« ZurückWeiter »
over-work the mind, that the busy world is not the only place for acquiring knowledge. His life is an admirable illustration of some remarks which the good Bishop Hall gives us upon this subject. “ To live hidden," says Hall, “ was never but safe and pleasant, but now so much better as the world is worse. The world's cares dare not enter our sanctuary of peace. Who that is not all earth, can endure all its wickedness? Who cannot wish himself rather a desolate hermit or a prisoner. Every evil we see doth either serve or infect us. I wonder at nothing more than how a man can be idle, but of all others a scholar; other labours require recreation, our very labour recreates our sports. How many busy tongues chase away good hours in pleasant chat, and complain of the haste of night, who can be sooner weary of talking with learned authors, the most harmless and sweetest of companions. What a heaven lives a scholar in, that at once, in one class room, can daily converse with all the glorious martyrs and fathers. STUDY ITSELF IS OUR LIFE: go now ye worldlings and exult over our paleness, our neediness, our neglect, ye could not be so jocund if ye were not ignorant.”
A description of what must have been Bede's mode of life in these days, we may transcribe from one of the works at the head of this article.
“ There was, in many monasteries, a room specially devoted to employment of the highest value. This was the scriptorium, or writingroom. After the twelfth century, small cells, only capable of accommodating a single person, were used by the monastic scribes; but, at an earlier period, one large apartment was appropriated to their use.
“ Meanwhile, along the cloister's painted side
The monks, each bending low upon his book,
“ The last stanza describes the business carried on in the scriptorium, and may help the reader, the next time he visits the ruins of an old
monastery, and sees among the monldering remains, the traces of such an apartment, to picture to himself the scene which enlivened that spot when the abbey walls, now covered with moss, appeared in all their stately pride. Deep silence, as the above description indicates, was observed by the monks, when carrying on their studies and their writing; and, to prevent its being broken, they were required to adopt a whimsical system of communication with each other respecting anything they wanted. Of course there was a sign for a book. For a book, in general, they were to extend their hand, and move it, as if turning over the leaf of a book. The general sign being made, another was added to distinguish the sort of book wanted; and there were distinct signs for the Missal, the Gospels, the Epistolary, the Psalter, the Rule, and so on; but to distinguish a book written by a heathen, the monk was to scratch his ear like a dog.'
“ Instances of the high prices given for books in the middle ages have been often quoted. Mabillon relates that the countess of Anjou paid to the bishop of Halberstadt, for a copy of the Homilies of Haimon, two hundred sheep, a modius of wheat, and the same of rye and millet, beside four pounds in money, and some marten skins. It would be very unreasonable to take an instance like this as a sample of the value of mere manuscripts at that tiine. Volumes were often most splendidly illuminated and adorned, and this was probably one of the most costly kind. For instance, in the catalogue of books in the library of Centule, already referred to, we find mention made of an illuminated volume of the Gospels, bound in plates of gold and silver, and richly adorned with precious stones. Facts, of the order just cited, are not to be deemed so much proofs of the scarcity of books, as of the extreme value of certain volumes, arising from the precious materials of which they were composed, and the labour bestowed upon illuminating and adorning them. Still, books plainly written, and without ornament, must have been far from numerous, and therefore very valuable; as is evident from the catalogues of monastic libraries, which were almost the only collections having any pretension to that name.
“ It will not be uninteresting to the reader to be informed what were the kinds of books which these libraries contained. In the abbey of Centule, we find Homer, Cicero, Josephus, Pliny, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, Pbilo, Eusebius, Origen, Augustin, Jerome, Gregory, Isidore, Hilary, Chrysostom, Cassiodorus, Fulgentius, Bede, beside several authors of lesser note, together with a number of service books. After enumerating these works, the writer of the chronicle speaks of them as the aliment of celestial life, feeding the soul with sweetness, so that, in Centule, the saying was fulfilled, . Love the study of books, and you will not love the practice of vice.'
“ Few of the classical writers are found in these catalogues; for, in general, during the former part of the middle ages, no attention was paid to the study of them, even by those who made pretensions to literary taste and acquirements, though a few writers may be found, even at that period, who discover some acquaintance with them; but at a subsequent era, a taste for classical studies revived, and, after the eleventh century, a large number of transcripts from classic authors were made by the
monks of the Benedictine order. Yet, as we are indebted to the western monasteries for the preservation of the Latin classics, it is quite plain that there must have been throughout the middle ages, in some or other of them, enough of value set upon these works to induce the monks to
“But the most interesting part of the catalogue is, that which relates to the Scriptures. At the commencement of the list of books we find, One entire Bible, containing seventy-two books, in one volume; also a Bible divided into fourteen volumes;' and then the commentaries of Jerome on many of the books of Scripture. In other catalogues, also, parts of the Bible, and even the whole of it, may be found included. A whole copy of the Scriptures, however, was rare, but detached portions of the sacred volume were much less so. In a list of monastic treasures, belonging to the abbey of Fontenelle, the following item occurs. The four Evangelists, on purple vellum, which Augesius (the abbot) ordered to be written in the Roman letter, of which he completed Matthew, Luke, and John, but death_coming, (interveniente morte ejusdem,) the rest remained imperfect. There is something touching in this simple record of the abbot's purpose thus cut off by the stroke of mortality, reminding us all of the possibility of our being taken away in the midst of plans more characteristic of modern times, but which, nevertheless, may be not so worthy of our spiritual and immortal nature.
“Of course, it will be understood that the Bibles, and parts of Bibles found in the monasteries of the west, were not written in the original languages, but were copies of the Latin version. To the Greek monasteries we owe the preservation of Grecian literature. The convents, which covered, with picturesque beauty, the sides of Mount Athos, were the chief scenes of these learned labours. Not only were the manuscripts of the Iliad of Homer copied within sight of the very sea once traversed by the black and hollow ships which he describes, but the epistles of Paul were also transcribed on the shores of the same waters, over which he sailed on his errands of Divine mercy.
“The multiplying of manuscripts and the collecting of books, whether sacred or profane, during these times of ignorance, were owing no doubt to the taste for learning which was cherished by a few, who had influence sufficient to engage others in the manual departments of literary occupation. Such men as Bede, Alcuin, and Raban Maurus, were enthusiastic lovers of books, and would do everything in their power to imbue others with the same feeling. They are distinguished names, shining out as stars of peculiar brilliancy during that season of gloom; but there were other men, whose names are preserved only in the obscure records of monasteries, long since dissolved, who seem to have been most diligent students. An amusing instance of a love for reading, occurs in the records of the abbey of St Benignus, in the eleventh century. The abbot Halinard,' says the writer, was so fond of reading that, even on a journey, he often carried a little book in his hand, and refreshed his mind by perusing it on horseback. An abbot riding on horseback, with a book in his hand, would certainly be no fitting type of the generality of ecclesiastics at that time; all the more honour, then, to him and others like-minded, for their strong literary predilections. They were
persons who finely exemplified the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties,' and we, in the present day, may derive, from their simple histories, a stimulus to renewed ardour and perseverance in the cultivation of the mind: for if they, with all their disadvantages, thus laboured to furnish themselves with knowledge, how much more ought we, in these times, to do so, when the means of literary acquisition are so widely diffused.”
Thus passed the peaceful studious life of Bede. At nineteen he was ordained deacon,* and at thirty, presbyter. And “from the time of my receiving the order of priesthood,” he says, “to the fifty-ninth year of my age, I have employed myself in noting briefly these things from the works of the venerable fathers, for the use of myself and my pupils, and in adding something to their interpretations.” His labours were immense, both in the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. The works which he composed are almost innumerable, and not in one department of knowledge, but in all that was then possible for a man to know. In history, in biography, philosophy, mathematics, arithmetic, astronomy, music, poetry, chronology, dialling, languages,
- he had mastered all that the world then knew-and men wondered, “hominem in extremo orbis angulo natum, universum or. bem, suo ingenio perstrinxisse.” “An old biographer of his, (William of Malmsbury,) says that it was impossible for a man to write so many and so large volumes, in the narrow compass of human life, had not God afforded him an extraordinary por. tion of his divine spirit and wisdom.” And another of his biographers, (Dr Southey,) remarks, that “life is not long enough for any one in these days, to be conversant with the writings of Bede. They fill eight folio volumes, and contain more matter than would be comprised in twenty modern quartos.”+
In his history we can easily trace a simple, over-credulous mind. Like Herodotus, he wrote down all he saw and all he heard, and like him, he is most faithful and trustworthy in relating what he witnessed himself, and it is only when narrating the stories of others, that he shows himself the fabulist. In the
• He was ordained deacon by John, bishop of Hagulstad, now Hexham. By some this bishop is called Bede's preceptor, but Bede, though he speaks of him, never mentions him as his tutor, and besides, he never resided at Jarrow, and Bede never resided any where else. The old biographer who made this mistake, bas, however, a curious remark, showing the opinion the Normans had of the Britons and Saxons. “A tanto pedagogo affluenter imbutus, (i.e. Beda) inditam Britannica gentis hebetudinem
+ He wrote histories, biographies, homilies, hymns, commentaries, on the tropes and figures of Scripture; grammar, arithmetic, dialling, music, art of conversing on the fingers ; Greek, Hebrew, chropology-on which last subject, we may notice that he maintained the Hebrew chronology against that of the Septuagint, and for this was called a heretic by the Church of Rome.
dedication of his history, he cautions the reader against imputing any inaccuracies that might be discovered to him, since he merely collected the reports of fame, and recorded them for the irstruction of posterity. He was diligent in inquiring into the history of the church, and for this purpose, kept a regular correspondence with the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy.
Besides his history, he wrote commentaries on all the books of Scripture, which show a taste fanciful rather than solid, and which laboured to gather allegory out of every verse. They are, indeed, rather compilations from the fathers than original comments. He tells us that, because the annotations of the fathers were too copious to be possessed by any but the rich, and too profound to be understood by the unlearned, his friend Acca, (bishop of Helmstad,) had charged him to gather from these writings, as from the fields of paradise, such things as might serve the feeble. He entered on these labours, as he tells us,
operis immensitate porterritus," and when one was finished, he felt like one relieved from a heavy burden. He hoped his labours might be profitable to many, and for this he should have his reward; if not, still they were not altogether useless, they had kept him from idleness, and the sins and vanities that seduce the idle. He never knew what it was to be unemployed. We know, that for these habits of incessant study, modern idlers will accord him little praise. The mind must be relaxed, is their watchword, and their motto. We admit it; but, we contend that diversity of study is a sufficient relaxation-from reading turn to meditation, and from both these to writing. But we at once and decidedly reject that system, where vain and trifling amusements are recommended as relaxations. These must discompose the mind-they must unfit it for serious thought; we do not envy, we pity the man whom they do not thus affect. But there are few who can exist without such recreation. We grant the fact; but we must deny that such would be the case, were the mind in its natural and healthful state. Activity is the natural condition of mind-exertion is its native element; and it is only by endeavouring to encourage and strengthen habits of mental activity, that we can regain our originalstate, and recover ourselves from that indolent and lethargic frame, which bespeaks a disordered mind. Our present condition of being is intended to prepare us for another, which will be one, not of rest from toil, but of rest in the midst of toil.
We shall not attempt to give a catalogue of the works of Bede: we content ourselves with referring to other sources.
* See Cave's Ecclesiastical Writers, General Dictionary, Henry's England, &c.