more pleasing duty guides my
pen; others have done all this, lashing them painfully for their oft-told
sins. Frail humanity glories in chastizing the frailty of brother man.
But we will not denounce them here, for did not the day of retribution
come? And was not justice satisfied? Having made these few preliminary
remarks, let us, in a brief manner, inquire into the system observed in
the cloisters by the monks for the preservation and transcription of
manuscripts. Let us peep into the quiet cells of those old monks, and see
whether history warrants the unqualified contempt which their efforts in
this department have met with.

In most monasteries there were two kinds of Scriptoria, or writing
offices; for in addition to the large and general apartment used for the
transcription of church books and manuscripts for the library, there were
also several smaller ones occupied by the superiors and the more learned
members of the community, as closets for private devotion and study. Thus
we read, that in the Cistercian orders there were places set apart for
the transcription of books called Scriptoria, or cells assigned to the
scribes, "separate from each other," where the books might be transcribed
in the strictest silence, according to the holy rules of their
founders.[40] These little cells were usually situated in the most
retired part of the monastery, and were probably incapable of
accommodating more than one or two persons;[41] dull and comfortless
places, no doubt, yet they were deemed great luxuries, and the use of
them only granted to such as became distinguished for their piety, or
erudition. We read that when David went to the Isle of Wight, to
Paulinus, to receive his education, he used to sup in the Refectory, but
had a Scriptorium, or study, in his cell, being a famous scribe.[42] The
aged monks, who often lived in these little offices, separate from the
rest of the scribes, were not expected to work so arduously as the rest.
Their employment was comparatively easy; nor were they compelled to work
so long as those in the cloister.[43] There is a curious passage in
Tangmar's Life of St. Bernward, which would lead us to suspect that
private individuals possessed Scriptoria; for, says he, there are
Scriptoria, not only in the monasteries, but in other places, in which
are conceived books equal to the divine works of the philosophers.[44]
The Scriptorium of the monastery in which the general business of a
literary nature was transacted, was an apartment far more extensive and
commodious, fitted up with forms and desks methodically arranged, so as
to contain conveniently a great number of copyists. In some of the
monasteries and cathedrals, they had long ranges of seats one after
another, at which were seated the scribes, one well versed in the subject
on which the book treated, recited from the copy whilst they wrote; so
that, on a word being given out by him, it was copied by all.[45] The
multiplication of manuscripts, under such a system as this, must have
been immense; but they did not always make books, _fecit libros_, as
they called it, in this wholesale manner, but each monk diligently
labored at the transcription of a separate work.

The amount of labor carried on in the Scriptorium, of course, in many
cases depended upon the revenues of the abbey, and the disposition of the
abbot; but this was not always the case, as in some monasteries they
undertook the transcription of books as a matter of commerce, and added
broad lands to their house by the industry of their pens. But the
Scriptorium was frequently supported by resources solely applicable to
its use. Laymen, who had a taste for literature, or who entertained an
esteem for it in others, often at their death bequeathed estates for the
support of the monastic Scriptoria. Robert, one of the Norman leaders,
gave two parts of the tythes of Hatfield, and the tythes of Redburn, for
the support of the Scriptorium of St. Alban's.[46] The one belonging to
the monastery of St. Edmundsbury was endowed with two mills,[47] and in
the church of Ely there is a charter of Bishof Nigellus, granting to the
Scriptorium of the monastery the tythes of Wythessey and Impitor, two
parts of the tythes of the Lordship of Pampesward, with 2s. 2d., and a
messuage in Ely _ad faciendos et emandandos libros_.[48]

The abbot superintended the management of the Scriptorium, and decided
upon the hours for their labor, during which time they were ordered to
work with unremitting diligence, "not leaving to go and wander in
idleness," but to attend solely to the business of transcribing. To
prevent detraction or interruption, no one was allowed to enter except
the abbot, the prior, the sub-prior, and the armarian,[49] as the latter
took charge of all the materials and implements used by the transcribers,
it was his duty to prepare and give them out when required; he made the
ink and cut the parchment ready for use. He was strictly enjoined,
however, to exercise the greatest economy in supplying these precious
materials, and not to give more copies "nec artavos, nec cultellos, nec
scarpellæ, nec membranes," than was actually necessary, or than he had
computed as sufficient for the work; and what the armarian gave them the
monks were to receive without contradiction or contention.[50]

The utmost silence prevailed in the Scriptorium; rules were framed, and
written admonitions hung on the walls, to enforce the greatest care and
diligence in copying exactly from the originals. In Alcuin's works we
find one of these preserved; it is a piece inscribed "_Ad Musæum libros
scribentium_;" the lines are as follows:

"Hic sideant sacræ scribentes famina legis,
Nec non sanctorum dicta sacrata Patrum,
Hæc interserere caveant sua frivola verbis,
Frivola nec propter erret et ipsa manus:

Correctosque sibi quærant studiose libellos,
Tramite quo recto penna volantis eat.
Per cola distinquant proprios, et commata sensus,
Et punctos ponant ordine quosque suo.

Ne vel falsa legat, taceat vel forte repente,
Ante pios fratres, lector in Ecclesia.
Est opus egregium sacros jam scribete libros,
Nec mercede sua scriptor et ipse caret.

Fodere quam vites, melius est scribere libros,
Ille suo ventri serviet, iste animæ.
Vel nova, vel vetera poterit proferre magister
Plurima, quisque legit dicta sacrata Patrum."[51]

Other means were resorted to besides these to preserve the text of their
books immaculate, it was a common practice for the scribe at the end of
his copy, to adjure all who transcribed from it to use the greatest care,
and to refrain from the least alteration of word or sense. Authors more
especially followed this course, thus at the end of some we find such
injunctions as this.

"I adjure you who shall transcribe this book, by our Lord Jesus Christ
and by his glorious coming, who will come to judge the quick and the
dead, that you compare what you transcribe and diligently correct it by
the copy from which you transcribe it - this adjuration also - and insert
it in your copy."[52]

The Consuetudines Canonicorum, before referred to, also particularly
impressed this upon the monks, and directed that all the brothers who
were engaged as scribes, were not to alter any writing, although in their
own mind they might think it proper, without first receiving the sanction
of the abbot, "_on no account were they to commit so great a
presumption_."[53] But notwithstanding that the scribes were thus
enjoined to use the utmost care in copying books, doubtless an occasional
error crept in, which many causes might have produced, such as bad light,
haste, a little drowsiness, imperfect sight, or even a flickering lamp
was sufficient to produce some trivial error; but in works of importance
the smallest error is of consequence, as some future scribe puzzled by
the blunder, might, in an attempt to correct, still more augment the
imperfection; to guard against this, with respect to the Scriptures, the
most critical care was enforced. Monks advanced in age were alone allowed
to transcribe them, and after their completion they were
read - revised - and reread again, and it is by that means that so uniform
a reading has been preserved, and although slight differences may here
and there occur, there are no books which have traversed through the
shadows of the dark ages, that preserve their original text so pure and
uncorrupt as the copies of the Scriptures, the fathers of the church, and
the ancient writings of the classic authors; sometimes, it is true, a
manuscript of the last order is discovered possessing a very different
reading in some particular passage; but these appear rather as futile
emendations or interpolations of the scribe than as the result of a
downright blunder, and are easily perceivable, for when the monkish
churchmen tampered with ancient copies, it generally originated in a
desire to smooth over the indecencies of the heathen authors, and so
render them less liable to corrupt the holy contemplations of the
devotee; and while we blame the pious fraud, we cannot but respect the
motive that dictated it.

But as regards the Scriptures, we talk of the carelessness of the monks
and the interpolations of the scribes as if these were faults peculiar to
the monastic ages alone; alas! the history of Biblical transmission tells
us differently, the gross perversions, omissions, and errors wrought in
the holy text, proclaim how prevalent these same faults have been in the
ages of _printed literature_, and which appear more palpable by being
produced amidst deep scholars, and surrounded with all the critical
acumen of a learned age. Five or six thousand of these gross blunders, or
these wilful mutilations, protest the unpleasant fact, and show how much
of human grossness it has acquired, and how besmeared with corruption
those sacred pages have become in passing through the hands of man, and
the "revisings" of sectarian minds. I am tempted to illustrate this by an
anecdote related by Sir Nicholas L'Estrange of Hunstanton, and preserved
in a MS. in the Harlein collection. - "Dr. Usher, Bish. of Armath, being
to preach at Paules Crosse and passing hastily by one of the stationers,
called for a Bible, and had a little one of the London edition given him
out, but when he came to looke for his text, that very verse was omitted
in the print: which gave the first occasion of complaint to the king of
the insufferable negligence, and insufficience of the London printers and
presse, and bredde that great contest that followed, betwixt the univers.
of Cambridge and London stationers, about printing of the Bibles."[54]
Gross and numerous indeed were the errors of the corrupt bible text of
that age, and far exceeding even the blunders of monkish pens, and
certainly much less excusable, for in those times they seldom had a large
collection of codices to compare, so that by studying their various
readings, they could arrive at a more certain and authentic version. The
paucity of the sacred volume, if it rendered their pens more liable to
err, served to enforce upon them the necessity of still greater scrutiny.
On looking over a monastic catalogue, the first volume that I search for
is the Bible; and, I feel far more disappointment if I find it not there,
than I do at the absence of Horace or Ovid - there is something so
desolate in the idea of a Christian priest without the Book of Life - of a
minister of God without the fountain of truth - that however favorably we
may be prone to regard them, a thought will arise that the absence of
this sacred book may perhaps be referred to the indolence of the monkish
pen, or to the laxity of priestly piety. But such I am glad to say was
not often the case; the Bible it is true was an expensive book, but can
scarcely be regarded as a rare one; the monastery was indeed poor that
had it not, and when once obtained the monks took care to speedily
transcribe it. Sometimes they only possessed detached portions, but when
this was the case they generally borrowed of some neighboring and more
fortunate monastery, the missing parts to transcribe, and so complete
their own copies. But all this did not make the Bible less loved among
them, or less anxiously and ardently studied, they devoted their days,
and the long hours of the night, to the perusal of those pages of
inspired truth,[55] and it is a calumny without a shadow of foundation to
declare that the monks were careless of scripture reading; it is true
they did not apply that vigor of thought, and unrestrained reflection
upon it which mark the labors of the more modern student, nor did they
often venture to interpret the hidden meaning of the holy mysteries by
the powers of their own mind, but were guided in this important matter by
the works of the fathers. But hence arose a circumstance which gave full
exercise to their mental powers and compelled the monk in spite of his
timidity to think a little for himself. Unfortunately the fathers,
venerable and venerated as they were, after all were but men, with many
of the frailties and all the fallabilities of poor human nature; the pope
might canonize them, and the priesthood bow submissively to their
spiritual guidance, still they remained for all that but mortals of dust
and clay, and their bulky tomes yet retain the swarthiness of the tomb
about them, the withering impress of humanity. Such being the case we,
who do not regard them quite so infallible, feel no surprise at a
circumstance which sorely perplexed the monks of old, they unchained and
unclasped their cumbrous "Works of the Fathers," and pored over those
massy expositions with increasing wonder; surrounded by these holy
guides, these fathers of infallibility, they were like strangers in a
foreign land, did they follow this holy saint they seemed about to
forsake the spiritual direction of one having equal claims to their
obedience and respect; alas! for poor old weak tradition, those
fabrications of man's faulty reason were found, with all their orthodoxy,
to clash woefully in scriptural interpretation. Here was a dilemma for
the monkish student! whose vow of obedience to patristical guidance was
thus sorely perplexed; he read and re-read, analyzed passage after
passage, interpreted word after word; and yet, poor man, his laborious
study was fruitless and unprofitable! What bible student can refrain from
sympathizing with him amidst these torturing doubts and this crowd of
contradiction, but after all we cannot regret this, for we owe to it more

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