« PreviousContinue »
Schools attracted the sons of citizens. The Universities, up to the middle of the 16th century, were thronged with 'poore scholars.' For our ancestors, Boethius was the purest link between the classic world and the Middle Ages. He was translated by Alfred and by Lydgate, commented upon by Thomas Aquinas, read by Dante, printed by Caxton. All that they knew of the intellectual glories of Greece, and, with the exception of some favourite writers, even of Rome, reached them through distorted mediums. Their Virgil was a mythical being. Medieval versifiers disputed popular favour even with the bestknown of Roman poets; Joseph of Exeter was at least as widely read as Virgil, Lucan, and Statius. The geometry of Euclid, the music of Pythagoras, the astronomy of Ptolemy, the grammar of Priscian, the rhetoric of Tully, the mechanics of Archimedes, the arithmetic of Nicomachus, the theology of Plato, the logic and ethics of Aristotle, were overlaid with the disputations of grammarians and scholiasts, or perverted by incomplete abstracts and compendiums. Confined within a Confined within a narrow horizon they knew no standard of past excellence to which they might struggle to conform. The ideals of romance were to them what the records of classical antiquity, the experiences of foreign travel, the rapid transmission of thought, the familiarity with a varied modern literature, are to ourselves.
The quality of the reading of our medieval ancestors is to some extent indicated by the literary treasures which they bequeathed by will. Who now would dream of leaving by will a well-thumbed Yellow-back'? It was widely different in the 13th century. Together with their lands, their money, their cattle, their tilting-horses, chargers, and palfreys; their bows, swords, and suits of mail; their silks, furs, tapestries, cups, jewels, relics, illuminated missals, and service books, they leave their volumes of romance. In the same line in which they provide wax candles, Placebos, Diriges, and masses of Requiem, for their souls, they direct the destination of their novels. In 1268 William de Beauchamp devises a book of 'Lancelot.' In 1315, Guy, Earl of Warwick, left to Bordesley Abbey, in Warwickshire, a library of thirty-nine volumes, which consisted almost entirely of novels. All the famous cycles, classical, Arthurian, and Carlovingian, are represented. Here are the 'Romaunce de Troies,' two copies of the 'Romaunce d'Alisaundre,' and 'Un volum del enseignmente Aristotle, enveiez au Roy Alisaundre.' Here are the Gestes de Charles,' 'è de dooun' (? Doon de la Roche'), 'è de Mayace,' 'è de Girard de Viene,' è de Emery de Narbonne,' è de Gwyoun de Nountoye,' Willame de Orenges,' and many others. Here
also are the Holy Graal,' and Le mort ly Roy Arthur e de Mordret.' 'Willaume de Lonngespe,' 'Guy of Warwick,' Ydoyne and Amadas,' and many others, are included in this remarkable collection. In 1353, Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare, bequeaths a number of service books and other religious works, including antiphoners, a legendary, missals, 'one bone Bible covert de noir quir,' 'one Hugucion' (i.e. 'Glossarium Hugucionis'), and several other volumes, none of which belong to the class of light literature. In 1391, Margaret, Countess of Devon, leaves to her daughter Engaine (Katharine, wife of Sir Thomas Engaine), 404., with two primers, and a book called Arthur de Bretaigne.' Among several volumes devised in 1399 by Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, are a Chronicle of France in English, a psalter richly illuminated, an illuminated 'Legenda Aurea' in French, a book of Vices and Virtues,' and a poem of the 'Histoire de Chevalier a Cigne.' In 1426, Thomas, Duke of Exeter, gives his sister Joan a book called 'Tristram.' Nor are these bequests only to be found in the wills of royal or noble persons. In 1370, Adam de Stanton leaves a portiforium, two law books, and Unum librum de Romaunces.' In 1392, John Percyhay of Swinton, Yorks, leaves, among four other books, the Brute Chronicle.' Walter de Bragge, Canon of York, at the close of the same century, bequeathed a copy of Piers Plowman,' in company of a Bible bound in red leather, and eight theological, or ecclesiastical books. John Brynchele (1420) leaves a copy of Boecius' in Latin and English; Item lego Willelmo Holgrave ut sit unus executorum meorum vjs viii d., et optimum Arcum meum, et librum meum vocatum Talys of Caunterbury.' Thomas Roos (1433) left librum Vocatum Piers Plowman.' Eleanor Purdsley, widow (1433), left libros Anglicanos, videlicet "the story of Josef," "Patrikek Purgatore," and "Ye Sermon of Altquzne" (St. Patrick's Purgatory, and Alquin's Sermons).' John Baret of Bury (1463), in a long and minutely detailed will, only bequeaths three books; but one of these belongs to romantic literature. He leaves My book of znglych and latyn with diuerse maters of good exortacions, wretyn in papir and closed with parchemyn,' My book called "Disce Mori,"' and 'My boke with the Sege of Thebes in English.'
In the bequests of the Middle Ages theology preponderates over fiction. But it must be remembered that most of the service-books which are the subjects of testamentary disposition were rather the contents of private chapels, than the constant reading of the laity, and that religion and romance have always been rivals in popular favour. To this day the rivalry continues.
In 1885-6, theology was the most prolific department of literature, and it still stands second only to fiction, which in 1887, 1888, and 1889, assumed the place of honour. The contents of medieval libraries bear out the same fact.
The monks were at first the only collectors of books, and the volumes which St. Augustine and his companions brought with them to England, were the 'primitiæ librorum totius Ecclesiæ Anglicana.' These mother-books' of the English Church consisted of the Bible in two parts, two copies of the Gospels, two copies of the Psalter, an Exposition of the Gospels and Epistles, and, for lighter reading, a book of Martyrs, and the apocryphal lives of the Saints. This primitive library was enriched by Archbishop Theodore, who, it is said, brought with him a number of Greek books. Lambarde ('Perambulation of Kent,' 1576, 4to. p. 233) says that he was shown the Psalter of David, and sundrie other homilies in Greeke, Homer also and some other Greeke authors beautifully wrytten on thicke paper with the name of this Theodore prefixed in the fronte.' The Anglo-Saxon monks were active in the Scriptorium, indefatigable copyists, and in the 8th century earned a European fame as transcribers. That they had works of fiction is proved by the existence of Beowulf, of Havelok, and Horn-child, or the Anglo-Saxon MS. of Apollonius of Tyre, or by the abstract given by Mapes of the story of Gado, miles strenuissimus,' which is supposed to be taken from a lost Anglo-Saxon romance. But in the Poem, attributed to Alcuin, descriptive of the Canon's Library at York, no mention occurs of any writer who can be classed as a novelist. Alcuin tells Charles the Great that
'Illic invenies veterum vestigia Patrum,
A cloister without a library is like a castle without an armoury; 'claustrum sine armario quasi castrum sine armamentario.' Monastic libraries were generally stored in some room not originally built for the purpose, and placed under the care of the Præcentor. Every year inspections were held, the books allotted, and all volumes absent from the stallæ were carefully. recorded with the name of the borrower. Up to the 13th century, there is little trace of fiction in the catalogues of monastic libraries, which were rich in theology, and often contained a respectable array of scientific works. The earliest catalogue is that of Lindisfarne in 1095. In a collection of
52 books, no work of fiction, and no classic appear. The principal writers are theologians like Augustine, Jerome, Bede, Origen, and Gregory. In the catalogue of the library of an unknown English monastery in the 12th century, there is a list of 68 volumes, all bearing upon theology or ecclesiastical history, and no romances, poetry, or classics, are mentioned. In the Durham Library, in the 12th century, were contained 546 volumes mostly of theology; but among them are a collection of works on rhetoric, astronomy, arithmetic, and medicine. There are also books of a lighter character, such as Terence, Ovid, Esopus et tres alii libri de fabulis,' 'Liber de Gestis Francorum,' and 'Liber de Gestis Normannorum.' One work, the Liber de Vastatione Troia' is probably a romance, perhaps the history of Dictys or Dares, or the Latin Poems of Simon Chèvre d'Or, Canon of the Abbey of St. Victor. The library at Whitby (1184) was a less rich, but very varied, collection. It contains 74 volumes divided into three sections, theological, historical, and classical. No work of romantic fiction appears in the catalogue. In the second section are several lives of the saints, among them the Vita Sancti Cuthberti,' the Vita Sancti Brendani,' and the Vita Sanctæ Maria Egyptiaca in versibus.' In the third section Virgil, Juvenal, Persius, Statius, Homer, Cicero, Boethius, Prudentius, and others. In the 13th and 14th centuries a great change took place. Glastonbury, in 1207, contained the 'Gesta Alexandri Regis;' in 1248, its collection of romantic literature was large and miscellaneous. The Priory of Christ Church, Canterbury (end of 13th century), possessed a considerable library of fiction, including the Prophetia Merlini.' At Peterborough (end of the 14th century), the monastic library included Guy de Burgoyne, Gallice;' 'Gesta Caroli Regio Magni in Hispaniani, quomodo liberavit viam Jacobitanam a potestate Paganorum;' Gesta Caroli Secundum Turpinum Episcopum ;' and a variety of similar works. Still more varied and comprehensive was the collection of fiction at St. Augustine's, Canterbury, in the beginning of the 15th century. Here were to be found, mostly in French, Gesta Guidonis de Warewyk, et Guidonis de Burgundia, et cujusdam militis qui vocatur Ypomedone;' 'Dicta Septem Sapientum ;' 'Liber de Milite de Signo (Cygno)'; Katir Fitz Edmond (Quatre Fils d'Aymon); Liber qui vocatur Graal;' 'Romaunz de Percival le Galois;' 'Liber de Launcelot;' 'Liber del roy Hertus (Artus). (This work, though often treated as a separate romance is really the same as the 'Launcelot du Lac.') Croyland in Leland's time contained only six books, of which one was the
"Turpini Historia,' another the 'Historia de Ricardo Rege carmina scripta.'
In the contents of these monastic libraries,—with their copies of the Scriptures, Commentaries, Fathers, Homilies for reading in the Refectory, Canon and Civil Law Treatises, Grammarians, Scholastic philosophy, medical, mathematical, or astrological treatises, Latin classics, chroniclers, legends of the Saints and Martyrs, chivalrous romances in prose and verse, we see the material on which the greatest intellects of the Middle Ages were fed. Fashions were, as has been said, changing in the 13th century. The growth of wealth and luxury showed itself in, among other forms, the demand for works of romantic fiction, and with the demand came the supply. Richard de Bury in 1344 speaks of the change:
"There used to be an anxious devotion to the culture of books. But now (we say it with sorrow) base Thersites handles the arms of Achilles; the choicest trappings are thrown away upon lazy asses; blinking night-birds lord it in the nests of eagles, and the silly kite sits on the perch of the hawk. Liber Bacchus is respected, and passes daily and nightly into the belly; Liber Codex is rejected and out of reach.'
Yet it was only in the walls of monasteries that learning was pursued. Private libraries in the Middle Ages were probably rare. They remained so even in the days of Evelyn, who, in his well-known letter to Pepys, mentions the few that he considered to be worthy of notice. Such private libraries as existed were chiefly in the hands of ecclesiastics. Early bibliomaniacs were all Churchmen, such as Leofric, Bishop of Exeter (1050); Hugh Pudsey, Bishop of Durham (1195); Thomas Marleberg, Prior of Evesham (1229); Richard Chandos, Bishop of Chichester (1252); Henry Eastry, Prior of St. Augustine's, Canterbury (1285); William Sellinge, Prior of the same (1472); and, above all, Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham (1344). The contents of their libraries are often known from their bequests to cathedral or other monastic bodies. But their collections differ rather in quantity than quality from those of monastic libraries. It is, however, possible to glean scattered hints of the collections of books which were made by laymen, whether royal personages, such as Henry III., Edward I., Henry VIII., and Mary Queen of Scots; or great nobles, like Guy Beauchamp Earl of Warwick (1315), Humphrey Duke of Gloucester (1439), the Earl of Kildare (1525); or private individuals, such as Robert Thornton (1440), Sir John Fastolf (1450), John Paston (1480), or Captain Cox of Coventry (1575). In the Revenue Roll for 1237 there is an entry of the cost of Vol. 171.- No. 342. silver