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umphantly and fast, as if striving to hide from mortal eyes the decay upon which it gloats; can he look upon so sad a picture and find no interest awaken? If so, I fear he will find but little pleasure in a page of mine.
Can he hold in his hand a manuscript, whose dazzling illuminations mark the labour some poor old monkish student hath bestowed upon it in times long gone by; and feel no delight and rapture as he turns back its crackling leaves ? If he finds none then, he will gain none from a page of mine!
Can he enter a Gothic village church, on whose dull walls are preserved tablets, which bear down to posterity the virtues and honours of the humble forefathers of that quiet hamlet-or on whose oaken cornices are engraven the rude images that flashed through the brain of some neglected genius of obscure birth, and not feel an interest all absorbing, in pondering on these remains of ancient art? If he does not, I fear he will find but little pleasure in a page of mine. For I am one of those who love to seek knowledge in the black lettered folio, and luxuriate in exploring the membraneous volumes of a monastic age—who love to wander in quiet though among the ruined relics of other days, and delight to glean wisdom and content from the antiquities of a peaceful village sanctuary, and whose very soul is on fire when in the midst of a library, rich with the literature of old.
Reader; I have sketched my portraiture; if the expression be ungainly, let us part company at once.
The Middle Ages.
CHAPTER I. Introductory Remarks-Monachism-Book Destroyers
Effects of the Reformation on Monkish Learning, fc. In recent times, in spite of all those outcrys which have been so repeatedly raised against the illiterate state of the dark ages, many and valuable efforts have been made towards a just elucidation of those monkish days. These labours have produced evidence of what few anticipated, and some even now deny, viz., that here and there great glimmerings of learning are perceivable; and although debased, and often barbarous too, they were not quite so bad as historians have usually proclaimed them. It may surprise some, however, that an attempt should be made to prove, that in the olden time in “merrie Englande” a passion which Dibdin has christened Bibliomania, existed then, and that there were many cloistered bibliophiles as warm and enthusiastic in book collecting as the Doctor himself. But I must here crave the patience of the reader, and ask him to refrain from denouncing what he may deem a rash and futile attempt, till he has perused the volume, and thought well upon the many facts contained therein. Í am aware that many of these facts are known to all, but some I believe are familiar only to the antiquary—the lover of musty parchments and the cob-webbed chronicles of a monastic age. I have endeavoured to bring these facts together-to connect and string them into a continuous narrative, and to extract from them some light to guide us in forming an opinion on the state of literature in those ages of darkness and obscurity; and here let it be understood that I merely wish to give a fact as history records it. I will not commence by saying the Middle Ag were dark and miserably ignorant, and search for some poor isolated circumstance to prove it; I will not affirm that this was pre-eminently the age in which real piety flourished and
literature was fondly cherished, and strive to find all those facts which show its learning, purposely neglecting those which display its unlettered ignorance: nor let it be deemed ostentation when I say, that the literary anecdotes and bookish memoranda now submitted to the reader, have
been taken, where such a course was practicable, from the original sources, and the references to the authorities from whence they are derived have been personally consulted and compared.
That the learning of the Middle Ages has been carelessly represented there can be little doubt; our finest writers in the paths of history have employed their pens in denouncing it; some have allowed difference of opinion as regards ecclesiastical policy to influence their conclusions; and because the poor scribes were monks, the most licentious principles, the most dismal ignorance and the most repulsive crimes, have been attributed to them. 'If the monks deserved such reproaches from posterity, they have received no quarter; if they possessed virtues as christians, and honourable sentiments as men, they have met with no reward in the praise or respect of this liberal age;—they were monks ! superstitious priests and followers of Rome! What good could come of them? It cannot be denied that there were crimes perpetrated by men aspiring to a state of holy sanctity: there are instances to be met with of priests violating the rules of decorum and morality; of monks revelling in the dissipating pleasures of sensual enjoyments, and of nuns whose frail humanity could not maintain the purity of their virgin vows. But these instances are too rare to warrant the slanders and scurrility that historians have heaped upon them. And when we talk of the sensuality of the monks—of their gross indulgences and corpo. real ease, we surely do so without discrimination; for when we speak of the middle ages thus, our thoughts are dwelling on the sixteenth century, its mocking piety and superstitious absurdity; but in the olden time of monastic rule, before monachism had burst its ancient boundaries, there was surely nothing physically attractive in the austere and dull monotony of a cloistered life. Look at the monk; mark his hard dry studies, and his midnight prayers—his painful fasting and mortifyings of the flesh; what can we find in this
to tempt the epicure or the lover of indolence and sloth ? They were fanatics, blind and credulous—I grant it. They read gross legends, and put faith in traditionary lies—I grant it; but do not say, for history will not prove it, that in the middle ages the monks were wine bibbers and slothful gluttons. But let not the Protestant reader be too hastily shocked. I am not defending the monastic system, or the corruptions of the cloister-far from it. I would see the usefulness of man made manifest to the world; but the measure of my faith teaches charity and forgiveness, and I can find in the functions of the monk much that must have been useful in those dark days of feudal tyranny and lordly despotism. We much mistake the influence of the monk's by mistaking their position; we regard them as a class, but forget from whence they sprang; there was nothing aristocratic about them, as their constituent parts sufficiently testify; they were, perhaps, the best representatives of the people that could be named, being derived from all classes of society. Thus Offa, the Saxon king, and Cædman the rustic herdsman, were both monks. These are examples by no means rare, and could easily be multiplied.
Such being the case, could not the monks more readily feel and sympathize with all, and more clearly discern the frailties of their brother
man, and by kind admonition or stern reproof, mellow down the ferocity of a Saxon nature, or the proud heart of a Norman tyrant. But our object is not to analyze the social influence of Monachism in the middle ages: much might be said against it, and many evils traced to the sad workings of its evil spirit, but still withal something may be said in favour of it, and those who regard its influence in those days alone may find more to admire and defend than they expected, or their Protestant prejudices like to own.
But, leaving these things, I have only to deal with such remains as relate to the love of books in those times. I would show the means then in existence of acquiring knowledge, the scarcity or plentitude of books, the extent of their libraries, and the rules regulating them; and bring forward those facts which tend to display the general routine of a literary monk, or the prevalence of Bibliomania in those days. Ít is well known that the great national and private libra
ries of Europe possess immense collections of manuscripts, which were produced and transcribed in the monasteries, during the middle ages, thousands there are in the rich alcoves of the Vatican at Rome, unknown save to a choice and favoured few; thousands there are in the royal library of France, and thousands too reposing on the dusty shelves of the Bodleian and Cottonian libraries in England; and yet, these numbers are but a small portion-a mere relic-of the intellectual productions of a past and obscure age.* The barbarians, who so frequently convulsed the more civilized portions of Europe, found a morbid pleasure in destroying those works which bore evidence to the mental superiority of their enemies. In England, the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans were each successively the destroyers of literary productions. The Saxon Chronicle, that invaluable repository of the events of so many years, bears ample testimony to numerous instances of the loss of libraries, and works of art, from fire, or by the malice of designing foes. At some periods, so general was this destruction, so unquenchable the rapacity of those who caused it, that instead of feeling surprised at the manuscripts of those ages being so few and scanty, we have cause rather to wonder that so many have been preserved. For even the numbers which escaped the hands of the early and unlettered barbarians met with an equally ignominious fate from those for whom it would be impossible to hold up the darkness of their age, as a plausible excuse for the commission of this egregious folly. These men over whose sad deeds the bibliophile sighs with mournful regret, were those who carried out the Reformation, so glorious in its results; but the righteousness of the means by which those results were effected, are very equivocal indeed. When men form themselves into a faction and strive for the accomplishment of one purpose, criminal deeds are perpetrated with impunity, which, individually they would blush and scorn to do; they feel no direct responsibility, no personal restraint; and, such as possess fierce passions, under the cloak of an organized
* The sad page in the Annals of Literary History recording the destruction of books and MSS. fully prove this assertion. In France, in the year 1790. 4,194,000 volumes were burnt belonging to the suppressed monasteries, about 25,000 of these were manuscripts.