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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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Westminster, consisting of Latin primers, some richly ornamented, of a
few Greek authors, Latin classics, and English chronicles, "bokes
written in tholde Saxon tongue." He had another library at Beaulieu
(now New Hall) in Essex, with about 60 volumes of Latin authors,
besides works of the Fathers, dictionaries, and histories. At
Beddington in Surrey he had many chronicles and romances, and "a greate
boke of parchment written and lymned with gold of graver's work - De
Confessione Amantis, which may be identified as the MS., now marked 18
C 22, in the Royal library. At Richmond was a small collection made by
his father, consisting chiefly of missals and romances. At St. James's
Palace were, among others, works described vaguely as "a boke of
parchment containing divers patterns; a white boke written on
parchment; one boke covered with green velvet contained in a wooden
case; a little boke covered with crimson velvet," and so on, a curious
method of cataloguing and utterly useless for the purpose of
identification after so long an interval. Here and there a distinctive
title occurs, such as the Foundation Book of Henry VIIth's Chapel.

All these different small collections together represented the Royal
library in the early part of the sixteenth century. Henry VIII. had the
greater number of the books removed to Greenwich, where there were
already some printed volumes and a few manuscripts. That part which
remained at Westminster was enriched with some of the spoils of the
monasteries, placed there perhaps by Leland to save them from
destruction.* Among these was a Latin Evangelia of the eleventh century
(1 D 3), which belonged to the monks of Rochester, and which had been
given to them by a certain Countess Goda, according to an inscription
in the book itself. From Christ Church, Canterbury, came a fine copy of
the gospels (1 A 1 8), presented to that monastery by King Athelstan,
and from St. Alban's several choice historical and theological works
from the pen of Matthew Paris.

* Edward's Memoirs of Libraries, i., 364 et seq.


It is a question whether the attention bestowed on the Royal library
during the reign of Edward VI. was an advantage to it or the reverse.
It is true that the energy of Sir John Cheke, and Roger Ascham, King's
librarian, secured for it the manuscripts that had belonged to Martin
Bucer; but on the other hand, the rabid intolerance of Edward's Council
deprived it of many of its valuable contents. On the 25th January 1550,
a so-called king's letter, sent from the Council Board, authorised
certain commissioners to make a descent upon all public and private
libraries, and to "cull out all superstitious books, as missals,
legends, and such like, and to deliver the garniture of the books,
being either gold or silver, to Sir Anthony Aucher.* The havoc thus
wrought was irremediable, and not even the king's own library was
spared the terrible perquisitions. But at the same time we cannot but
marvel that still so many of the condemned books should have escaped
the notice of the commissioners. In the same year the libraries at
Oxford were also "purged of a great part of Fathers and Schoolmen," and
great heaps of books set on fire in the market-place were watched with
delight by the younger members of the university, who named the
conflagration "Scotus's funeral."

* Council Book of Edward VI.


The short and troubled reign of Mary afforded no scope for literary
activity, and Elizabeth was far too busy outwitting her enemies abroad,
and controlling the factious tendencies of her friends at home, to be
able to cultivate her taste for books. Nevertheless, although in the
course of a hundred years the Royal library had suffered as much as it
had gained, it was even then a goodly sight. Paul Hentzner, the German
literary tourist, who visited it in 1598, says that it was "well stored
with Greek, Latin, and French books, bound in velvet of different
colours, although chiefly red, with clasps of gold and silver, the
corners of some being otherwise adorned with gold and precious
stones."* Perhaps the custodians vouchsafed him but a glance at these
outer splendours, for he tells us nothing of the treasures within, of
which all this magnificence was only the antechamber.

* P. Hentzner, Itnerarium Germaniae, Angliae, etc., p. 188.


But the golden age of the Royal library was in the reign of James I.,
and its greatest benefactor a youth who died at the age of eighteen. It
were idle to speculate on what might have been the future of Henry,
Prince of Wales, had he lived to fulfil the bright promise of his
boyhood. To a singularly well-balanced mind, he appears to have joined
an amiability of character that endeared him to all save the crotchety
doctrinaire who sat upon the throne. He loved hunting and hawking and
all healthy open-air pursuits no less than he loved books, and the
society of men, who were the history-makers of his day. He would visit
Sir Walter Raleigh in his prison in the Tower, and listen to his
brilliant projects for the future greatness of England in the
development of her colonies, and the annexation of still barbarous
lands, the fabulous wealth of which was the life-long dream of the
veteran explorer.

But Raleigh was not a mere dreamer, as his History of the World
shows - a work which, written during his long years of captivity, became
the text-book and standard authority for the next two hundred years.
Whatever his faults, and he had perhaps grave ones, it was his
misfortune to be in some ways in advance of the age in which he lived,
in consequence of which his finer qualities were misunderstood by most
of his contemporaries. Prince Henry was not, however, among their
number; he lent a fascinated ear to Raleigh's grand, patriotic schemes,
and had they both lived, the one to reign, the other to counsel and
guide, England might not only have been spared the most disgraceful
blot on her escutcheon, but have anticipated by more than two hundred
years her subsequent achievements. It was without doubt Sir Walter
Raleigh who inspired the young prince to take the Royal library under
his protection, and his pupil threw himself heart and soul into the
work, so that rightly or wrongly he has been considered its real
founder.

On the death of John, Lord Lumley, Prince Henry secured his fine
collection of MSS., by which means he more than made up for the loss
which the Royal library had sustained by his father's incomprehensible
warrant to Sir Thomas Bodley to choose any of the books in any of his
houses or libraries.*

* Reliquiae Bodleiana, p. 205.


Lord Lumley had not only been a diligent collector himself, but had
inherited a valuable library from his wife's father, Henry Fitzalan,
Earl of Arundel, who had begun to collect at the most propitious moment
for acquiring rare MSS., and had obtained a portion of Archbishop
Cranmer's library. The prince's Privy Purse Expenses have unfortunately
been destroyed, but one single entry of the year 16og, bearing
reference to his books, has survived: "To Mr. Holcock, for writing a
catalogue of the library which his Highness hade of my Lord Lumley, 68
pounds, 13s. 0d." This catalogue has unfortunately disappeared.

Edward Wright, the mathematician, and the learned Patrick Young were
both candidates for the post of librarian, and Wright was appointed
with a salary of 30 pounds a year.

Besides purchasing Lord Lumley's books, the young prince acquired the
entire collection of the erudite Welshman, William Morice, and an
unprecedented stir and activity began to animate the affairs of the
Royal library. Scholars saw in the Prince of Wales their future stay
and protector, and looked forward to his reign as to that of the first
English king in modern times, who would not merely patronise, but also
extend learning by his inherent love of, and zeal for, letters. But
this fair prospect was doomed to fade, even as they were contemplating
it, and the hope of England died in the very midst of all his literary
labours. The books which he had collected were mainly incorporated into
the Royal library, but many were dispersed after his death. Scattered
up and down the country may still be seen volumes in private
collections bearing the tell-tale conjoined names, "Tho.
Cantuariensis - Arundel - Lumley."

James I., aptly styled by Henry IV. of France "the wisest fool in
Christendom," dabbled in books as in most other things, but does not
appear to have succeeded in doing much harm to his library beyond the
suicidal carte blanche to Sir Thomas Bodley. He appointed Patrick Young
to be custodian of the different sections of it distributed throughout
the various royal palaces, and this really great scholar retained the
post till the Revolution.

That part of the collection which was lodged at Richmond went by the
name of Henry VIIth's library, and was shown to Johann Zingerling, a
German scholar who came to England while Patrick Young was librarian.
The only MS. which he singled out for mention was the Genealogia Regum
Anglia, ab Adamo, a roll of the fifteenth century (t4 B 8). The
Richmond collection was removed to Whitehall by Charles I., and the
Genealogia appears in a catalogue made after the Restoration.

The reign of Charles I. is almost barren of events in the Royal
library, save at the very, beginning, for the acquisition of one MS.,
which may, however, be regarded as the piece de resistance of the whole
collection. This was the famous Codex Alexandrinus, one of the three
oldest MSS. of the whole Bible in Greek. Before describing this
venerable codex, it will be well to relate what little is known of its
history. In 1624, Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople, formally
presented it to James I., through his ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe.
Writing to Lord Arundel, in December of that year, Roe says: "One book
he (the Patriarch) hath given me to present his Majestie, but not yet
delivered, being the Bible intire, written by the hand of Tecla, the
protomartyr of the Greeks, that lived with St. Paul, which he doth aver
it to be authentical, and the greatest relique of the Greek Church." In
1626, he wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury: "The Patriarch also,
this New Year's tide, sent me the old Bible formerly presented to his
late Majesty, which he now dedicates to the king, and will send it with
an epistle. What estimation it may be of is above my skill, but he
values it as the greatest antiquity of the Greek Church. The letter is
very fair, a character I have never seen. It is entire, except the
beginning of St. Matthew. He doth testify under his hand that it was
written by the virgin Tecla, daughter of a famous Greek, called Stella
Hatutina, who founded the monastery in Egypt, upon Pharaoh's Tower, a
devout and learned maid, who was persecuted in Asia, and to whom
Gregory Nazianzen hath written many epistles. At the end whereof, under
the same hand, are the epistles of Clement. She died not long after the
Council of Nice. The book is very great, and hath antiquity enough at
sight; I doubt not his Majesty will esteem it for the hand by whom it
is presented."*

* Negotiations of Sir Thomas Roe, London, 1740.


Sir Thomas Roe certainly did not overestimate the value of the
manuscript, and it would be extremely interesting could we trace the
evidence by which it came to be believed that it was written by the
hand of St. Tecla. A note in Arabic at the foot of the first page of
Genesis says that it was "made an inalienable gift to the patriarchal
cell of Alexandria. Whoever shall remove it thence shall be accursed
and cut off. Written by Athanasius the humble."

* "Probably," says Sir Edward Maunde Thomson, "Athanasius, the Melchite
Patriarch, who was still living in 1308." Description of Ancient
Manuscripts in the British Museum.


Before his translation to Constantinople, Cyril Lucar had been
Patriarch of Alexandria, and possibly he himself risked the threatened
curse and excommunication in taking the Bible away with him, though his
deacon asserted that he had obtained it from Mount Athos.

But besides the above-mentioned note there is another also in Arabic,
with a Latin translation at the back of the table of books. This note
says: "Remember that this book was written by the hand of Tecla the
martyr." The tradition is recalled by Cyril Lucar at the beginning of
the manuscript. He states that the name of Tecla was originally to be
found inscribed at the end of the volume, but that when Christianity
practically became extinct in Egypt, the few remaining Christians and
their books were doomed, and for this reason the name was erased,
Tecla's memory and the legend being perpetuated notwithstanding.

Tregelles accounts for the tradition that St. Tecla was the writer of
the MS. by the supposition that the Arabic note was ignorantly added by
some scribe who had observed the name of Tecla written in the now
mutilated margin of the first leaf of the New Testament, which contains
the lesson appointed by the Greek Church for the feast of St. Tecla.
Sir Edward Thompson points out, however, that this would infer that in
the fourteenth century the Gospel of St. Matthew was in its present
mutilated state, and that then as now, the New Testament formed a
separate volume apart from the Old; and he shows that the Arabic
numeration of the leaves, which is of about the same age as the
inscription, is carried continuously through both Testaments, and by a
calculation of the numbers which have not been cut away in trimming the
edges, it appears that the twenty-five leaves which contained the
greater portion of St. Matthew were lost at a later period, the last
leaf of the Old Testament bearing the number 641, and the present first
leaf of the New Testament 667.

Cobet and other experts fixed the date of the two codices, the Codex
Sinaiticus and the Codex Alexandrinus, as not earlier than the fifth or
sixth century, the principal reason for assigning to them so late a
date being the generally accepted theory that uncials were not in use
until vellum had entirely superseded papyrus as the medium for precious
manuscripts. But the latest authority in this department, Mr. F. G.
Kenyon, has thrown light on the whole question of early Christian Greek
MSS., by the discovery of a large uncial round hand on a papyrus dated
Anno Domini 88.* Thus it is quite possible, palaeographically, that the
Codex Vaticanus, which has been hitherto supposed to date from the
fourth century, may be much older, and there is now no conclusive
evidence to prove that the Alexandrinus was not written by St. Tecla,
whatever the probabilities may be to the contrary.

* The Paleography of Greek Papyri, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1899.


The three above-named codices, the Vaticanus, the Sinaiticus, and the
Alexandrinus have certain points in common, but the MS. in the Royal
library is written in double columns, that of the Vatican in triple
columns, and the Codex Sinaiticus, some leaves of which are in the
public library at Leipzig, the main body of the work being in the
imperial library at St. Petersburg, in quadruple columns.

Besides being numerically imperfect, the leaves of the Codex
Alexandrinus have suffered from the clipping of the outer edges by the
binder, and several of its priceless pages have been otherwise spoiled
and mutilated.

The MS. is austere in its simplicity, being totally unadorned, save for
the red ink used in the opening lines of each book, and occasionally in
superscriptions and colophons. The letters are uncials (or capitals)
without break, their form proving that the book was written in Egypt.

Patrick Young was librarian when this celebrated codex was added to the
Royal library, and duly conscious of its value, he did his utmost to
get a facsimile of it printed. But the king could not be induced to
take up the matter. In 1644 Young prevailed on the assembly of divines
to present a petition to the House of Commons, praying "that the said
Bible may be printed, for the benefit of the Church, the advancement of
God's glory, and the honour of the kingdom." A committee was found to
confer with him on the subject, but nothing was done, owing to the
troubled state of the country.

During the Revolution and under the commonwealth the Royal library was
in extreme peril. Hugh Peters, successor to Young, although he belonged
to the iconoclastic faction, practically saved the books, but was
unable to protect the unique collection of medals and coins. After a
few months the custodianship was transferred to Ireton, and ultimately
a permanent librarian was appointed in the person of Bulstrode
Whitelocke, first commissioner of the Great Seal. He accepted the
office from patriotism and reverence for the antiquities which were in
such imminent danger, but he wrote deprecatingly:

"I knew the greatness of the charge, . . . yet being informed of a
design to have some of them (the books) sold, and transferred beyond
sea (which 1 thought would be a disgrace and damage to our nation, and
to all scholars therein), and fearing that in other hands they might be
more subject to embezzling . . . I did accept the trouble of being
library-keeper at St. James's, and therein was much persuaded by Mr.
Selden, who swore that if I did not undertake the charge of them, all
those rare monuments of antiquity, those choice books and MSS. would be
lost, and there were not the like of them except only in the Vatican,
in any other library in Christendom."

At the Restoration, Thomas Rosse was made royal librarian, but his
offices were already so numerous that he was unable to bestow much
attention on the books. Nevertheless, he revived the project of
printing the Alexandrian MS., and urged the king to interest himself in
bringing it about, saying that, although it would cost 200 pounds, it
would "appear glorious in history after your Majesty's death." "Pish,"
replied Charles II., characteristically, "I care not what they say of
me in history when I am dead," and there was an end of the matter till
our own day.

The year 1678 is noteworthy in the annals of the Royal library as the
period at which it acquired the series of valuable MSS. known as the
Theyer collection. They had been bought from Theyer's executors by
Robert Scott, a famous bookseller, who offered them to the king for
6841. He subsequently got them for 560 pounds. Next to the Alexandrian
Codex this is the most important addition to the library in
comparatively modern times. It consisted of 336 volumes, including l00
rare treatises, a whole series of Roger Bacon's works, and the
celebrated autograph collection formerly belonging to Cranmer, and long
mourned as lost. Many of these manuscripts could be traced back to the
library of Llanthony Abbey, having passed into Theyer's possession by
the marriage of one- of his ancestors with a sister of the last prior
of Llanthony. Nearly the whole of the Theyer collection is described in
the Catalogi Librorum Manuscriptorum of 1697, but without the least
hint that it then formed part of the Royal library. The great Richard
Bentley was at that time librarian, and was responsible for the amazing
omission, having prohibited any mention of the Royal library in that
work, his reason perhaps being the disgraceful condition into which the
books had fallen. Bentley was by far the most distinguished of the
royal librarians during any part of its history, and he would, no
doubt, have accomplished wonders if he had not been so outrageous a
pluralist, so busy a scholar, and so pugnacious a litigant. Not only
was he Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, Regius Professor of
Divinity, Rector of Haddington, Rector of Wilburn, and Archdeacon of
Ely, but he was immersed in numberless lawsuits, and in classical
studies which would alone have sufficed to fill the whole life of an
ordinary man. What he, in spite of these multifarous occupations,
attempted to do for the Royal library at least testifies to the
grandeur of his conceptions and the boldness of his schemes. His
failure to place the library within the reach of students was as much
due to the stultifying effects of red-tapeism as to the disorganised
condition of the library itself.

Bentley's first care on taking office was to enforce the Copyright Act,
which, although passed in 1663, had been carelessly ignored. By this
means about 1000 printed books were added to the collection, but no
bindings were provided, or shelves on which to put them. In a famous
controversy with Charles Boyle, who complained that difficulties were
placed in the way of his access to one of the royal manuscripts,
Bentley answered: "I will own that I have often said and lamented that
the library was not fit to be seen," and proceeding to exulpate
himself, he added: "If the room be too mean, and too little for the
books; if it be much out of repair; if the situation be inconvenient;
if the access to it be dishonourable, is the library- keeper to answer
for it?"

A proposal was made, during Bentley's tenure of office, to erect a
suitable building for the books, establishing it by Act of Parliament.
But nothing was done, and in the course of nineteen years the
collection was four times removed. In 1712 it migrated from the much
abused quarters at St. James's to Cotton House, and from thence to
Essex House in 1722. It was next lodged, together with the Cottonian
library at Ashburnham House, and after the disastrous fire in 1731,
from which the Cotton MSS. suffered so severely, it gained with them a
temporary refuge in the old Westminster dormitory.

Bentley resigned his office of librarian in 1724, in favour of his son,
another Richard Bentley; but Casley, who, as deputy custodian, had been
for many years the only working librarian, continued to fill that post.

In 1757, George II. presented the Royal library to the nation, handing
it over by Letters Patent to the custody of the trustees of the British
Museum, and thus its hitherto chequered career was turned into
prosperous channels. All that is henceforth left to desire is a
descriptive catalogue worthy of its unique contents.*

* The Royal Library must not be confused with the King's Library
belonging to George III., and presented to the British Museum by George
IV. The King's Library included, however, a few important MSS. which
had been retained by George II. when he made over the Royal collection
to the nation.


The Greek MSS. in the British Museum are not very numerous, but are
widely renowned. Of those in the Royal library the Codex Alexandrinus
is by far the most interesting, not only as being the one Greek MS. of
the whole Bible in the library, but also as surpassing all the other
existing Greek fragments of the Scriptures in point of antiquity. The
next earliest MS., containing the Books of Ruth, Kings, Esdras, Esther,
and the Maccabees (1 D 2), is of the thirteenth century. The Books of
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon (1 A 15), are of the
fifteenth century. Nearest in antiquity to the Alexandrian Bible in the
British Museum is the Cotton MS. (Titus, C 15), the Codex Clarmontanus,
a purple-dyed fragment of the sixth century, written on vellum of so
subtle and delicate a texture that even experts have sometimes mistaken
it for Egyptian papyrus.

A few words will not be out of place here respecting the writing
materials of the ancients, and their custom of staining leaves of
vellum. Skins of animals were probably one of the most ancient mediums,
as being the most durable. There exists in the British Museum a ritual,
written on white leather, which dates from about the year 2000 B.C. But
the custom of writing on leather is known to have been much older
still. The commonest mode of keeping records in Assyria and Babylonia
was on prepared bricks, tiles, or cylinders of clay, baked after the
inscription had been impressed on them. But a wood-cut of an ancient
sculpture from Konyungik* illustrates scribes in the act of writing
down the number of heads and the amount of spoil taken in battle, on
rolls of leather, which the Egyptians used as early as the eighteenth
dynasty. At the close of the commercial intercourse between Assyria and
Egypt, rolls of leather may have been the only material employed for
writing on. Parchment, so prepared that both sides could be used, was
doubtless the development of this custom, but was a much later
invention. Together with the use of the rough skins, and of the more or
less carefully prepared surfaces of the leather, papyrus became one of
the most frequent vehicles for written words, and was used for some
time after the beginning of the Christian era. Leaves of palm or mallow


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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 25 of 28)