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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led up to the first forms of papyrus used - hence, perhaps, the word
leaf of a book. Bark was next pressed into the service of literature
and, it has often been suggested, possibly gave rise to the word book,
although it seems more likely that book was of runic origin and derived
from the beech-staves - Buch-staben, on which the runes were expressed.

* Nineveh and its Remains, by Sir Henry Layard, ii., 185.

Eventually vellum entirely took the place of papyrus, but papyrus was
used not only in Egypt, but in imperial Rome before vellum became
common, and even biblical manuscripts were written on rolls of this
material. It was, however, too fragile and perishable to remain the
receptacle of writing and illumination intended to last for all time,
and therefore, by the middle of the tenth century A.D. it was
altogether discarded. Only a few tattered fragments of the New
Testament written on papyrus are still extant.

The oldest manuscripts belonging to the Christian era were written on
the thinnest and whitest vellum. The parchment of later times is more
coarsely grained, and less well finished, manuscripts a thousand and
more years old showing no signs of decay or discoloration, unlike many
which date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Scrivener,
basing his authority on Tischendorf, observes that the Codex Sinaiticus
is made of the finest skins of antelopes, the leaves being so large
that a single animal could furnish but two of them. The Codex Vaticanus
is greatly admired for the beauty of the vellum; and the whiteness of
the Codex Alexandrinus can be seen by all who visit the British Museum,
although the exquisite thinness, softness, and delicacy of the texture
can only be appreciated by touching it. The beautiful fabric of the
Codex Clarmontanus has already been mentioned.

But not only was the vellum finer and more durable in the earliest days
of our era than at a comparatively recent date, but the ink was better,
and the colours used in illuminating were far more beautiful. The
ancients laid on the gold very thickly, and the ink which they prepared
is still black, so that the text can be easily read, while the ink used
in the Middle Ages is now generally of a greyish brown. Red ink is very
ancient, and often seen in early Egyptian papyri. The instrument for
writing on papyrus was the reed growing in the marshes formed by the
Tigris and the Euphrates, and on the banks of the Nile. It was also
used for writing on vellum, but quills, admirably adapted for this kind
of material, came gradually into use with parchment. By degrees the
roll form was abandoned for the codex or book form, as being more
convenient, the leaves being stitched into gatherings or quires; but
for a long time both forms were used together.

It is uncertain when the custom of staining the most precious MSS.
purple came into vogue, but it did not obtain after the tenth century.
St. Jerome and his contemporaries practised it, using letters stamped
rather than written, in silver and gold. Writing in gold ceased to be
common in the thirteenth century, and in silver when the fashion of
staining the vellum died out. The value of a manuscript does not depend
on its purple colour, but this is chiefly interesting as serving to
show one phase of the reverence paid to the Scriptures. It may also
help to fix the date of a MS.*

* Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New
Testament, p. 23.

One of the most beautiful specimens of early paleographic art in the
Royal library is the Latin MS. of the gospels, known as the Evangelia
of King Canute (1 D 9). Westwood indeed considers that it will not bear
comparison with the Gospels of Trinity College, Cambridge, though he
admits that it exceeds them in interest owing to the Anglo-Saxon
entries relating to Canute at the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel.*
Wanley has described these entries as a certificate or testimonial of
Canute's reception into the family or society of the Church of Christ
at Canterbury. One leaf bears this inscription: "In the name of our
Lord Jesus Christ. Here is written Canute the King's name. He is our
beloved Lord worldwards, and our spiritual brother Godwards; and
Harold, this King's brother; Thorth, our brother; Kartoca, our brother;
Thuri, our brother." On the next leaf is a charter by the same king,
confirming the privileges of Christ Church, Canterbury. The book was
probably the gift of Canute to the monks of that house. There are no
miniatures, but an illuminated page with a grand border, heavily gilt,
contains small figures of the evangelists in medallions. Written in ink
at the bottom of the illuminated page is the name Lumley, showing that
the MS. formed part of that collection acquired by Prince Henry.

* Facsimiles of the Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish

The Gospels of St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury (1 E 6), written in
England in the eighth century, are probably the remains of the
so-called Biblia Gregoriana. But if this codex was really among the
books sent by Pope Gregory to St.
Augustine, it must first have been sent to Rome from England, but
internal evidence points to a much later date. It contains four very
dark-purple or rather rose-coloured stained leaves, with inscriptions
in letters of gold and silver an inch long, the silver being oxidised
by age. It is one of the most precious examples of Anglo-Saxon
caligraphy and illumination now existing. The half-uncial letters of
English type are by different hands, and the miniatures are of
different dates, that of the Lion of St. Mark being probably of the
tenth century. It is also supposed that the missing verses at the
beginning of the gospels were all written on purple-stained vellum, and
that there may have been a miniature of the evangelist before each
gospel. An inscription on the fly-leaf states that it belonged to the
monastery of St. Augustine at Canterbury, and that it formed part of
that library in the fourteenth century.

The fine manuscript, designated 2A 20, is a book of prayers and lessons
on vellum, of the eighth century. It belonged to the Theyer collection,
and several notes are inserted in the handwriting of John Theyer. It is
very much stained and spoiled, the binder, as was so often the piteous
case, having barbarously cut off some of the edges, and with them a
portion of the marginal writing, to the great detriment of the book.

2 A 22 is a magnificent Latin Psalter of the twelfth century, the best
period of penmanship. Sir Edward Thompson draws attention to the fact
that this volume originated at Westminster, as may be inferred by the
prominence given in the calendars and prayers to St. Peter and St.
Edward, even without its identification with an entry in the Abbey
Inventory.* A further proof of this is furnished by the miniatures of
the two saints, one of which begins the series; the other leads up to
the beautiful Salvator Mundi. Between are St. George and St.
Christopher. Instead of being dispersed throughout the book, the
illustrations are all at the beginning and end, indicating by the
colourless faces, and by what for want of a better word may be styled
their Gothic outlines, that they are of English origin. Some of the
capital letters are very interesting. One of these quaintly represents
the Saviour of the world enthroned in glory, on a gold background. His
hand is raised in blessing, while a Benedictine monk, floating on the
wings of prayer, clasps a scroll, one end of which disappears under the
rainbow-hued throne. On the scroll are the words Domine, exandi
orationem mean. At the end of the Psalter are Litanies and other

* English Illuminated MSS., pp. 34, 35.

The broad manner in which these illuminations are treated, with foliage
boldly designed, and animals of various kinds disporting themselves
among the branches, is indicative of the period. There is a striking
contrast between this large, bold treatment and the minute style of the
next century, although the period of transition occupied but a few
years. The change began with the development of the initial letter,
which was the starting-point of the border and of the miniature.

The Royal MS. 1 D 1, a Latin Bible of the middle of the thirteenth
century, forms an excellent example of this development. It is written
on fine vellum, and in a perfect style of calligraphy. The paintings
are few if we except those connected with the initial letter, which
serves admirably to illustrate the growth of the border from its
pendants, cusps, and graceful finials, showing how the initial and
miniature came to be combined. Writing about this same MS. Sir Edward
Thompson says: "In the large initial we see the combination of the
miniature with the initial and partial border, a combination which is
typical of book decoration of the thirteenth century. In MSS. of
earlier periods the miniature was a painting which usually occupied a
page, independently of the text . . . or if inserted in the text it was
not connected with the decoration of the page. It was, in fact, an
illustration and nothing more. But now, while the miniature is still
employed in this manner, independently of the text, the miniature
initial also comes into common use, the miniature therein., however,
continuing to hold for some time a subordinate place, as a decoration
rather than as an illustrative feature. In course of time, with the
growth of the border, the two-fold function of the miniature, as a
means of illustration and also of decoration, is satisfied by allowing
it to occupy part or even the whole of a page as an independent
picture, but at the same time, set in the border, which has developed
from the pendent of the initial. This development of the border it is
extremely interesting to follow, and so regular is its growth, and so
remarkable are the national characteristics which it assumes, that the
period and place of origin of an illuminated MS. may often be
accurately determined from the details of its border alone." *

* English Illuminated MSS., p. 37.

The distinguished writer goes on to show that in tracing this
development one sees how the initials first terminate in simple buds or
cusps, and how, in the next stage, characteristic of the thirteenth
century, they put out little branches, the buds growing into leaves and
flowers, and how thus gradually the border comes to surround the whole

The Royal MS. 2 B 3, commonly known as Queen Mary's Psalter, is a good
specimen of fourteenth century art. This is a large octavo volume of
320 leaves of vellum, almost everyone being magnificently illuminated
on both sides, with daintily executed drawings, lightly sketched, and
slightly tinted in green, brown, and violet. One richly-decorated page
represents the Last Judgement. At the top, a miniature within the
border shows forth the judge of all mankind. Angels with green-tipped
wings hover on either side. Before the Saviour as judge kneel the
Blessed Virgin and St. John, and on the other side is a group of monks.
The background is of pure gold. Underneath, enclosed in a blue and
white border, the dead rise to judgment. Angels blow long trumpets and
the graves open. Below this again is a lovely initial, with more
figures on a gold background. The letter begins the words of the Litany
Kyrie eleison. A drawing at the bottom of the page represents Saul
receiving the letter to Damascus for the persecution of the Christians.
This page, as elaborate and glowing with colour as it is rich in design
and fine in execution, is, however, not more striking than many others
in the same manuscript, which may, without too much praise, be
described as a gem of palaeographic art. A note on the last leaf
explains that the MS. was on the point of being carried beyond seas,
when a customs officer, one Baldwin Smith, in the port of London seized
and presented it to the Queen, in October 1553, the first year of her

The writer does not record whether the hapless owner was indemnified
for his loss. It was probably Queen Mary herself who caused the book to
be bound as we now see it, in the worn crimson velvet binding, with the
remains of large pomegranates embroidered at each corner, pomegranates
being her own badge.

The MS. 2 B 7 is an extremely beautiful piece of workmanship of the
fourteenth century. Its delicate outline drawings, mostly in mauve and
green, are reminiscent of the Guthlac roll. They represent mainly an
illustrated Martyrology of Saints, popular in England. 1 A 18 is the
copy of the Latin Gospels presented to Christ Church, Canterbury, by
King Athelstan, with the name Lumley on the first page of the Eusebian
canons, and Umfridus me fecit on a fly-leaf.

The beautiful French version of the Apocalypse, written in England
about 1330 (19 B R5), contains drawings of great refinement, though
scarcely to be compared with those which adorn Queen Mary's Psalter.

The very large Bible of the end of the fourteenth century measuring
twenty-four by Leventeen inches, is splendidly illuminated and
profusely adorned with miniatures.

But choice and variety are infinite, and to the devout lover of these
things, the Royal library resembles a goldmine with nuggets of immense
value lying in profusion wherever his adventurous footsteps lead him.
If his object be delight he will find that every step leads him there.


When Robert Harley laid the foundation of his magnificent library in t
7o5, so many collectors were already in the field that the prospect of
getting together any large number of choice manuscripts did not seem
promising. But contrary to expectation, this very fact proved
fortunate, for whereas Cotton had built up his library, book by book,
laboriously, Harley had the advantage of forming his, to a great
extent, by the purchase of other well-known collections, either at the
death of their original owners, or after the manuscripts had passed
through successive hands. Of these larger acquisitions may be mentioned
the library which had belonged to the famous antiquary, Sir Symonds
D'Ewes, Cotton's friend; the greater number of the Graevius MSS.; the
23 bulky volumes of the Baker collection; many of the papers originally
belonging to Nicholas Charles, Lancaster Herald, which, at his death,
Camden had purchased for 690 pounds, and the collection of Stow, the
historian of London.

Charles's library consisted chiefly of epitaphs, drawings of monuments
and arms, and an historical catalogue of the officers of the College of
Arms. Some of these are now at the Herald's College, one of the
manuscripts is in the Lansdowne collection, and the others were bought
by Harley.

On Strype's death in 1737, the majority of the papers, collected by
Foxe the martyrologist, which had been in the annalist's possession,
also passed with others into Harley's hands; they form vols. 416 to
428, and vol. 590 of this collection. Some of Foxe's papers are in the
Lansdowne library.

By means of great exertion and a lavish expenditure, Harley became
within ten years the possessor of about 2500 old MSS., and in 1721 had
collected 6000 volumes, 1400 charters, and 500 rolls, besides about
350,000 pamphlets. His entire library afterwards numbered over 20,000

Robert Harley, afterwards Earl of Oxford, was descended from an ancient
family, existing, it is pretended, in Shropshire at the time of the
Norman Conquest, and closely allied to the French family of de Harlai.
He was the eldest son of Sir Edward Harley, member for the county of
Hereford, in the Parliament which restored Charles I I.; was born in
1661, rose to a high position in public affairs, and was created, by
Queen Anne, a peer of the realm by the style and title of Baron
Wigmore, in the county of Hereford, Earl of Oxford, and Mortimer.* Soon
afterwards he was made Lord High Treasurer of Great Britain, and Prime
Minister. He was twice married - first to Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas
Foley of Whitley Court, Worcestershire, by whom he had three
children - a son, Edward, who succeeded him, and two daughters. His
second wife was Sarah, daughter of Simon Middleton, of Hurst Hill,
Edmonton, who survived him some years.

* The Earldom of Mortimer was added, because, although Aubrey de Vere,
twentieth Earl of Oxford had died without leaving male issue in 1702,
it was necessary to guard against possible claimants among remote
descendants of the de Veres.

Swift drew attention to the circumstance that Robert Harley was
educated at Shilton, a private school in Oxfordshire, remarkable for
having produced at the same time a Lord High Treasurer (the Earl of
Oxford), a Lord High Chancellor (Lord Harcourt), a Lord Chief Justice
of the Common Pleas (Lord Trevor), and ten members of the House of
Commons, who were all contemporaries as well at school as in
Parliament. From both his father and grandfather he had inherited a
taste for books, and as Speaker of the House of Commons, had taken
considerable part in organising the Cottonian library when it was
bequeathed to the nation. It was on this occasion that his notice was
first drawn to Humphrey Wanley, who offered some valuable hints in
regard to the arrangement of the Cotton manuscripts, and subsequently
proved himself to be the model of librarians.

Humphrey Wanley was the son of a country parson; he had received a
university education, and had already achieved success and some fame as
a scholar by his catalogue of the Anglo-Saxon MSS., preserved in the
principal libraries of Great Britain. He would gladly have undertaken
the custody of the Cotton library vice Dr. Smith, and wrote to Robert
Nelson, a learned writer and philanthrophist, who apparently possessed
some influence with the government, to solicit his good offices in
procuring him that post. Nelson's answer, interpolated by a remark in
Wanley's beautiful, scholarly hand, is interesting as an illustration
of the rivalry that existed between the two foremost librarians of the

"Were I as able to advise Mr. Wanley as I am desirous to offer what
might be most advantageous for his interest," wrote Nelson, "I should
immediately have answered your last letter which requires some queries
to be resolved before I can well determine how you ought to proceed.
For if there is any friendship between you and the Dr. [Smith] it will
give a different aspect to your endeavours to supplant him."

Here there is a mark in the original letter referring to a note written
across the margin by Wanley as follows:

"This is about the Cottonian Library, the custody whereof I did then,
and many years after, most ardently desire. As to friendship between
Dr. Thomas Smith [here meant] and me there was but little, his
conversation being not suitable to mine, by reason of his jealousies
and peevishness extreme. I always allowed the Doctor's pretensions to
be much better grounded than mine; but if he, being a non-juror, could
not swear to the Queen's government, or being much in years should
happen to decease, as he did after some time, I desired that employment
when the trustees should please to regulate that noble collection.

"Otherwise," continues Nelson, "I can see no reason why a man that is
qualified for an employment may not fairly offer himself as a candidate
for it, without injury to others that may pretend to it, and if you
should want success, it no way diminishes those qualifications you were
endowed with, for the discharge of the employment. If the Sir Robert
Cotton you mention be of the Post Office, I believe I can find a way of
applying to him, - I am your faithful friend and servant, Wanley's
ardent desire was not destined to be satisfied, but a still more
honourable position was in store for the distinguished scholar and man
of letters, for he not only became ultimately custodian of the Harleian
manuscripts, but as we shall presently see, he deserved by his zeal,
learning, and discrimination to be considered together with Lord
Oxford, the joint-founder of the Harleian library.


"2nd October 1702."

Thus, it was entirely owing to Wanley that the D'Ewes collection,
purchased for 6000 pounds, was secured by Sir Robert Harley, and it
formed the basis of what is now one of our greatest national
collections of manuscripts. The acquisition of this celebrated library
was the determining point in Wanley's career and in that of the
Harleian library itself.

Sir Symonds D'Ewes, the antiquary, had by his will left all his books
and manuscripts to his grandson, another Sir Symonds, but without
antiquarian or literary tastes. Wanley, having discovered that
although, according to the antiquary's will, his collection might not
be dispersed, it might still possibly be bought, wrote to Harley and
suggested that he should be the purchaser:

"Sir Symonds D'Ewes, being pleased to honour me with a peculiar
kindness of esteem, I have taken the liberty of inquiring of him
whether he will part with his library; and I find that he is not
unwilling to do so, and that at a much easier rate than I could think
for. I dare say that it would be a noble addition to the Cotton
Library; perhaps the best that could be had anywhere at present . . . .
If your Honour should judge it impracticable to persuade Her Majesty to
buy them for the Cotton Library - in whose coffers such a sum as will
buy them is scarcely conceivable - then Sir, if you have a mind of them
yourself, I will take care that you shall have them cheaper than any
other person whatsoever. I know that many have their eyes on this
collection. I am desirous to have this collection in town for the
public good, and rather in a public place than in private hands, but of
all private gentlemen's studies first in yours. I have not spoken to
anybody as yet, nor will not till I have your answer, that you may not
be forestalled."

The D'Ewes collection was a curiously miscellaneous one, containing
much trivial matter side by side with learned treatises, transcripts of
important cartularies, monastic registers, public and private muniments
of the most varied description. A list of them is to be found in the
Harleian MS. 775. No subject seems to have been void of interest for
the great antiquary: he treasured up his school exercises as carefully
as he did any ancient Greek or Roman charter, or mediaeval paleographic

With the purchase of this rich medley of books begins Wanley's term of
office as librarian to Lord Oxford, which continued till his death in
1726. By his knowledge and literary acumen the librarian supplied what
was lacking in his patron, for like Sir Robert Cotton, Harley, despite
his love of books, was by no means a scholar or man of letters. Even
the insignificant pamphlets, once ascribed to his pen, have since been
proved to be the work of others. His verses, some of which were printed
in the sixteenth volume of Swift's works, were condemned by Macaulay as
being "more execrable than the bellman's." But with Wanley at his side
he surpassed even Cotton as a collector, for the librarian possessed an
intimate acquaintanceship with the contents of every foreign library of
note, and Harley was always ready to spend in princely fashion whenever
Wanley considered that a manuscript was worth buying. On the sumptuous
bindings with which he adorned these acquisitions he expended as much
as 18,000 pounds. His principal binders were Thomas Elliott and
Christopher Chapman, of Duck Lane, who called forth some severe remarks
in Wanley's Diary, on the subject of their negligence and extravagant
prices. On inspecting Mr. Elliott's bill he finds him "exceeding dear
in all the works of Morocco, Turkey, and Russia leather, besides those
of velvet," and he is constantly reprimanding both book-binders for
their "negligence in executing my Lord's work."

Perhaps the best-merited praise that has ever been bestowed on the
founder of this celebrated library is Macaulay's tribute to his
"sincere kindness for men of genius." And, however much the first Earl
of Oxford may have transgressed politically (he is accused of having
been unscrupulous, weak, and incapable as a minister), his services to
literature in the protection which he accorded to the learned, have won
for him a high place in the estimation of his countrymen. Even as a
politician he acquired some literary fame, as being the first minister
who employed the Press for ministerial purposes; and it redounds to his
honour that, amid the cares and passions of public life, and aims more
or less worthy of a statesman, he occupied his scanty leisure with the
altogether laudable endeavour to gather together under his own roof for

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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 26 of 28)