G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

A medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation online

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shone upon us ! " and, faUing at Anselm's feet, he
confessed that he had sinned, and that the guilt was
his ; beseeching pardon for the past and promising
amendment for the future. This we have written,
that it may thus be known how pious was the Saint's
discretion to all, and how discreet his piety.*

* It must be remembered that pius and fietas have also the con-
notation of fitijul, pity.

Guibert de Nogent, from the first pubhcation of his works in the
17th century, has been known as one of the most interesting auto-
biographers of the Middle Ages : his Treatise on Relics and God's
Dealings through the Franks [in the Hohj Land] are no less interesting.
His style, especially in his Own Life, is involved and obscure, quite
apart from corruptions of the text ; but he was one of the most honest
and learned ^^^:iters in an age of great intellectual activity ; and, though
he took St. Bernard's side against Abelard, he shows a critical acumen
which can seldom be paralleled in any period of the Middle Ages.
Born near Beauvais in 1053, of noble blood, he lost his father in child-
hood and his mother at the age of 12 by her retirement to a convent"
His old master having at the same time become a monk, Guibert ran
wild for a few years. At last, through his mother's and master's
influence, he took the vows at St. Germer, that magnificent abbey-
church which may still be seen between Gournay and Beauvais, The
regularity of his hfe and his fame as a student earned him the honourable
position of Abbot at Nogent-sous-Coucy. After playing a conspicuous
part in the church pohtics of 1106 and succeeding years, he retired again
to the peace of his abbey, wrote several books of great value, and died
between 1121 and 1124. More specimens of Guibert's work would be
given here, but that his hfe and writings have quite lately been
admirably treated in a monograph by a scholar of great promise whose
earlv death has aroused much sympathy (Bernard Monod. Le Motne
Guibert, Hachette. 1905.)

40 A Medieval Garner.

16.— an atitJot's autotJiograpl)?.

(Guibert's Own Life. Migne. Pat. Lat., vol. 156, col. 856).

Y mother, while yet scarce of marriageable
age, was given to my father, then a mere
youth, by my grandfather's provision.
Though intelligence was written plainly on
her face, and nobihty shone through the
natural and decent gravity of her features, yet from
her earliest childhood she conceived the fear of God's
name. For she had learned so to loathe sin, not by
experience but by a certain impulse of divine dread,
that (as she was wont oftentimes to tell me) it had
so steeped her mind in the fear of sudden death, that
in her later and riper age she mourned to have lost
those pricks of godly fear v/hich had been so lively in
her rude and ignorant childhood. Now it befel that,
at the very beginning of her married life, her husband
was so bewitched that their matrimony was not con-
summated. For it was said that this union had
aroused the envy of a stepmother who, having herself
very many fair and noble nieces, strove to cast one of
these into my father's arms ; failing which, she is
said to have bewitched him by her magic arts. Where-
fore, after three years of silent suffering, my father
was at last summoned by his kinsfolk and compelled
to reveal the truth. Think now in how many ways
his kinsmen laboured to procure his divorce ; more-
over, they would have urged my father to enter a
monastery, little as they spoke then of such religious
Orders ; a counsel which was given not for the sake
of his soul's salvation but in the hope of succeeding
to his possessions. When therefore this suggestion
proved vain, then they began to bark daily at the
girl herself ; that she, far away from her own kindred,
and harassed by the oppressions of others, might at
last grow so weary of this injustice as to depart from
him without formal divorce. Meanwhile she suffered
all ; bearing all the words that were aimed at her with
unwrinkled brow, and, whensoever they led to strife,
dissembhng as though she knew it not. Besides

Guibert de Nogent.

which, some of the richest of
our neighbours, seeing her sub-
ject to this mockery of married
life, began to work upon her
mind ; but Thou, O Lord, from
Whom Cometh the purity of the
soul, didst breathe into her a
holiness foreign to her nature
and her age ; of Thy gift it was
that she passed through the fire
unscathed . . . Lord thou know-
est how hardly — nay, almost
hoAv impossibly — that virtue [of
chastity] is kept by women of
our time : whereas of old there
was such modesty that scarce
any marriage was branded even
by common gossip ! Alas, how
miserably, between those days
and ours, maidenly modesty and
honour have fallen off, and the
mother's guardianship hath de-
cayed both in appearance and
in fact, so that in all their be-
haviour nothing can be noted
but unseemly mirth, wherein are
no sounds but of jest, with wink-
ing eyes and babbling tongues,
and wanton gait, and all that
is ridiculous in manners. The
quality of their garments is so
unlike to that frugalit}^ of the
past that the widening of their
sleeves, the tightening of their
bodices, their shoes of cordovan
morocco with twisted beaks —
nay, in their whole person we
may see how shame is cast
aside. Each thinketh
to have touched the
lowest step of misery




From J. Quichei-at's Costume en France, p.
IG'2. A statue of about 1150, probably repro-
sentiug the Qiieeu ot Sheba, foniiorly at
Corbeil and now at bt. Denis.

42 A Medieval Garner,

if she lack the regard of lovers, and measureth her
glory of nobility or courtliness by the ampler number
of such suitors. God is my witness, that there was in
those days more modesty in marrying men (who would
have blushed to be seen among such maidens) than now
among marr3dng women, who certainly love the market-
place and the public all the more for these shameful
matters. Wherefore should this be so, my Lord God ?
but that no man blusheth at his own levity and wanton-
ness, seeing that all the rest are branded with the
same mark, and knowing that he himself foUoweth
the same affections as his fellows. Whence, prithee,
could he feel shame as such pursuits whereunto he
seeth all around him aspiring at the same time ? But
why speak I of shame, when such folk are ashamed
only of falHng below the rest in indulgence of their
lusts ? . . . Thus and in suchlike ways is this our
modern [modenmm] age corrupted, thus again doth it
spread corruption, scattering broadcast the seed of its
own evil conceits ; while, by an infinite progression,
all such seed doth transmit its own filthiness by
propagation to the rest. . . .*

(839.) I have already related, loving and holy God,
my gratitude to Thee for Thy benefits. First and
foremost, therefore, I thank Thee that Thou didst
endow me with a mother fair indeed, yet chaste,
modest, and God-fearing : for indeed it would have
been worldly and foolish in me to write that word
fair, had I not confirmed this idle epithet with the
stern aspect of assured chastity. For as, among the
poor, fasting would seem mere compulsion, and there-
fore the less laudable (since they have no sufficiency of
food to do otherwise), yet again the frugality of the
rich, in the face of their great abundance, hath its own
price ; so also beauty, the more desirable it may be,
the more highly must we extol it with every title of
praise, if it harden itself as a flint against all seducers.
. . . And certainly, although this fleeting beauty be

* After more than seven years, ..." when a certain old woman
had broken those evil charms," the life of Giiibert's parents became
more peaceful.

Guibert dc Nogent. 43

ready to turn with the shifting currents of our blood,
yet we cannot refuse to call it good, according to the
wonted measure of goodness, after the fashion of an
image. For if whatsoever hath been ordained to all
eternity by God is beautiful, then all that is temporally
beautiful must be as it were a mirror of that eternal
beauty : since the Apostle saith : " For the invisible
things of Him, from the creation of the world, are
clearly seen, being understood by the things that are
made : His eternal power also and divinity so that
they are inexcusable." Moreover the angels, in appear-
ing to human sight, have always borne a most comely
countenance, as Manoah's wife said, " A man of God
came to me, having the countenance of an angel, very
awful." Therefore the devils on the other hand (of
whom St. Peter saith " These are fountains without
water and clouds tossed with whirlwinds, to whom
the mist of darkness is reserved "), are wont to appear
under the blackest faces (except indeed when they
transfigure themselves treacherously into angels of
light) ; nor is that unfitting, since they have fallen
from the glory of their noble fellow-citizens [in heaven]
. . . For this cause, O God, I thank Thee that Thou
didst instil virtue into her comeliness ; for the very
gravity of her demeanour might have suggested
contempt of all earthly vanity, since a sobriety of
glance, a scantiness of speech, and a motionless calm
of the features, doth by no means condescend to the
levity of onlookers. Thou knowest, Almighty,
that Thou hadst imbued her with the lifelong fear of
Thy name as a bulw^ark against all seductions of the
soul. Moreover she had one quality which is seldom
or never found among women of great profession ; for,
by how much she was more chaste through Thy grace,
by so much was she the more sparing in her blame of
the unchaste ; nay, when such tales were sometimes
spread abroad by strangers or by those of her own
household, she would avert her face, move away from
the speaker, and show as much pain at such whisper-
ings as though her OAvn person also were at stake.
O God of Truth, Thou knowest that I tell this not

44 A Medieval Garner.

from private love, as of mine own mother, but that
the thing itself was greater than these poor words of
mine could express ; especially seeing that the rest of
my race were either brute beasts that knew not God,
or fierce soldiers stained with blood-guiltiness, and
such as must become utter strangers to Thy face,
unless Thou have great mercy upon them according
to Thy wont.

From this lady then, the truest (as I firmly believe)

of all women. Thou didst grant me to be born, the

worst of all her offspring. I was her last child in both

senses of the word ; since my brothers and sisters of

better promise are dead and I alone survive whose

life was so sorely despaired of . . . Wellnigh all

Lententide my mother had passed in unwonted

anguish before my birth, (an anguish which she would

oftentimes recall to my shame when my wayward

youth erred in devious paths), until at last the solemn

Sabbath of Easter Eve dawned upon the earth. She

therefore, shattered by her long pains, and torn with

more bitter agony, as the hour drew near, even when

men hoped in the course of nature for my birth, felt

her travail to be more and more in vain. My father,

with his friends and kinsfolk, were in despair, since

they feared no less for her life than for mine. It was a

day whereon no private services were held beyond the

one divine office that was celebrated at its own fixed

hour ; wherefore necessity, the mother of good counsel,

drove them to the altar of God's Mother, to whom,

the Only Virgin before and after her Son's birth, they

made these vows and laid this oblation as a gift upon

the altar that, if the child should prove to be a male,

he should for God's sake and his own be shorn a cleric ;

but if of the less noble sex [sin deterior], that she

should be sealed to a suitable [religious] profession.

Whereupon, at that very hour, a sort of sickly abortion

was born, so abject that men rejoiced only at the

mother's deliverance. For this new-born creature was

so miserably lean that it seemed like a corpse born out

of due season ; so lean indeed that the frail rushes of

those parts (for it was then almost mid-April) were

Guibert de Nogent. 45

laid side by side with my fingers, and seemed less
meagre. Nay, on that very day, as men bore me to
the baptismal font, a certain woman turned me
from hand to hand (as hath oftentimes been told me
in sport during my boyhood and youth), saying,
" think ye that this creature can live, whom half-
hearted Nature hath put forth almost without limbs,
and mth a thread rather than a body ! . . ."

(843.) Thus then I was born ; and scarce had I
begun to play with childish toys, when Thou, loving
Lord — for Thou wast thenceforth to be my Father —
when Thou didst make me fatherless. For, after the
lapse of some eight months, my fleshly father gave up
the ghost ; wherefore I thank Thee most heartily that
Thou didst make this man to die in the mood of a
Christian, who, had he lived, would doubtless have
hindered Thy purpose in me. For, seeing that my
childish prettiness, and a certain vivacity natural to
that tender age, seemed proper and fit for this world,
therefore no man doubted but that, when the time for
school-learning should come, he would break the vow
which he had made for me. But Thou, in Thy good
providence, didst wholesomely dispose that I should
not lack this early teaching in Thy laws, and that he
should not break the vow once made to Thee.

Thus she. Thy widow indeed, nurtured me with
painful care. When I was set to learning, I had
indeed already touched the rudiments, yet I could
scarce put together the simplest elements when my
loving mother, eager for my teaching, purposed to set
me to Grammar.* There had been a little before, and
there still reigned partly in my time, so great a scarcity
of grammarians, that scarce any could be found in the
towns, and few indeed in the cities ; moreover, even
such as could be found were of slender learning, not to
be compared even with the wandering hedge-clerks of
modern days. This man therefore, to whom my
mother was purposed to give me over, had begun to

* In the extended sense, of course, in which it still survives in our
phrase. Grammar School.

46 A Medieval Garner.

learn Grammar at an advanced age, and was so much
the more rude in that art, that he had known so httle
thereof in his youth. Yet he was of so great modesty
that his honesty supphed his lack of learning. . . .
When, therefore, I was set under his care, he taught
me with such purity, and guarded me so sincerely from
the irregularities which are commonly begotten in that
tender age, that he kept me altogether from the general
games, never suffering me to go forth unaccompanied,
nor to eat away from home, nor to accept any gift
without his leave ; he broke me in to all temperance
in word, in look, in deed, so that he seemed to demand
from me that I should live not only as a clerk but as
a monk. For, whereas the others of my age wandered
everywhere at their own will, and the reins were loosed
in all due liberty with respect to their age, I for my
part was shackled by constant restraints, sitting in my
little clerical cloak and watching the bands of playing
children like some tame animal. . . . While, therefore,
he lay so hard upon me, and .all who knew us thought
that my little mind must be sharpened to its keenest
edge by these incessant pains, yet all men's hopes were
frustrated. For he himself was utterly ignorant of
the arts of composition, whether in verse or in prose ;
so that I was smitten with a grievous and almost daily
hail of fierce words and blows, Avhile he would have
compelled me to learn that which he himself knew not.
With him, under this vain struggle, I spent almost
six years, wherefrom I gathered nothing worthy of
so great and long-standing labours. . . . For weary
nature should sometimes find her remedy in some
diversity of work. Let us bear in mind how God
formed His world not in uniformity, but with vicissi-
tudes of day and night, of spring and summer and
autumn and winter, thus refreshing us by the changes
of the seasons. . . . Wherefore that man loved me
with a cruel love. . . . When he took so bitter a
revenge upon me for not knowing that which he knew
not himself, he might clearly have seen how great evil
he had done ; since he demanded more from my frail
little mind than he himself possessed. For as a mad-

Guibert de Nogent. 47

man's words can scarce be understood, if at all, even
by wise men ; so when a man knoweth not, yet saith
that he knoweth, and would fain teach another, then
his words are but darkened by the very earnestness of
his explanation. . . . Yet, though my master chas-
tised me with such severity in all other ways, he made
it plain that he loved me almost as he loved himself.
. . . And I, though dull and childish for my age, had
grown to love him so in return, although he so often
and so undeservedly bruised me with his rods, that T
utterly forgot his severity and regarded him not Avith
fear, as did other boys of my age, but with a deep and
heartfelt love. Often indeed, and in many ways, my
master and my mother proved me (seeing that I paid
them both a due and equal reverence) to see whether I
should presume, under any compelling circumstance,
to prefer the one to the other. At length opportunity
brought experience, so that neither could doubt thence-
forth. One day I had been beaten in my school, which
was none other than a hall of our house ; for my
master, in his care for me alone, had now left the teach-
ing of those others whom he had formerly undertaken,
as my wise mother had required when she increased
his salary and honoured him with her patronage. So,
after a few of the evening hours had been passed in that
stud}^ during which I had been beaten even beyond
my deserts, I came and sat at my mother's knees. She,
according to her wont, asked whether I had been
beaten that day ; and I, unwilling to betray my
master, denied it ; whereupon, whether I would or no,
she threw back my inner garment (such as men call
shirt) and found my little ribs black with the strokes
of the osier, and rising ever;y^vhere into weals. Then,
grieving in her inmost bowels at this punishment so
excessive for my tender years, troubled and boiling
with anger, and with brimming eyes, she cried, " Never
now shalt thou become a clerk, nor shalt thou be thus
tortured again to learn thy letters ! " Whereupon,
gazing upon her with all the seriousness that I could
call to my face, I replied, " Nay, even though I should
die under the rod, I will not desist from learning my

48 A Medieval Garner.

letters and becoming a clerk ! " For she had pro-
mised that, if I would be a knight when the time came,
she would endow me with arms and all that I needed
for such a life. When, however, I refused all this with
bitter scorn, then, O God, that maidservant of Thine
took so gladly these insults inflicted upon her, and
was so rejoiced at this contempt of herself, that she
revealed to my master this very answer and refusal of
mine ; and both exulted together that I should seem
to aspire with all the ambition of my soul towards that
life which my father had vowed for me.

How Guibert's mother, anxious to fix this vocation, entered into a
simoniacal bargain which was to thrust this boy of eleven into a rich
canonry, and how the married canon who had been thus extruded
regained his benefice by excommunicating the pious lady, should be
read either in the original or at least in M. Monod's summary.

1 7,— Popular Canonisation.

(Guibert's Treatise on Relics, Book i, c. i, col, 614).

HAT shall I say of those [saints] whose
fame is supported by no shred of testimony
from without, and who are rather dark-
ened than illustrated by the fact that they
are believed to be celebrated in certain
worthless records ? What shall I do in their case
whose beginnings and middle life are apparent to no
man, and whose latter end (wherein all their praise is
sung) is utterly unknown ? And who can pray for their
intercession when he knoweth not whether they possess
any merits before God ? . . . I have indeed known
some men possessed of a certain saint, as they called
him, brought from Brittany, whom they long revered
as a confessor ; until, suddenly changing their minds,
they celebrated him as a martjrr. When I enquired
closely into their reasons, they had nothing better to
plead for this man's martyrdom than for his aforesaid
confessorship. I call God to witness, that I have read
— and read again in utter loathing to them that were
with me — in the Life of Samson, a saint of great reputa-

Guibert dc Nogent. 49

tion in France and Brittany, concerning a certain
Abbot whom that book names St. Pyro. When,
ho\yever, I sought into the latter end of this man whom
I held for a saint, I found his special mark of sanctity
to be this : to mt, that he fell into a well while drunken
with wine, and thus died. Nor have I forgotten the
question propounded by Lanfranc, Archbishop of
Canterbury, to his successor Anselm, then Abbot of
Bee, concerning one of his predecessors who had been
cast into prison, and was slain because he would not
ransom himself. . . . Let the pontiffs therefore see to
it, let the guardians of God's people see to it, and
provide that, if the people have a zeal of God, they
may at least have it according to knowledge, lest they
sin by offering aright and not dividing aright.* If
the prophet say truly, " Woe unto them that call evil
good and good evil," then what perversity can be
greater than to thrust men upon the sacred altars who
perchance, in their lifetime, deserved to be thrust forth
from the church itself !

I have indeed seen, and blush to relate, how a
common boj^ nearly related to a certain most renowned
abbot, and squire (it was said) to some knight, died in
a village hard by Beauvais on Good Friday, two days
before Easter. Then, for the sake of that sacred day
whereon he had died, men began to impute a gratuitous
sanctity to the dead boy. When this had been
rumoured among the country folk, all agape for some-
thing new, then forthwith oblations and waxen tapers
were brought to his tomb by the villagers of all that
country round. What need of more words ? A
monument was built over him, the spot was hedged in
with a stone building, and from the very confines of
Brittany there came great companies of country-folk,
though without admixture of the higher sort. That
most wise abbot with his religious monks, seeing this,
and being enticed by the multitude of gifts that were
brought, suffered the fabrication of false miracles.
Even though the covetous hearts of the vulgar herd

* Probably referring to Levit. i, 17, and ii, 6, with a play upon
divide, whicli might also mean discern.

50 A Medieval Garner.

may be impressed by feigned deafness, affected mad-
ness, fingers purposely cramped into the palm, and
soles twisted up under men's thighs, what then doth
the modest and wise man, who professeth to aim at
holiness, when he maketh himself the abettor of such
things ? Oftentimes we see these things made trite
by vulgar gossip, and by the ridiculous carr3ring round
of sacred shrines for the sake of collecting alms ; and
daily we see the very depths of some man's purse
emptied by the lies of those men whom St. Jerome
calleth rabulas in mockery of their rabid eloquence ;
who shake us so with their rogueries, and bear us along
with such religious flattery that (to quote that saintly
Doctor again) they gobble more busily than parasites,
gluttons, or dogs, and surpass ravens or magpies with
their importunate chatter.

But why do I accuse the multitude, without citing
specific examples to rebuke this error ? A most
famous church* sent its servants thus wandering
abroad [with its shrine], and engaged a preacher to
seek alms for repairing its loss. This man, after a
long and exaggerated discourse on his relics, brought
forth a little reliquary and said, in my presence," Know
ye that there is within this little vessel some of
that very bread which our Lord pressed with His own
teeth ; and, if ye believe not, here is this great man "
— ^this he said of me — " here is this great man to
whose renown in learning ye may bear witness, and
who will rise from his place, if need be, to corroborate
my words." I confess that I blushed for shame to
hear this ; and, but for my reverence of those persons
who seemed to be his patrons, which compelled me to
act after their wishes rather than his, I should have dis-
covered the forger. What shall I say ? Not even
monks (not to speak of the secular clergy) refrain from

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