F. Somner (Frederick Somner) Merryweather.

Bibliomania in the middle ages online

. (page 6 of 22)
Online LibraryF. Somner (Frederick Somner) MerryweatherBibliomania in the middle ages → online text (page 6 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


homilies, Ælfric thus explains his design in translating them:

"Ælfric, a monk and priest, although a man of less abilities than are
requisite for one in such orders, was sent, in the days of King Æthelred,
from Alphege, the bishop and successor of Æthelwold, to a monastery which
is called Cernel, at the desire of Æthelmer, the Thane, whose noble birth
and goodness is everywhere known. Then ran it in my mind, I trust,
through the grace of God, that I ought to translate this book out of the
Latin tongue into the English language not upon presumption of great
learning, but because I saw and heard much error in many English books,
which ignorant men, through their simplicity, esteemed great wisdom, and
because it grieved me that they neither knew, nor had the gospel learning
in their writing, except from those men that understood Latin, and those
books which are to be had of King Alfred's, which he skilfully translated
from Latin into English."[101]

From these extracts we may gain some idea of the state of learning in
those days, and they would seem, in some measure, to justify the opinion,
that the laity paid but little attention to such matters, and I more
anxiously present the reader with these scraps, because they depict the
state of literature in those times far better than a volume of conjecture
could do. It is not consistent with my design to enter into an analysis
of these homilies. Let the reader, however, draw some idea of their
nature from the one written for Easter Sunday, which has been deemed
sufficient proof that the Saxon Church ever denied the Romish doctrine of
transubstantiation; for he there expressly states, in terms so plain
that all the sophistry of the Roman Catholic writers cannot pervert its
obvious meaning, that the bread and wine is only typical of the body and
blood of our Saviour.

To one who has spent much time in reading the lives and writings of the
monkish theologians, how refreshing is such a character as that of
Ælfric's. Often, indeed, will the student close the volumes of those old
monastic writers with a sad, depressed, and almost broken heart; so often
will he find men who seem capable of better things, who here and there
breathe forth all the warm aspirations of a devout and Christian heart,
bowed down and grovelling in the dust, as it were, to prove their blind
submission to the Pope, thinking, poor fellows! - for from my very heart I
pity them - that by so doing they were preaching that humility so
acceptable to the Lord.

Cheering then, to the heart it is to find this monotony broken by such an
instance, and although we find Ælfric occasionally diverging into the
paths of papistical error, he spreads a ray of light over the gloom of
those Saxon days, and offers pleasing evidence that Christ never forsook
his church; that even amidst the peril and darkness of those monkish ages
there were some who mourned, though it might have been in a monastery,
submissive to a Roman Pontiff, the depravity and corruption with which
the heart of man had marred it.

To still better maintain the discipline of the church, he wrote a set of
canons, which he addressed to Wulfin, or Wulfsine, bishop of Sherbourne.
With many of the doctrines advocated therein, the protestant will not
agree; but the bibliophile will admit that he gave an indication of his
love of books by the 21st Canon, which directs that, "Before a priest can
be ordained, he must be armed with the sacred books, for the spiritual
battle, namely, a Psalter, Book of Epistles, Book of Gospels, the Missal
Book, Books of Hymns, the Manual, or Euchiridion, the Gerim, the
Passional, the Pænitential, and the Lectionary, or Reading Book; these
the diligent priest requires, and let him be careful that they are all
accurately written, and free from faults."[102]

About the same time, Ælfric wrote a treatise on the Old and New
Testaments, and in it we find an account of his labors in Biblical
Literature. He did more in laying open the holy mysteries of the gospel
to the perusal of the laity, by translating them into the Saxon tongue,
than any other before him. He gave them, in a vernacular version, the
Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Esther, Job, Judith, two Books of Maccabees,
and a portion of the Book of Kings, and it is for these labors, above all
others, that the bible student will venerate his name, but he will look,
perhaps, anxiously, hopefully, to these early attempts at Bible
propagation, and expect to observe the ecclesiastical orders, at least,
shake off a little of their absurd dependence on secondary sources for
biblical instruction. But, no; they still sadly clung to traditional
interpretation; they read the Word of God mystified by the fathers, good
men, many of them, devout and holy saints, but why approach God through
man, when we have His own prescription, in sweet encouraging words, to
come, however humble or lowly we may be, to His throne, and ask with our
own lips for those blessings so needful for the soul. Ælfric, in a letter
addressed to Sigwerd, prefixed to his Treatise on the Old and New
Testament, thus speaks of his biblical labors:

"Abbot Elfricke greeteth friendly, Sigwerd at last Heolon. True it is I
tell thee that very wise is he who speaketh by his doings; and well
proceedeth he doth with God and the world who furnisheth himselfe with
good works. And very plaine it is in holy scripture, that holy men
employed in well doing were in this world held in good reputation, and as
saints now enjoy the kingdom of heaven, and the remembrance of them
continueth for ever, because of their consent with God and relying on
him, carelesse men who lead their life in all idleness and so end it, the
memory of them is forgotten in holy writ, saving that the Old Testament
records their ill deeds and how they were therefore comdemned. Thou hast
oft entreated me for English Scripture .... and when I was with thee
great mone thou madest that thou couldst get none of my writings. Now
will I that thou have at least this little, since knowledge is so
acceptable to thee, and thou wilt have it rather than be altogether
without my books...... God bestoweth sevenfold grace on mankind, (whereof
I have already written in another English Treatise,) as the prophet
Isaiah hath recorded in the book of his prophesie." In speaking of the
remaining books of the Pentateuch, he does so in a cursory manner, and
excuses himself because he had "written thereof more at large." "The book
which Moses wrote, called the book of Joshua, sheweth how he went with
the people of Israel unto Abraham's country, and how he won it, and how
the sun stood still while he got the victory, and how he divided the
land; this book also I turned into English for prince Ethelverd, wherein
a man may behold the great wonders of God really fulfilled." ......
"After him known it is that there were in the land certaine judges over
Israel, who guided the people as it is written in the book of Judges
..... of this whoso hath desire to hear further, may read it in that
English book which I translated concerning the same." ..... "Of the book
of Kings, I have translated also some part into English," "the book of
Esther, I briefly after my manner translated into English," and "The
Widow Judith who overcame Holophernes, the Syrian General, hath her book
also, among these, concerning her own victory and _Englished according to
my skill for your example_, that ye men may also defend your country by
force of arms, against the invasion of a foreign host." "Two books of
Machabeus, to the glory of God, I have turned also into English, and so
read them, you may if you please, for your instruction." And at the end
we find him again admonishing the scribes to use the pen with
faithfulness. "Whosoever," says he, "shall write out this book, let him
write it according to the copy, and for God's love correct it, that it be
not faulty, less he thereby be discredited, and I shent."[103]

This learned prelate died on the 16th of November, 1006, after a life
spent thus in the service of Christ and the cause of learning; by his
will he bequeathed to the Abbey of St. Alban's, besides some landed
possessions, his little library of books;[104] he was honorably buried at
Abingdon, but during the reign of Canute, his bones were removed to
Canterbury.

Passing on a few years, we come to that period when a new light shone
upon the lethargy of the Saxons; the learning and erudition which had
been fostering in the snug monasteries of Normandy, hitherto
silent - buried as it were - but yet fast growing to maturity, accompanied
the sword of the Norman duke, and added to the glory of the conquering
hero, by their splendid intellectual endowments. All this emulated and
roused the Saxons from their slumber; and, rubbing their laziness away,
they again grasped the pen with the full nerve and energy of their
nature; a reaction ensued, literature was respected, learning prospered,
and copious work flowed in upon the scribes; the crackling of parchment,
and the din of controversy bespoke the presence of this revival in the
cloisters of the English monasteries; books, the weapons spiritual of the
monks, libraries, the magazines of the church militant were preserved,
amassed, and at last deemed indispensable.[105] Such was the effect on
our national literature of that gushing in of the Norman conquerors, so
deeply imbued with learning, so polished, and withal so armed with
classical and patristic lore were they.

Foremost in the rank we find the learned Lanfranc, that patron of
literature, that indefatigable scribe and anxious book collector, who was
endowed with an erudition far more deep and comprehensive than any other
of his day. He was born at Pavia, in 1005, and received there the first
elements of his education;[106] he afterwards went to Bologna, and from
thence to Avranches, where he undertook the education of many celebrated
scholars of that century, and instructed them in sacred and secular
learning, _in sacris et secularibus erudivi literis_.[107] Whilst
proceeding on a journey to Rome he was attacked by some robbers, who
maltreated and left him almost dead; in this condition he was found by
some peasants who conveyed him to the monastery of Bec; the monks with
their usual hospitable charity tended and so assiduously nourished him in
his sickness, that on his recovery he became one of their fraternity. A
few years after, he was appointed prior and founded a school there, which
did immense service to literature and science; he also collected a great
library which was renowned and esteemed in his day,[108] and he increased
their value by a critical revisal of their text. He was well aware that
in works so voluminous as those of the fathers, the scribes through so
many generations could not be expected to observe an unanimous
infallibility; but knowing too that even the most essential doctrines of
the holy and catholic church were founded on patristical authority, he
was deeply impressed with the necessity of keeping their writings in all
their primitive integrity; an end so desirable, well repaid the
tediousness of the undertaking, and he cheerfully spent much time in
collecting and comparing codices, in studying their various readings or
erasing the spurious interpolations, engendered by the carelessness or
the pious frauds of monkish scribes.[109] He lavished his care in a
similar manner on the Bible: considering the far distant period from
which that holy volume has descended to us, it is astounding that the
vicissitudes, the perils, the darkness of near eighteen hundred years,
have failed to mar the divinity of that sacred book; not all the blunders
of nodding scribes could do it, not all the monkish interpolations, or
the cunning of sectarian pens could do it, for in all times the faithful
church of Christ watched over it with a jealous care, supplied each
erasure and expelled each false addition. Lanfranc was one of the most
vigilant of these Scripture guards, and his own industry blest his church
with the bible text, purified from the gross handmarks of human meddling.
I learn, from the Benedictines of St. Maur, that there is still preserved
in the Abbey of St. Martin de Sécz, the first ten conferences of Cassian
corrected by the efficient hand of this great critical student, at the
end of the manuscript these words are written, "_Hucusque ago Lanfrancus
correxi_."[110] The works of St. Ambrose, on which he bestowed similar
care, are preserved in the library of St. Vincent du Mans.[111]

When he was promoted to the See of Canterbury, he brought with him a
copious supply of books, and spread the influence of his learning over
the English monasteries; but with all the cares inseparably connected
with the dignity of Primate of England, he still found time to gratify
his bookloving propensities, and to continue his critical labors; indeed
he worked day and night in the service of the church, _servitio
Ecclesiæ_, and in correcting the books which the scribes had
written.[112] From the profusion of his library he was enabled to lend
many volumes to the monks, so that by making transcripts, they might add
to their own stores - thus we know that he lent to Paulen, Abbot of St.
Albans, a great number, who kept his scribes hard at work transcribing
them, and built a scriptorium for the transaction of these pleasing
labors; but more of this hereafter.

Anselm, too, was a renowned and book-loving prelate, and if his pride and
haughtiness wrought warm dissensions and ruptures in the church, he often
stole away to forget them in the pages of his book. At an early age he
acquired this fondness for reading, and whilst engaged as a monkish
student, he applied his mind to the perusal of books with wonderful
perseverance, and when some favorite volume absorbed his attention, he
could scarce leave it night or day.[113] Industry so indefatigable
ensured a certain success, and he became eminent for his deep and
comprehensive learning; his epistles bear ample testimony to his
extensive reading and intimate acquaintance with the authors of
antiquity;[114] in one of his letters he praises a monk named Maurice,
for his success in study, who was learning _Virgil_ and some other old
writers, under Arnulph the grammarian.

All day long Anselm was occupied in giving wise counsel to those that
needed it; and a great part of the night _pars maxima noctis_ he spent in
correcting his darling volumes, and freeing them from the inaccuracies of
the scribes.[115] The oil in the lamp burnt low, still that bibliomaniac
studiously pursued his favorite avocation. So great was the love of
book-collecting engrafted into his mind, that he omitted no opportunity
of obtaining them - numerous instances occur in his epistles of his
begging the loan of some volume for transcription;[116] in more than one,
I think, he asks for portions of the Holy Scriptures which he was always
anxious to obtain to compare their various readings, and to enable him
with greater confidence to correct his own copies.

In the early part of the twelfth century, the monks of Canterbury
transcribed a vast number of valuable manuscripts, in which they were
greatly assisted by monk Edwine, who had arrived at considerable
proficiency in the calligraphical art, as a volume of his transcribing,
in Trinity college, Cambridge, informs us;[117] it is a Latin Psalter,
with a Saxon gloss, beautifully illuminated in gold and colors; at the
end appears the figure of the monkish scribe, holding the pen in his hand
to indicate his avocation, and an inscription extols his ingenuity in the
art.[118]

Succeeding archbishops greatly enriched the library at Canterbury. Hubert
Walter, who was appointed primate in 1191, gave the proceeds of the
church of Halgast to furnish books for the library;[119] and Robert
Kildwardly, archbishop in 1272, a man of great learning and wisdom, a
remarkable orator and grammarian, wrote a great number of books, and was
passionately fond of collecting them.[120]

I learn from Wanley, that there is a large folio manuscript in the
library of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, written about the time of Henry V. by
a monk of St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, containing the history of
Christ Church; this volume proves its author to have been something of a
bibliophile, and that is why I mention it, for he gives an account of
some books then preserved, which were sent over by Pope Gregory to St.
Augustine; these precious volumes consisted of a Bible in two volumes,
called "Biblia Gregorian," beautifully written, with some of the leaves
tinted with purple and rose-color, and the capital letters rubricated.
This interesting and venerable MS. so immediately connected with the
first ages of the Christian church of Britain, was in existence in the
time of James I., as we learn by a passage in a scarce tract entitled "A
Petition Apologetical," addressed by the Catholics to his majesty, where,
as a proof that we derive our knowledge of Scripture originally from the
church of Rome; they say, "The very original Bible, the self-same
_Numero_ which St. Gregory sent in with our apostle, St. Augustine, being
as yet reserved by God's special providence, as testimony that what
Scriptures we have, we had them from Rome."[121]

He next mentions two Psalters, one of which I have seen; it is among the
manuscripts in the Cotton collection,[122] and bears full evidence of its
great antiquity. This early gem of biblical literature numbers 160
folios; it contains the Roman Psalter, with a Saxon interlinear
translation, written on stout vellum, in a clear, bold hand. On opening
the volume, we find the first page enriched with a dazzling specimen of
monkish skill - it is a painting of our Saviour pointing with his right
hand to heaven, and in his left holding the sacred book; the corners are
occupied with figures of animals, and the whole wrought on a glittering
ground work, is rendered still more gorgeous by the contrast which the
purple robes of Jesus display; on the reverse of this fine illumination
there is a beautiful tesselated ornament, interwoven with animals,
flowers, and grotesque figures, around which are miniatures of our
Saviour, David, and some of the apostles. In a line at the bottom the
word CATVSVIR is inscribed. Very much inferior to this in point of art is
the illumination, at folio 31, representing David playing his harp,
surrounded by a musical coterie; it is probably the workmanship of a more
modern, but less skilful scribe of the Saxon school. The smaller
ornaments and initial letters throughout the manuscript display great
intricacy of design.

The writer next describes two copies of the Gospels, both now in the
Bodleian Collection at Oxford. A Passionarium Sanctorum, a book for the
altar, on one side of which was the image of our Saviour wrought in gold,
and lastly, an exposition of the Epistles and Gospels; the monkish
bookworm tells us that these membraneous treasures were the most ancient
books in all the churches of England.[123]

A good and liberal monk, named Henry De Estria, who was elected prior in
the year 1285, devoted both his time and wealth to the interests of his
monastery, and is said to have expended £900 in repairing the choir and
chapter-house.[124] He wrote a book beginning, "_Memoriale Henerici
Prioris Monasteri Xpi Cantuariæ_,"[125] now preserved in the Cotton
collection; it contains the most extensive monastic catalogue I had ever
seen, and sufficiently proves how Bibliomania flourished in that noble
monastery. It occupies no less than thirty-eight treble-columned folio
pages, and contains the titles of more than three thousand works. To
attempt to convey to the reader an idea of this curious and sumptuous
library, without transcribing a large proportion of its catalogue, I am
afraid will be a futile labor; but as that would occupy too much space,
and to many of my readers be, after all, dry and uninteresting, I shall
merely give the names of some of the most conspicuous. Years indeed it
must have required to have amassed a collection so brilliant and superb
in those days of book scarcity. Surprise and wonder almost surpass the
admiration we feel at beholding this proud testimonial of monkish
industry and early bibliomania. Many a choice scribe, and many an _Amator
Librorum_ must have devoted his pen and purse to effect so noble an
acquisition. Like most of the monastic libraries, it possessed a great
proportion of biblical literature - copies of the Bible whole and in
parts, commentaries on the same, and numerous glossaries and concordances
show how much care the monks bestowed on the sacred writings, and how
deeply they were studied in those old days. In patristic learning the
library was unusually rich, embracing the most eminent and valuable
writings of the Fathers, as may be seen by the following names, of whose
works the catalogue enumerates many volumes:

Augustine.
Ambroise.
Anselm.
Alcuin.
Aldelm.
Benedict.
Bernard.
Bede.
Beranger.
Chrysostom.
Eusebius.
Fulgentius.
Gregory.
Hillarius.
Isidore.
Jerome.
Lanfranc.
Origen.

Much as we may respect them for all this, our gratitude will materially
increase when we learn how serviceable the monks of Canterbury were in
preserving the old dead authors of Greece and Rome. We do not, from the
very nature of their lives being so devoted to religion and piety, expect
this; and knowing, too, what "heathen dogs" the monks thought these
authors of idolatry, combined with our notion, that they, far from being
the conservers, were the destroyers, of classic MSS., for the sake, as
some tell us, of the parchment on which they were inscribed, we are
somewhat staggered in our opinion to find in their library the following
brilliant array of the wise men of the ancient world:

Aristotle,
Boethius,
Cicero,
Cassiodorus,
Donatus,
Euclid,
Galen,
Justin,
Josephus,
Lucan,
Martial,
Marcianus,
Macrobius,
Orosius,
Plato,
Priscian,
Prosper,
Prudentius,
Suetonius,
Sedulus,
Seneca,
Terence,
Virgil,
Etc., etc.

Nor were they mere fragments of these authors, but, in many cases,
considerable collections; of Aristotle, for instance, they possessed
numerous works, with many commentaries upon him. Of Seneca a still more
extensive and valuable one; and in the works of the eloquent Tully, they
were also equally rich. Of his _Paradoxa, de Senectute, de Amiticia_,
etc., and _his Offices_, they had more copies than one, a proof of the
respect and esteem with which he was regarded. In miscellaneous
literature, and in the productions of the middle age writers, the
catalogue teems with an abundant supply, and includes:

Rabanus Maurus,
Thomas Aquinas,
Peter Lombard,
Athelard,
William of Malmsbury,
John of Salisbury,
Girald Barry,
Thomas Baldwin,
Brutus,
Robert Grosetete,
Gerlandus,
Gregory Nazianzen,
History of England,
Gesti Alexandri Magni,
Hystoria Longobardos,
Hystoriæ Scholasticæ,
Chronicles _Latine et Anglice_,
Chronographia Necephori.

But I trust the reader will not rest satisfied with these few samples of
the goodly store, but inspect the catalogue for himself. It would occupy,
as I said before, too much space to enumerate even a small proportion of
its many treasures, which treat of all branches of literature and
science, natural history, medicine, ethics, philosophy, rhetoric,
grammar, poetry, and music; each shared the studious attention of the
monks, and a curious "_Liber de Astronomia_" taught them the rudiments of
that sublime science, but which they were too apt to confound with its
offspring, astrology, as we may infer, was the case with the monks of
Canterbury, for their library contained a "_Liber de Astroloebus_,"
and the "Prophesies of Merlin."

Many hints connected with the literary portion of a monastic life may
sometimes be found in these catalogues. It was evidently usual at Christ
Church Monastery to keep apart a number of books for the private study of
the monks in the cloister, which I imagine they were at liberty to use at
any time.[126]

A portion of the catalogue of monk Henry is headed "_Lib. de Armariole
Claustre_,"[127] under which it is pleasing to observe a Bible, in two
volumes, specified as for the use of the infirmary, with devotional
books, lives of the fathers, a history of England, the works of Bede,
Isidore, Boethius, Rabanus Maurus, Cassiodorus, and many others of equal


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryF. Somner (Frederick Somner) MerryweatherBibliomania in the middle ages → online text (page 6 of 22)