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J.M. Stone.

Studies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries online

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locked up his books from him.

Disraeli, in his Amenities of Literature, says that, "Tormented by the
fate of a collection which had consumed forty years, at every personal
sacrifice to form it for 'the use and services of posterity,' he sank
at the sudden stroke. In the course of a few weeks he was so worn by
injured feelings that, from a ruddy-complexioned man, his face was
wholly changed into a grim blackish paleness, near to the resemblance
and hue of a dead visage."

Cotton made two separate petitions to have his rights over his own
property restored. In the first he signified to the Privy Council that
their detaining his books without rendering any reason for the same had
been the cause of the mortal malady from which he suffered. In the
second, in which his son joined, he merely complained that the
documents were perishing for lack of airing, and that no one was
allowed to consult them. The Lord Privy Seal was at last sent to him
with a tardy message from the king, but too late to avail him anything.
Within half an hour of his death the Earl of Dorset came to condole
with his son, now Sir Thomas Cotton, bearing the somewhat ambiguous
assurance that, "as his Majesty loved his father, so he would continue
his love to him." Sir Robert Cotton died on the 6th May 1631, and was
buried at Connington. Long afterwards it was discovered that the author
of the fatal pamphlet, that had done so much to kill him, was Sir
Robert Dudley, who had written it when in exile at Florence.

Before tracing the subsequent history of the Cottonian library we will
pause and consider some of the most important manuscripts which it
contained at the death of its famous originator.

It has been said that he turned his attention largely towards
collecting materials for every period of English history. Those
materials are particularly rich as regards the Anglo-Saxon period.

Beginning chronologically we find here (in Vitellius, A 15) the story
of Beowulf, the oldest monument of AngloSaxon literature, reaching back
into the ages of heathendom. It is a pagan war-song which, in being
handed down from minstrel to minstrel, has lost nothing of its wild,
exultant beauty, while it has received many Christian inflexions from
the bards of a better religion than that in which it was originally
conceived, through whose minds it passed before being committed to
parchment. When the Saxons had embraced Christianity they carefully
weeded out from their national poetry all allusion to personages of
pagan mythology, so that, in an antiquarian sense, their literature
suffered. But the forcible and picturesque imagery of half-barbaric
tribes still remained. The coarseness of the beer-hall is, however,
subdued by the gold and silken embroideries with which it is adorned.
In a vivid description of a battle, in the midst of lurid flames, of
blood and carnage, the enemy is "put to sleep with the sword." When a
hero dies in peace, "he goes on his way."

The poem of Beowulf has been variously edited. It was first noticed by
Wanley, in his catalogue of Saxon MSS. in 1705. It was printed with a
Latin translation by Thorkelin, at Copenhagen, in 1815. Conybeare, in
his Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon Poetry, points out several errors into
which the Dane, Thorkelin, and the Englishman, Turner fell; and Thorpe,
in his Anglo-Saxon Poems of Beowulf, differs from all preceding
editors, who considered the heroes as mythical beings of a divine
order, he suggesting that they were kings and chieftains of the North,
within the pale of authentic history.* This opinion had been shared by
Kemble, but under the influence of Grimmperhaps the greatest authority
on these matters - he ended by regarding the poem as mythic. Later
critics have, however, considered that it deals with historical persons.

* Preface, p. xvii.


Only secondary to the romance of Beowulf must once have been the
fragment of a poem on the death of Beorhtnoth.* It was printed by
Hearne in the appendix to his edition of Johannis Glastoniensis
Chronicon, but without a translation.

* Formerly Otho A 12, in the Cottonian Library; the original perished
in the fire of 1731.


"It constitutes," says Conybeare, "a battle-piece of spirited
execution, mixed with short speeches from the principal warriors,
conceived with much force, variety, and character; the death of the
hero is also very graphically described. The whole approximates much
more nearly than could have been expected to the war-scenes of Homer."

Of the poem of Judith, one of the finest specimens of Anglo-Saxon
songs, a fragment is preserved in the same volume which contains the
story of Beowulf.

The type of the Anglo-Saxon poets in Christian times is Caedmon, whom
Professor George Stephens called "the Milton of North England in the
seventh century," and who, according to the legend told by Bede, being
singularly unblessed with the power of song, received the gift
miraculously in sleep. He is represented in the Cottonian library only
by a few prayers in Anglo-Saxon (Julius, A 2) which Junius printed from
this MS. at the end of his edition of Caedmon's paraphrase. The
interesting collection, which goes by Caedmon's name in the Bodleian
library, is a series of pieces on Scriptural subjects, with beautifully
painted illustrations.

A manuscript of the tenth century (Cleopatra, B 13) contains a short
hymn on the conversion of the AngloSaxons; and in the same volume is a
life of St. Dunstan.

Two important volumes (Tiberius, B 5, and Titus, D 27), one of which
appears to have been written for the use of nuns, formed part of the
material for a history of mathematics in England, during the Middle
Ages.*

* Rara Mathematica from inedited MSS., by J. O. Halliwell.


Alcuin and Aldhelm were the chief Anglo-Latin poets. Some of Alcuin's
letters are to be found in this collection. St. Aldhelm, Abbot,
afterwards Bishop of Malmesbury, was regarded by King Alfred as the
prince of Anglo-Latin poets. His chief work, The Praises of Virginity,
is at Cambridge, but his metrical treatise on the monastic life and one
of his letters are here preserved.

Alfred is well represented in his Laws, and in his Saxon versions of
Augustine's soliloquies.

Of the works of the venerable Bede we have the Ecclesiastical History,
the Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, and nine other manuscripts.

It was probably between 1615 and 1621 that Sir Robert Cotton became
possessed of the celebrated manuscript known as the Utrecht Psalter.
Its early history is obscure, and experts have differed widely as to
its probable date and origin. Sir Thomas Hardy, who summarised its
contents, and drew up a report upon the intrinsic arguments in favour
of its remote antiquity, called attention to the fact that it could not
have been written in England, because it contains certain liturgical
pieces which were not in use in this country, at the time assigned for
its age by other internal evidence. He suggested that it was brought
into England by the Christian princess, Bertha, daughter of Charibert
the Frankish king, who became the queen of Ethelbert. He based this
supposition on the costliness of the manuscript which would point to
its having belonged to a royal personage. He next considered the
probability that this Psalter was presented by Queen Bertha to the
monastery of Reculver, in Kent, where the king had built a new palace,
and where Bertha attended the services of her religion, Hardy drew this
inference from the coincidence that at the time when the volume came
into Cotton's hands there was bound up with it a charter, recording the
gift of certain lands by Lothair, King of Kent, to Bercwald, Abbot of
Reculver, and to his monastery. The charter is dated Reculver, May 7,
679, and it seems to have been the custom in smaller monasteries to
place royal and other charters inside valuable books for preservation,
in default of any more suitable depository. This charter, which Cotton
took to be an original document, he separated from the Utrecht Psalter,
preserving it in another part of his library. It is still to be found
where he placed it (in Augustus, B 2).

Mr. Birch, however, disposed summarily of Sir Thomas Hardy's ingenious
theory, and pronounced Cotton's opinion that the charter was an
original document, as not worth much. After giving all the evidence for
and against the probability of Queen Bertha, having presented the
Psalter to Reculver Abbey, he showed reasons for the charter being a
copy of the original, and for its having been made at Christ Church,
Canterbury, a religious house very closely allied to Reculver, which
was secularised centuries before the dissolution of the monasteries by
Henry VIII.

But the most recent authority on illuminated manuscripts, Sir Edward
Maunde Thompson, considers that the actual date of the Utrecht Psalter
may be placed about the year 800, and he maintains with Sir Thomas
Hardy, judging by internal palaeographical evidence, that without
doubt, the manuscript is of Frankish workmanship, and he assigns its
origin to the north, or north-east of France.* This carries us back to
Queen Bertha and Cotton's suggestion that she brought the book over
with her.

* See a Paper on English Illuminated Manuscripts, A.D. 700-1066, by
Mr., now Sir Edward Maunde Thompson, Bibliographica, part ii., London
Kegan & Co.


Shortly after the suppression of Christ Church, which, in all
probability, inherited the treasures of Reculver, the Utrecht Psalter,
together with its incorporated charter, fell into the hands of the
Talbot family; and in Mr. Bond's report on the manuscript he said that
the name Mary Talbot could, with some difficulty, be deciphered on the
lower margin of folio 60b, in a sixteenth century hand. Various
suggestions have been made in regard to this name, but in Mr. Birch's
opinion - and here there is good reason for following him - it belonged
to the wife or daughter of "Master Talbot of Norwich, a most ingenious
and industrious antiquary." He made a collection of rare manuscripts,
most of which are now in Corpus Christi College at Cambridge, and it
was from this collection that the Utrecht Psalter passed into Sir
Robert Cotton's possession, but whether by gift or purchase is not
recorded.

The manuscript is entered in the catalogue of the library written by
Cotton himself in 1621, under the press-mark Claudius C 7, but it is
not to be found in any subsequent catalogue. An entry occurs among the
Notes of such books as haze been lent out by Sir Robert Cotton to
divers persons, and are abroad in their hands att this daye, the 15th
of January 1630, which entry is to the effect that the Psalter was lent
"to my lord the Earle of Arundel." Birch gave it up as lost to the
Cotton library from the time that it passed into Lord Arundel's hands;
but he must have been unaware of the existence of Smith's own copy of
his printed catalogue, which contains his manuscript notes of books
borrowed from the Cotton collection, and in which these words are
written "Borrowed by Mr. Ashmole, on the 17th February 1673, Claudius,
C. 7." Smith's folio catalogue, published in 1696, has the word Deest,
marking its absence from the library. Nothing further can be discovered
till 1718, when the book appears to have become the property of
Monsieur de Ridder, a Dutchman, who presented it to the University of
Utrecht where it still remains.* Sir Robert Cotton's signature is on
the first page.

*The History, Art, and Paleography of the Utrecht Psalter, by W. de
Gray Birch, F.R.S.L., Keeper of the Manuscripts in the British Museum.


The great charm of this manuscript, a facsimile of which is to be seen
in the Cottonian library, lies in its pen-and-ink illustrations, as
forcible and appealing as are the scenes of the Last judgment on the
walls of the Campo Santo at Pisa. Among the Harleian MSS., moreover
(No. 603), there is an illuminated Psalter so like it, that it seems
impossible that the artist should not have had the Utrecht Psalter
before him as he drew; unless, as Sir Edward Thompson supposes, the
older manuscript is itself a copy of a still more ancient one, which
leads him to infer that other versions of this Psalter were in
existence in England at an early date. This would account also for the
Eadwine Psalter at Cambridge, a twelfth-century imitation of the
Harleian manuscript. Neither of these Psalters can be described as an
absolute copy of the Utrecht Psalter.

We are here led to deplore the loss of another valuable manuscript of a
totally different kind, which, although not in the collection at the
time of Sir Robert's death, once belonged to this library, and was lost
in the same way. We refer to to the "Enconium Emmae" an eleventh
century MS. which Cotton sent to Duchesne, and which the latter used in
writing his Historiae Normanorum, but never returned. It has entirely
disappeared.

We now come to what is perhaps the noblest monument of Anglo-Saxon
times in the Cottonian library - namely, the famous Lindisfarne Gospels
also known as the Durham Book, a marvel of palaeographic art. It is
indisputably the finest production of the school of Lindisfarne. The
Latin text, written in double columns, was transcribed by Eadfrith,
Bishop of Lindisfarne, while still a simple monk, in honour, some say
for the use, of St. Cuthbert. It was finished after the saint's death,
at the end of the seventh, or beginning of the eighth century. This we
learn from intrinsic evidence, in the form of a brief note in
Anglo-Saxon at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and a longer one
at the end of the volume. These notes have thus been translated by Mr.
Waring: - *

* Prolegomena, Lindisfarne, and Rushworth Gospels, part iv.


"Thou, O living God, bear in mind Eadfrith and Aethelwald, and
Billfrith and Aldred, the sinner. These four with God's help were
employed upon (or busied about) this book."

And -

"Eadfrith, Bishop over the Church of Lindisfarne, first wrote this book
in (honour of) God and St. Cuthbert, and all the company of saints in
the Island; and Aethelwald, Bishop of Lindisfarne, made an outer cover,
and adorned it as he was well able; and Billfrith, the anchorite, he
wrought the metal-work of the ornaments on the outside thereof, and
decked it with gold, and with gems, overlaid also with silver and
unalloyed metal; and Aldred, an unworthy and most miserable priest, by
the help of God and St. Cuthbert, over-glossed the same in English, and
domiciled himself with the three parts. Matthew, this part for God and
St. Cuthbert; Mark, this part for the bishop; and Luke, this part for
the brotherhood; with eight ora of silver (as an offering) on entrance;
and St. John's part for himself - i.e., for his soul; and (depositing)
four silver ora with God and St. Cuthbert, that he may find acceptance
in heaven through the mercy of God; good fortune and peace on earth,
promotion and dignity, wisdom and prudence through the merits of St.
Cuthbert.

"Eadfrith, Ethelwald, Billfrith, and Aldred have wrought and adorned
this Book of the Gospels for (love of) God and St. Cuthbert."

Old as it is, neither vellum nor illumination shows the least sign of
decay. The writing is exquisitely beautiful, and points to a degree of
refinement and cultivation which we do not usually associate with a
rough life, such as was led by the monks of sea-girt Lindisfarne. There
are to be seen wonderful initial letters, geometrical and tesselated
designs, like the most delicate and intricate mosaics, and above all,
beautifully devout representations of the four evangelists, all
evidently drawn by the same loving and reverent hand, and the whole
colouring as fresh now as if it had been painted yesterday.

The evangelists, each accompanied by the symbolic animal, usually
assigned to him, occupy nearly the whole of their respective pages.
They are taken from Byzantine models, of which, as Westwood points out,
nothing remains but the attitudes, the fashion of the dress and the
form of the seats. There can be little doubt that these illuminations
were copied from a MS. brought into England by the missionaries sent
from Rome by St. Gregory in the seventh century.

* Facsimiles of the Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish
Manuscripts. P. 35.


Sir Edward Thompson, following Dom Germain Morin,* shows that the
Capitula, or tables of sections which accompany each gospel are
according to the Neapolitan use, and that Adrian, the companion of the
Greek, Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury in his mission to Britain in
668, was abbot of a monastery in the Island of Nisita, near Naples.

* See his articles in the Revue Benedictine line, Nov. and Dec. 1891,
pp. 481 and 529.


Bede tells us that these missionaries were both at Lindisfarne, and Sir
Edward Thompson gives it as his opinion that the Neapolitan MS. from
which the Durham Book or Lindisfarne Gospel derived its text, had been
brought a few years previously from Naples by the Abbot Adrian.*

* English Illuminated Manuscripts," Bibliographica," part ii.


The interlineary Saxon gloss was a later addition by the monk, Aldred,
and Billfrith, as we have seen, made the sumptuous metal cover. This
binding, needless to say, has long since disappeared, and for many
years a shabby morocco covering replaced the gorgeous shrine in which
the monks of Holy Island had deposited their treasure. About sixty
years ago, Bishop Maltby of Durham, at the suggestion of Mr. John
Holmes, provided a worthy substitute, the design for which was copied
from one of the ornamented pages in the book itself.

This magnificent manuscript has been published by the Surtees Society,
together with the very inferior Rushworth Gospels, but only one
illumination has been reproduced.*

* The Lindisfarne Gospels or Durham Book is described in Planta's
Catalogue (Nero, D 4), as "Liber praeclarissimus, elegantissimis
characteribus et curiosissimus pro istius seculi arte picturis et
delineationibus ornatus." See also Wanley's Catalogue, Codd. MS.
(Anglo-Sax.) p. 250.


Of absolutely authentic history there is little to relate concerning
this celebrated manuscript, but Simeon of Durham, or rather Turgot,
whose account he copied (and both men lived in the neighbourhood), is
responsible for a story which says that it remained at Holy Island till
the ravages of the Danes forced the monks to fly, carrying with them
their two greatest treasures, the body of St. Cuthbert, and this
volume. But in their flight across the narrow strip of sea which
divides the Island from the coast of Northumbria, their boat was thrown
so much on one side that the book fell overboard. They arrived safely
on the opposite shore, but could not make up their minds to continue
their journey till they had done what they could to recover the
precious relic. So they waited at the peril of their lives till the
tide went out, leaving, as it does to this day, a stretch of bare sand
between the Island and the mainland. To the inexpressible joy of the
monks, they then found the book lying unharmed on the sand.

Archbishop Eyre, in his Life of St. Cuthbert, following the story as it
is contained in the Rites of Durham,* places this incident in the sixth
or seventh year of their wanderings.

* Surtees Society.


"And so, the bishop, the abbot, and the rest, being weary of
travelling, thought to have stolen away, and carried St. Cuthbert's
body into Ireland, for his better safety. And being upon the sea in a
ship, by a marvellous miracle three waves of water were turned into
blood. The ship that they were in was driven back by the tempest and by
the mighty power of God as it would seem, upon the shore or land. And
also the said ship that they were in, by the great storm and strong
raging walls of the sea as is aforesaid, was turned on the one side,
and the Book of the Holy Evangelists fell out of the ship into the
bottom of the sea."

This account says that the monks found the volume about three miles
from the shore, and that their landing-place was Whithorn in Galloway,
opposite Belfast.

When Lindisfarne became a priory cell to Durham, this famous manuscript
still remained in the city of St. Cuthbert, and in the History of North
Durham by Raine, it is mentioned in the year 1637, as "the Book of St.
Cuthbert which had fallen into the sea." We, indeed, notice a brown
stain on several of its leaves, which might be accounted for by their
having been saturated with salt water, did we but know what would be
the effect of a sea-water mark after so long a period. At the time of
the dissolution it was still at Durham, and no record of what then
befel it has been preserved.*

* Brayley's Graphic and Historical Illustrator, 1834; article "The
Durham Book," by the Rev. Joseph Stevenson.


Sir Robert Cotton discovered it in the possession of Robert Bowyer,
clerk of Parliament under James I.

The resemblance between the artistic and palaeographic peculiarities of
the Book of Kells and the Durham Book is accounted for by the fact that
Lindisfarne was founded from Iona, which had been given to St. Columba
and his Irish companions in the sixth century. The monks, who settled
at Holy Island, continued the Scoto-Irish traditions which they had
brought with them, and perpetuated them in their manuscripts.

A brief notice of one other remarkable MS. may be made. It is to be
found in the press Claudius, B 4, and a careful description of it is
given by Westwood in his Palaeographia Sacra Pictoria, and in his
Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish MSS. An early
tradition declares it to be one of the volumes sent to St. Augustine by
Pope Gregory. However that may be, it is known as the Augustine
Psalter, and the style of its ornamentation is of Roman origin. This
ornamentation consists of initial letters in the Celtic manner; but
gold, which was hardly ever used in the Lindisfarne school, and never
in Irish MSS., is here seen in profusion, and this detail betrays a
foreign influence. It belonged to the Abbey of St. Augustine at
Canterbury, and may be a copy executed in that house of one of the
books sent from Rome.

The Paraphrase of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, by Elfric, the
grammarian, in this collection, is the finest known copy of the work.
It is ornamented with 397 drawings, illustrating the text of the early
books of the Bible. The largest miniature represents the building of
the Tower of Babel.

The Psychomachia of Prudentius is very beautifully written in red and
black ink. There are 83 drawings. A replica of this manuscript, which
belonged to the monks of Malmesbury, is now at Cambridge.

Scarcely less interesting historically, than the Lindisfarne Gospels is
the Book of the Benefactors of Durham Cathedral. Their names are
written in alternate lines of bold and silver, the binding being also
originally of gold and silver, to which fact a Latin couplet in verse
testifies. As time went on it was carelessly kept by the monks of
Durham, but entries were made up to the eve of the dissolution of the
monastery. The book has been published by the Surtees Society under its
name of Liber Vitae, and edited by the Rev. Joseph Stevenson who also
wrote a preface. The meaning of Liber Vitae was that the fact of the
benefactor's name being inscribed in this book was coupled with the
hope and the prayer that the same name might at last find a place in
the Book of Life, in which those are enrolled, who shall be faithful
unto death.* Later on it became a sort of memorandum-book, in which
together with the names of benefactors, was entered a brief account of
the nature of their donations. Copies of charters were also inserted,
and other matters of an historical character.

* Preface to the published volume, p. 8.


As far as folio 42, it is written in a beautiful ninth century hand,
but from this point onwards, the gold and silver lines are omitted, and
it is continued in varied and less elegant writing. This manuscript
remained at Durham till the dissolution, and it is not known what then
became of it, nor in what manner it passed finally into the Cottonian
library. It is thus quaintly described:

"There did lie on the High Altar an excellent fine book, very richly
covered with gold and silver, containing the names of all the
benefactors towards St. Cuthbert's Church, from the very original
foundation thereof, the very letters of the book being for the most
part all gilt, as is apparent in the said book till this day. The
laying that book on the High Altar did show how highly they esteemed
their founders and benefactors; and the quotidian remembrance they had


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Online LibraryJ.M. StoneStudies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries → online text (page 23 of 28)