« AnteriorContinuar »
sacred writings; others I try to inebriate with the wine of the ancient classics. I begin the nourishment of some with the apples of grammatical subtlety. I strive to illuminate many by the arrangement of the stars, as from the painted roof of a lofty palace." In plain language, his instructions embraced grammar, the Greek and Latin languages, astronomy, and theology. In the poem in which he gives an account of his own education at York, the same writer informs us that the studies there pursued comprehended, besides grammar, rhetoric, and poetry, "the harmony of the sky, the labour of the sun and moon, the five zones, the seven wandering planets; the laws, risings, and settings of the stars, and the aerial motions of the sea; earthquakes; the nature of man, cattle, birds, and wild beasts, with their various kind and forms; and the sacred Scriptures."
This poem of Alcuin's is especially interesting for the account it gives us of the contents of the library collected by Archbishop Egbert at York, the benefit of which Alcuin had enjoyed in his early years, and which he seems to speak of in his letter to Charlemagne, already quoted, as far superior to any collection then existing in France. He proposes that some of his pupils should be sent to York to make copies of the manuscripts there for the imperial library at Tours. Among them, he says, were the works of Jerome, Hilary, Ambrose, Austin, Athanasius, Orosius, the Popes Gregory and Leo, Basil, Fulgentius, Cassiodorus, John Chrysostom, Athelmus, Bede, Victorinus, Boethius; the ancient historical writers, as he calls them, Pompeius (most probably Justin, the epitomizer of the lost Tragus Pompeius), and Pliny ; Aristotle, Cicero; the later poets Sedulius and Juvencus; Alcuiu himself, Clement, Prosper, Paulinus, Arator, Fortunatus, and Lactautius (writers of various kinds evidently thus jumbled together to suit the exigencies of the verse); Virgil, Statius, Lucan; the author of the Ars Grammaticae; the grammarians and scholiasts, Probus, Phocas, Donatus, Priscian, and Servius; Entychius; Pompeius (probably Festus) and Commenianus; besides, he adds, many more whom it would be tedious to enumerate. This was certainly a very extraordinary amount of literary treasure to be amassed in one place, and by one man, at a period when books were everywhere so scarce and necessarily bore so high a price. "Towards the close of the seventh century," says Warton, in his Dissertation on the Introduction of Learning into England, "even in the Papal library at Rome, the number of books was so inconsiderable that Pope St. Martin requested Sanctamand, Bishop of Maestricht, if possible, to supply this defect from the remotest parts of Germany. In the year 855, Lupus, Abbot of Ferrieres in France, sent two of his monks to Pope Benedict the Third, to beg a copy of Cicero de Oratore and Quintilian's Institutes, and some other books: 'for,' says the Abbot, ' although we have part of these books, yet there is no whole or complete copy of them in all France.' Albert, Abbot of Gemblours, who with incredible labour and immense expense had collected a hundred volumes on theological and fifty on profane subjects, imagined he had formed a splendid library. About the year 790 Charlemagne granted an unlimited right of hunting to the Abbot and monks of Sithiu, for making their gloves and girdles of the skins of the deer they killed, and covers for their books. We may imagine that these religionists were
more fond of hunting than of reading. It is certain that they were obliged to hunt before they could read; and, at least, it is probable that under these circumstances, and of such materials, they did not manufacture many volumes. At the beginning of the tenth century books were so scarce in Spain, that one and the same copy of the Bible, St. Jerome's Epistles, and some volumes of ecclesiastical offices and martyrologies often served several different monasteries." * To these instances we may add what Bede relates in his History of the Abbots of Wearmouth, in which monastery Benedict Biscopt, the founder, had, about the end of the seventh century, collected a considerable library, at the cost not only of much money, but also of no little personal exertion, having made five journeys to Rome for the purchase of books, relics, and other furniture and decorations for the establishment. Bede records that Benedict sold one of his volumes, a work on cosmography, to his sovereign, Alfred of Northumberland, for eight hides of land.
* History of English Poetry, vol. i. p. eviii. (edit. of 1824).
EFFECTS OF THE NORMAN CONQUEST—ARABIC AND
The Danish Conquest of England, as completed by the accession of Canute, preceded the Norman by exactly half a century, and during the whole of this space, with scarcely any interruption, the country had enjoyed a government which, if not always national, was at least acknowledged and submitted to by the whole nation. The public tranquillity was scarcely disturbed either by attacks from abroad or by domestic commotions. Such of the latter as occurred were either merely local or of very short duration. During this period, therefore, many of the monastic and other schools that had existed in the days of Alfred, Athelstan, and Edgar, had probably been re-established. The more frequent communication with the Continent that began in the reign of the Confessor must also have been favourable to the intellectual advancement of the country. Accordingly, as we have observed in a preceding page, the dawn of the revival of letters in England may be properly dated from about the commencement of the eleventh century.
Still, at the time of the Norman Conquest, there is reason to believe that literature was at a very low ebb in this country. Ordericus Vitalis, almost a contemporary writer, and himself a native of England, though educated abroad, describes his countrymen generally as having been found by the Normans a rustic and almost illiterate people (agrestes et peine illiterates). The last epithet may be understood as chiefly intended to characterize the clergy, for the great body of the laity at this time were everywhere illiterate. A few years after the Conquest, the king took advantage of the general illiteracy of the Saxon clergy to deprive great numbers of them of their benefices, and to supply their places with foreigners. His real or his only motive for making this substitution may possibly not have been that which he avowed; but he would scarcely have alleged what was notoriously not the fact, even as a pretence. No names eminent for learning, it may be observed, are recorded in this age of the annals of the Saxon church.
The Norman Conquest introduced a new state of things in this as in most other respects. That event made England, as it were, a part of the Continent, where, not long before, a revival of letters had taken place scarcely less remarkable, if we take into consideration the circumstances of the time, than the next great revolution of the same kind in the beginning of the fifteenth century. In France, indeed, the learning that had flourished in the time of Charlemagne had never undergone so great a decay as had befallen that of England since the days of Alfred. The schools planted by Alcuin and the philosophy taught by Erigena had both been perpetuated by a line of the disciples and followers of these distinguished masters, which had never been altogether interrupted. But in the tenth century this learning of the West had met and been intermixed with a