Seventeen lectures on the study of medieval and modern history and kindred subjects/Learning and Literature at the Court of Henry II. (2)
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Learning and Literature at the Court of Henry II. (continued)
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|Presented in June 13, 1878.|
LEARNING AND LITERATURE AT THE COURT OF HENRY II.
(June 13, 1878.)
IN following out the inquiry which I began in the last Lecture, in order to complete the outline of our subject and take into account all the influences that conduced to a full literary intercourse between England and the Continent during the period of Henry II, the next point that I should take would be the enumeration of those foreign scholars and literary ecclesiastics who were favoured or promoted in England. This point, however, need not detain us long, for there were very few. England itself had no love for foreigners; whether as captains of mercenaries, or as papal nominees to ecclesiastical preferment, they impartially detested them; and the detestation was very frequently justified by the view which the foreigners took of England and the English; a country out of which as much revenue as could be wrung should be wrung, and a people at whom, when they had plundered them, it was their delight to laugh. Nor were the Angevin kings much inclined to a policy which they knew to be most odious to their subjects; Henry II avoided either ruling or controlling England by foreign ministers, and did very little to encourage an influx of foreign ecclesiastics. Excepting such persons as, like Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham, and two or three others, were closely connected by blood with the royal house, few foreigners were made bishops, and when Becket, according to his biographer, wished to restore learning at the court, he urged the king to recall home the English scholars who were studying abroad. Of the few, who would be all that could be named, the most prominent are Peter of Blois and Master Vacarius.
Peter of Blois seems to have made his home in England, after he had tried his chances in Sicily, where he had been tutor to William the Good. He settled here about the year 1173, after the Becket troubles were over, and made himself useful to both the king and the archbishops. Like John of Salisbury he made his pen serviceable to his masters, and many of the letters of his composition which are preserved were written in their names. As chancellor or secretary to the Archbishop, as Archdeacon first of Bath and afterwards of London, and Dean of Wolverhampton, Peter seems to have led a scrambling sort of literary existence; being used by the kings and primates on services both diplomatic and ecclesiastical, for which his versatility and command of language qualified him, but not being much trusted or highly promoted. Master Vacarius, on the other hand, was a very obscure, or rather indistinct, person; indeed so little is known of him that it is almost hazardous to commit oneself to the theory that the earlier and later Vacarius were the same person. He is of course known to lawyers as the Lombard scholar, who, in 1149, attempted to introduce the study of the civil law into England and to teach it at Oxford. He is said to have been silenced by King Stephen, and as a teacher he disappears, but from two or three passages in the Becket letters it seems that he remained in England; in the list of the canons of Southwell his name occurs later on in the century, and as late even as 11 98 Pope Innocent III commissioned Vacarius, with another ecclesiastic of the northern province, to carry into execution certain letters touching the crusade. If the name is indeed rightly read, and belongs to the Magister Vacarius of 1149, he must have been very old and of little use. The history, however, both of Peter of Blois and of Vacarius, has been carefully worked out by independent writers of authority, and I use them here only as examples. Mere ecclesiastics, such as Simon of Apulia, who was made Bishop of Exeter by King John after having been Dean of York for many years; and ministers of state, such as Walter of Coutances, William of S. Mere l'Eglise, and perhaps William Longchamp, call for no notice in this connexion; and I pass on to the much more important point—the literary intercourse and activity promoted by University life. I have already mentioned the two or three foreign schools which were most frequented by English scholars. Paris was the centre of theological learning and general culture, Bologna was the school for lawyers, especially the canon lawyers; for the civil law, although equally well taught there, did not obtain much favour with Englishmen; and besides these, the pupils who either could not afford to go to Paris, or could afford to exhaust all the teaching that the neighbour lands afforded, went to the schools of Tours. Tom*s had the advantage of being locally situated within the dominions of the king of England, and although it did not aspire to the character of a University, as later understood, it had a very ancient and very eminent succession of teachers.
John of Salisbury, in the second book of the Metalogicus, sketches the twelve years of his University career; in 1136 he went to Paris and studied at S. Genevieve's under the clarus doctor identified with Abelard, who taught him dialectic, as did also Master Alberic, who succeeded, and Robert of Melun, the English doctor who, after the accession of Henry II, was invited home again and made Bishop of Hereford. He then read for three years, with William of Conches, grammar; then, with Richard l'Evêque, he attacked the quadrivium, and, under Peter de Helie, rhetoric: after that he took to Aristotle again under Adam of Petitpont, an English scholar who was afterwards made Bishop of S. Asaph; his next teacher was William of Soissons, who was attempting to upset the old logic. At this point of his career, after ten years of study, he began to take pupils, his poverty compelling. From William of Soissons he went on to Gilbert of la Porree and Robert Pullus. He had now reached the study of divinity and wound up with Simon of Poissy, a faithful lecturer but somewhat obtuse debater 'fidus lector sed obtusior disputator;' if he had gone through the discipline that John had passed through, it was no wonder. After these twelve years of study John went to Celles as chaplain or secretary to the Abbot Peter; and about 1150 returned to England, where S. Bernard recommended him to Archbishop Theobald. His career of usefulness in England thus began just at the time when Vacarius was teaching law, and Theobald was maintaining the school of literature in his own palace from which so many conspicuous men afterwards sprang. For thirty years John continued to live, the central figure of English learning; suffering indeed many troubles with Becket, whose companion he was in his exile, but restored to his home in 1170; in 1 176 he was made Bishop of Chartres, and he died in 1180. His career is conspicuous, and he had both ability and opportunity that were given to few.
I can only mention now the names of the other students at Paris who to some extent trod in his footsteps: Ralph de Diceto the historian, Archdeacon of Middlesex and Dean of S. Paul's, studied at S. Genevieve shortly after John of Salisbury; he lived to the end of the century: Robert of Melun and Robert Pullus had not only been pupils but teachers at Paris, and Adam of Petitpont the same; these have been already mentioned. Walter Map, the poet and satirist, afterwards Archdeacon of Oxford, was another Parisian student; so was Giraldus Cambrensis; so probably were Roger of Hoveden and most of those ecclesiastics of the time to whom the title magister is given in formal documents, of whom it would be useless labour to give a catalogue. The scholars of Tours were of the same class. Bologna was the special university for young archdeacons; and, as most archdeacons were appointed when very young and by family interest, there was a tolerably rapid succession of them, and I fear it must be added that they fell into a great many temptations. We all know of the question discussed at this period, 'An possit archidiaconus salvus esse;' whatever were the peculiar temptations of his official career, he was lucky if he passed without debt or difficulty through his university course. In 1200 Henry de Jacea, Archdeacon of Liege, and not only archdeacon but bishop-elect, was killed in a scuffle with the townsmen of Paris. At Bologna debt seems to have been the greater snare. Gilbert Foliot, when Bishop of London, had sometimes two archdeacons at once studying there; and at the same time there was resident there a Canon of S. Paul's, Master David, whose letters have been recently published in the Spicilegium Liberianum. David was an Englishman who had studied at Clermont and at Paris, and had gone on to Bologna in the idea of qualifying himself for an archdeaconry, of which the bishop had perhaps given him a half promise. At Bologna he had got into debt, and set up as tutor to the young archdeacons; he then went on to Rome, where, by the use of the names of his great patrons, he nearly succeeded in getting a recommendation for the Deanery of S. Paul's. Very ungrateful conduct this was, for the deanery was one of the best things that could be got in London, and Master Ralph de Diceto, who was to be the next dean, was actually being made to allow Mr. David an exhibition of ten pounds a year from his own archdeaconry towards his expenses. It is satisfactory to know that David did not get the deanery, although we know no more about him. The two young archdeacons fulfilled their term of study and one of them became a bishop. All the three had, by the provisions of the cathedral statutes, dispensation from residence whilst they were away at the schools. The statute of S. Paul's, drawn by Ralph de Diceto himself, allowed not only non-residence but a pension of 40s. per annum from the communa or dividend of the canons; the student must go for not less than a year; he might go for two or three. This permission was freely used: the great churches, which had thirty or forty canons, at all stages of the ecclesiastical career, could well afford to dispense with the services of the younger ones, and they, notwithstanding the temptations of University life, could scarcely fail to bring back with them at the end of the time some experience, some culture and knowledge of the world, that fitted them for the occupations of their later life, whether their destiny was to serve the king in his court and embassies, or to make themselves useful in the educational work which was still carried on largely in all the cathedral establishments.
And so by a natural transition we pass to another point of interest, the attempts made by the bishops and clergy to furnish to Englishmen in their own land some of the appliances of learning which they found at the foreign Universities. And this had a particular importance at this particular time; for there is no doubt that the reign of Henry II is a period which saw a great development of University life, if not the very origin of University life itself, at Oxford. Before this time we hear of Vacarius lecturing in law, and, by somewhat questionable authority, of Robert Pullus lecturing on theology here; but both, or either, may have been mere teachers in the royal court, or private tutors under the Canons of S. Frideswide. But before the end of the reign there was a University with doctors and masters. Yes, and public lectures; for did not Giraldus Cambrensis, in 1187, come to Oxford and read his Expugnatio Hiberniae in public lectures? and did he not secure himself an audience by entertaining, on the first day, all the poor of the town at his lodgings, and on the second all the doctors of the diverse faculties and the more distinguished scholars; and on the third day the rest of the scholars, the passmen as we should put it, with the county people, the townsmen, and the citizens? Ah! he tells us, it was a sumptuous and noble affair, a renewal of the old and authentic days of the poets; 'nor has the present age, or any antiquity, remembered in England any such gaudy day.' It is a lesson for all time. Beyond, however, the fact that thus comes full upon us, that in 1187 there was at Oxford a great school with diverse faculties of doctors, ergo, a constituted University, we know little or nothing of University life here so early. Only we know that those who in later times might have been able to tell us something true about this, chose to tell us what was false; and, by hunting up and forging evidences of greater antiquity, lost their hold, and prevented us from ever obtaining a hold on the materials which might have furnished authentic history. There can be no doubt that, when the idea of the University had once impressed itself on the minds of Englishmen, it would rapidly work a change. It centralised teaching and it promoted competition. Not that the idea had to work itself out on English ground; our English Universities, however far in the historic distance we may throw back their origin, must have been framed on the model of the Continental Universities. I do not mean that they had not their rise in independent and special circumstances, or that they were not the successors of more ancient schools of study, many of which continued to exist for some time around the greater cathedrals; but that their University organisation, their degrees and faculties, were borrowed from the established institutions on the Continent. They centralised however, and to a great extent superseded, the earlier schools; they afforded more room for speculation, gave greater scope for competition and greater chances of independence.
But as this was the age of transition from the local to the centralised system, our business now is rather with the earlier than with the later form. I have already said that the household of Archbishop Theobald, in the reign of Stephen, to some extent satisfied the want which was afterwards met by the University system. He provided learned teachers, and his clerks, after learning what they could at Canterbury, went over to Paris and Bologna to take their degrees after sufficient and more advanced study. It was not however only in the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury that such a school existed. Every great man had a great house and household, with his chapel or collegiate church at his capital house, and his school of clerks as well as pages. Many of these large establishments lasted, with diverse modifications, into comparatively modem times, and one of the traces of survival still subsists in the privilege of noblemen to qualify so many domestic chaplains, although the particular privileges of the chaplains are mostly things of the past. But, of course, as the castles of the Earls were rather schools of knightly than of clerkly accomplishments, the best illustrations of the scholarly life are found in the houses of the prelates.
The king's palace was not Jess a centre of learned talk and training, although, as the king was seldom at home more than two or three days together, it is not absolutely certain that he would take a strong interest in the matter; the fact of Oxford having been a convenient royal residence may account perhaps for one of the influences that fixed the University here, just as the school of S. Frideswide's priory may account for another. It is in the proof that there existed a general fashion of literary association and conversation that these clusters of scholars, settled in the great houses, are so interesting.
Peter of Blois gives a sketch of one such cluster in the house of the Archbishop. 'Good master,' he writes, 'you blame me for spending my days at court, when I might fructify in the scholastic camps. But this court in which I live is, I assure you, a camp of God, none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. In the house of my lord the Archbishop are most scholarly men, with whom is found all the uprightness of justice, all the caution of providence, every form of learning. They, after prayers, and before meals (mark the connexion, and think of Giraldus's public lecture), in reading, in disputing, in the decision of causes, constantly exercise themselves. All the knotty questions of the realm are referred to us, and, when they are discussed in the common hearing, each of us, without strife or objectation, sharpens his wits to speak well upon them, and produces, from a more subtile vein, what he thinks the most prudent and sensible advice.' This is in contrast with the turbulent, and sometimes stormy, discussions in the rising Universities.
Herbert of Bosham, one of the biographers of S. Thomas and himself one of the Archbishop's clerks, affords us some glimpses into the working of this institution; and gives us long discussions between Becket and the learned staff that accompanied him in most of his tribulations. Some of these are very curious; they show that the Archbishop had amongst his chaplains a staff of professors on a small scale; this one skilled in canon law, that in historic precedent; one to whom they looked when an apposite quotation from the poets was wanted, and another who had pretensions to be a philosopher. In one of the supplementary chapters Herbert gives a list of these, the eruditi Sancti Thomae; the catalogue includes, of course, many of the names that I have already mentioned, John of Salisbury, Archdeacon Robert Foliot, and Ralph of Sarr; besides these there were, Lombardus of Piacenza, afterwards Archbishop of Benevento, Reginald the Lombard, son of Bishop Jocelin of Salisbury, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Archbishop, Gerard la Pucelle, Hugh of Nonant and Gilbert Glanville, afterwards bishops, and several others; of whom the most famous was Uberto of Milan, afterwards Pope Urban III, who had attached himself to Becket in his exile.
I think that a generation further back, in the household of Theobald or of Henry of Blois, we might perhaps find, if record had remained, a more illustrious list; Theobald certainly contributed the traditions of Bee Abbey, which had gathered round Lanfranc and Anselm, whilst Henry concentrated about him all that remained of the enlightenment and refinement of English and Norman society.
Whilst Theobald, however, collected learned men and Henry collected statuary from Italy, whilst the great Bishop Roger built his miracles of castles, England was a prey to conflicting factions, and every great man was bound above all things to be a politician. Hence the academic and political elements were thus early found in closest union: if Henry, Baldwin and Amalrie, discussed deep questions of theology with their councillors, the knotty questions of the realm were laid before Peter of Blois and Giraldus Cambrensis; and the minds of the curiales were, notwithstanding the sneers of the satirists, occupied on the same matters as those of the scholares.
To this community of subject it is that we owe some of the most significant anecdotes of the great men of the time: the scraps of conversation of Ranulf Glanville, the great justiciar, who discussed, as he was riding out, the decay of valour among the French; the amusing exaggerations of Giraldus when he criticises the colloquial Latin of Hubert Walter; the most interesting details of the friendship between S. Hugh of Lincoln and Henry II; and very much that enlivens such books as the Polycraticus of John of Salisbury, the de Nugis Curialium of Walter Map, the de Institutione Principum and other discursive productions of Giraldus, the Otia Imperialia of Gervase, and the Satires of Nigel of Canterbury. It is true indeed that men professedly literary would most naturally, I am afraid I cannot say necessarily or invariably, preserve such scraps as might be supposed to have a literary or historical interest; and therefore that such anecdotes may not be a fair specimen of the ordinary conversations of the educated classes of the time. Granting that, it is at least pleasant to find that amidst the great and varied mass of literary remains there is so very little, hardly anything, that would show the prevailing tone to have been coarse or base. There is some profanity, not a little hardness and narrowness, but very little indeed of the foolish and inconvenient jesting which later on becomes the mark of all courtly literature.
If now we were to imagine a foreign scholar visiting England at the period of which we were speaking, either, like Mabillon or Pertz, making an Iter Anglicum to collect materials for history, or like Solon simply, θεωρίης εἵνεκεν, to see what the world was like, or like the admirable Crichton to air his own erudition and try the mettle of English scholars in literary tournaments, or like John of Salisbury to gather all the knowledge that he could, how would he fare? He would land, we suppose, at Dover and be lodged in the Benedictine Priory there, where he would find that his visit was recorded among the visits of kings and ambassadors in a precious chronicle that embodied the annals of all public events and copies of public documents; then he would go on to Canterbury, where he would find himself at once in a great literary centre, with teachers and libraries and all appliances that stand to the population and society of the day in much the same proportion as the literary life of Oxford or Cambridge would at this moment. He would find Gervase, the sacrist, busy over the chronicles of the kings and the history of his own time; Nigel writing his verses, polishing the great medieval satire Burnellus, or inditing the prose letter in which he castigates the faults of the secular clergy; a monk in a strictish convent, but corresponding with the ministers of a powerful and politic court: there too he would find Odo the prior, a great theologian, William the sub-prior and Edward Grim, biographers of S. Thomas; if he came after 1186 he would find the whole convent busily writing Latin letters, letters in very fair grammatical Latin, garnished with quotations from Ovid and Lucan and the laws canon and civil. If he went on to Rochester, there he would be entertained by Archdeacon Paris, the nephew of Robert Pullus, possibly a near kinsman of the great chronicler of the next age; there he might find Bishop Glanville, the preacher of the Third Crusade, one of the learned pupils of S. Thomas, and close kinsman of the great lawyer; or if he went on to Chichester, he would fall in with the Dean Matthew, or Jordan, or Gervase, all of them members of the same company, and Herbert of Bosham in the close neighbourhood, the squire parson of the time, also a careful and admiring biographer. Going on to Winchester, he would be entertained either by the venerable Bishop Henry, whose memory was a very storehouse of history; the grandson of the Conqueror and depository of all the great traditions of the generation, the king-maker of the twelfth century, who also had his learned men around him; or by Richard of Ilchester, the confidential minister of the king, himself no mean adept in the writing of historical dispatches; Richard of Devizes is there too writing the history of his time; further on, at Salisbury, another of the eminent ministers is the dean, John of Oxford, a traveller, and lawyer and divine, a man whose very name suggests that he might have been one of the first magistri of his own University: possibly John of Salisbury might be there too, or Reginald, the bishop's son, as archdeacon or bishop, a most intelligent and travelled diplomatist. At Exeter, early in the reign, he would find Bishop Bartholomew, the famous preacher and canonist, Baldwin, the archdeacon and scholasticus, afterwards archbishop and crusader, with his brother Joseph, the poet, who attempted in an Hexameter Epic to rival the glories of Virgil, and in his lost Antiocheis to build up a poetic memorial of the First Crusade; no mean poet, although ambitious, but considered worthy to rank with the classics edited, in usum serenissimi Delphini, with Dictys of Crete and Dares of Phrygia.
But if our friend was bent northwards, we might take him at once to London and introduce him to the Dean and Chapter of S. Paul's or the great Bishop Foliot and the king's court. At S. Paul's he would meet, ten to one, not only the lord mayor, aldermen, and justices, whom the canon in residence was specially bound to entertain, but any distinguished strangers who happened to be in town: the venerable old dean, Ralph de Diceto, would show him the beautiful MS. of his Imaginationes; from the canon Richard, the high treasurer, he might learn the history of the Exchequer, or even borrow the precious Tricolumnis before it was lost; Peter of Blois would be grumbling at the small profits of his archdeaconry, but wisely putting his pen to good interest; Roger Niger perhaps just flying from the wrath of the king, whom he has exasperated by savage invective; and the great Foliot himself, the able statesman who pitted all his skill, experience, and learning against the zeal of Becket and lost the game, at least in the opinion of his contemporaries.
At the court would be Ranulf Glanville, the father of the study of English common law, and the astute band of justices who shared with him the confidence of the most sagacious and business-like of kings. Our friend would find the historical mind fairly well awake to the importance of the era in which it found itself: the author of the Gesta Regis Henrici may not yet have chosen to be anonymous, but have been keeping a busy account from day to day of the king's doings; Thomas Brown would be there with his roll, and Peter of Blois moralising 'de Praestigiis fortunae,' on the magic tricks of Fortune exemplified in the career of his royal patron; and the author perhaps of the Draco Normannicus awaiting a reward for panegyrising the old Empress Maud; not to speak again of Ralph de Diceto and Gervase of Tilbury. At Westminster he would fall in with the Abbot Laurence, a theologian of some note in those days when almost every learned man was a theologian. In London indeed, or at Westminster, all the men whom I have mentioned might at any stirring time be found together: William Fitz Stephen, the biographer of Becket, possibly becoming a judge after he had tried his fortune as a scholar, but known to us by the lively picture which he has drawn of London in his own days; Giraldus Cambrensis, the erratic Norman-Welshman, who, as he would be looked for everywhere, might safely be caught near the king; even Roger of Hoveden, the learned Rector of Howden and chronicler of the north, but a king's chaplain and occasional justice of the forest. Time would fail him to learn even the names of all the subordinate scholars of London: he goes on northwards by S. Alban's and Peterborough.
Nothing is more curious than the lively historic activity going on in the monasteries: MSS. are copied, luxurious editions are recopied and illuminated; there is no lack of generosity in lending or of boldness in borrowing; there is brisk competition and liberal open rivalry. S. Alban's is especially rich in the collected materials that lie at the foundation of her great code of chronicles. At Peterborough Abbot Benedict is equally busy, directing transcription and compiling or editing his own recollections of S. Thomas; but every little monastery has its record: Crowland is thinking of hiring Peter of Blois, or some pretended Peter who borrows an illustrious name, to fabricate for her an apocryphal chronicle; at Ramsey there is an invaluable chronicle kept, going far back into the old English times, and there is the same at Ely conducted by a succession of learned and patriotic monks. But at Peterborough the pen has just dropped from the hand of the native annalists.
Coming to Lincoln, there is Walter Map with his poems and stories about the courtiers, acting as archdeacon or precentor; the wise S. Hugh himself, the bishop, has stories to tell at the high table in the hall, and admiring disciples anxious to gather up every word that falls from his lips.
So our friend goes on into Yorkshire; if he stays at Howden by the way he may be put under contribution by the rector and made to tell what marvellous tale he can tell about his own country; perhaps to compare notes about the news from Constantinople, or the study of the enchantment that guided the storms in the Gulf of Satalia, or the last enormity of Swerre Birkbain and the fellow kings of Norway. For Roger of Hoveden is quite Herodotean both in the faithfulness of his personal relations and in the wish to incorporate in his chronicle all that he can gather touching the geography and history of strange lands. Going on to York, the traveller finds himself in the midst of legal controversies; there had heen good schools there once, but the head master was lost in a storm at sea in 1177 and since then the canons have taken to quarrelling. There have always been two parties there and some black sheep in the flock. The archbishop too, since Becket's death, has been under a cloud, so the chapter is at sixes and sevens. Peter of Blois looks in occasionally when in residence at Ripon, and Hubert Walter, the dean, tries to keep matters fairly well, but there are quarrels even within the precincts of the church, and in more than one case there are rival claimants for the same stall: on one solemn occasion the precentor stops the music to spite the treasurer, the treasurer puts out the lights to be even with the precentor. But, notwithstanding, there are quiet pens taking notes; and a good deal of York news filters into the general history. There is the biographer of the archbishops, one or more than one; not far off, at Newburgh, in the Augustinian priory, is William, the little inquisitive and intelligent canon, who is writing a history of England, not in the mere receptive spirit of the annalist like Hoveden, nor in the didactic style of William of Malmesbury, but like a thoughtful man who wishes to trace the origins and tendencies of the events that he records, who weighs his epithets and suspends his judgments, and, whilst he admits the marvellous, argues only when and where he has sufficient data. If William of Newburgh ever comes up to York, depend upon it he is well received by all the thoughtful men. The Prior of Hexham too is ex officio a canon of York, and he also is, as his predecessor was, a writer of history strikingly in advance of the mere annotator of annals.
If the visitor can be prevailed on to go so far north as Hexham, he may even reach Melrose, and there watch the process of annal making, and come home by Durham. There he will find a magnificent court under Bishop Hugh, the great prince prelate of the period, who lives in three-quarters independence between the kings of Scots and English; and in his train poets, preachers and writers of histories, who are one after another continuing the work which had been begun by Bede, and continued after long breaks by Simeon and the Hexham writers. And so, having completely traversed the literary world of England, he may come south, through either the eastern or the western counties, sure to find at every monastery or cathedral he may visit some one employed in keeping up the record of public as well as local history, or otherwise attempting to keep alive the fire of literary zeal. He would go away, I think, from such a view with the impression that, whatever drawbacks there might be to the full enjoyment of life, England was a paradise of clerks. True, the cruel legate, Hugeson, had betrayed them to the king, had actually yielded the point, that most important point, about the forest law, and allowed the king to prosecute clerical offenders against the peace of the king's venison, and have them hauled before the sheriffs in the county court, but that was the only drawback to the free enjoyment of clerical society. So far as books were concerned, there was such a supply of writers and readers as would be found nowhere else in Europe, except in the University of Paris itself. Such an impression, I take it, would not be far from the truth: for the extant remains of the literary work of the period are so great, that, if we suppose them to bear the ordinary proportion to the lost works of the same age, they would prove it to be enormously prolific. I do not claim for it such a distinction, because I think that most of what was really worth preserving has been preserved; preserved because the men whose task it was to take care of it were sensible that it was the work of an age of transcendent importance in every region of English life; constitutional, moral and intellectual.
The greater works of the time survived not only because they were the most famous works of the time, but because they were of really great value. Thus Glanville's work on the Laws became the manual and text-book of the lawyers; the Dialogus de Scaccario the standing order book of the high Court of Exchequer; the annals of Roger Hoveden the recognised book of authoritative chronicle record, to which, whenever a question of foreign policy or even domestic diplomacy arose, recourse might at once be had. That the lawyers and statesmen of the day were not above the study of history may be proved by the later use of these and the like chronicles; especially when Stephen Langton produced the Charter of Henry I before the barons at S. Paul's, or when Edward I consulted all the cathedral and monastic chronicles of England in order to ascertain the true nature and extent of his claims over Scotland; or when Edward III elaborated his claim to France; or when the Commission of Doctors at Westminster searched all chronicles for information on the pedigree of the house of Lancaster; or when Beaufort and Gloucester explored them to ascertain the constitutional position of a regent; or when, to crown all, poor Henry VI, who probably was the best historical scholar in his divided realm, was requested by the lords of his parliament to search, out of the chronicles which he had loved so well, the materials by which they might come to the conclusion that he was a traitor and a usurper.
There have been, as I said, losses; but it may well be that the great value of the works that have survived may lead us somewhat to exaggerate the worth of those which have perished; the Antiocheis of Joseph of Exeter, the Trieolumnis of Bishop Richard, the de Prsestigiis Fortunse of Peter of Blois, the Liber Facetiarum of Gervase of Tilbury may not have been so permanently important as we should suppose; but there is no question of the serious importance of the lost leaves of the Gesta Stephani or the Draco Normannicus.
I have, you may observe, given prominence in this lecture to certain names and certain sorts of names. I have given them prominence because it was desirable, even at the risk of repetition, to impress them on the memory, even if it should prove impossible to form or fix any individual conception of them: they are the greatest names, and the names of those who have left the most precious books behind them. But they are very far from all; a reference to some such book as Mr. Wright's Biographia Britannica Literaria would furnish a long list of names of men who have places in the bibliographies; both historians, philosophers and naturalists, according to the idea of those days. If we turn, too, to Leyser's Bibliotheca Poetica we find many names of English poets, Englishmen, that is, who wrote Latin verses, but of whom little else is really kaown, and whose verses are neither in manner nor matter so good as the poorest prose of the period. Geoffrey Vinsauf, who no doubt was the best known Latin poet of the time, has left no personal history; his work, framed on the Epistle to the Pisos, is by no means to be despised as a guide to the medieval idea of Latin poetry, nor is it a mean work in itself. But the average of the poetry, with that exception and the Trojan War of Joseph of Exeter, is low, whether we look at the classical forms followed by these writers and some of the satirists or at the rhymed Latin poems of which Walter Map was so fertile a producer. A great many of the good prose writers, however, attempted versification. We have, starting with Henry of Huntingdon, a generation earlier, a fair list of good scholars who thought verse the best medium of enthusiastic panegyric. John of Salisbury mingles encomium and sarcasm in his Entheticus, a book in which he has described in enigmatic language most of the courtiers of the time, with praise or dispraise. William Fitz-Stephen, the biographer of Becket, courted the ear of Henry II with a poem which he presented to him at Brill, and which seems to have been so far successful that the king pardoned him for his adherence to the archbishop; Giraldus Cambrensis wrote epigrams, Walter Map hymns and poems of edification as well as satires; the author of the Dialogus de Scaccario and the Latin biographer of Richard I both run into what would be doggerel if it were not Latin, apparently out of the very glee of their hearts and devotion to their subject-matter.
But as every one who could write prose thought that he could write verse, and as good Latin verse required a somewhat higher strain than passable Latin prose, it is not surprising that the verse has been mostly forgotten. The question then which this point seems to suggest, to what did it all come, what amount of real, critical, and literary culture does this great mass of Latin writing truly imply? must be answered thus: The Latin of the twelfth century is fairly good and grammatical Latin; adjective agrees with substantive and verb with its nominative case; ut governs the subjunctive, and the dependent sentence follows the mood and tense prescribed by the principal sentence. There is a great fertility of vocabulary, there are frequent and consistent uses of words which in classical Latin are somewhat rare, as if the writer prided himself on knowing how to use dumtaxat and quippe and utpote, and brought them in at every turn: but even here there is nothing that is laboured; the Latin, if too free, is scarcely ever unnatural. It is Latin written as by men who on literary matters talked and thought in Latin; it is not a dead but a living language, senescent, perhaps, but in a green old age. The more pretentious writers, like Peter of Blois, wrote perhaps with fewer solecisms but with more pedantry, and certainly lost freedom by straining after elegance.
Just think now what this common familiarity with Latin implies. It implies almost as ready a hold on all the great works of antiquity as the power of reading English at the present day implies with respect to our own national classics. To John of Salisbury, after his twelve years of study, all the writings of the Latin historians, poets and orators, the Christian fathers, the legists and the canonists, were not more ready of access than they were to the practical administrator, who could write freely and plainly an account of the details of his official board. This facility of learning was limited only by the scarcity of books; a very fatal limitation, but not half so fatal as the common fault of these days, when there are so many more books than there are readers with a will to read. All these writers of Latin were readers of Latin, and many of them read a great deal. John of Salisbury's reading certainly rivalled that of Burton, the author of the Anatomy of Melancholy, and his power of reference and quotation was assuredly not inferior. As he worked among the classics, Ralph de Diceto worked among the historians of the silver and later age; Aulus Gellius and Seneca, I will venture to say, were commoner books in the hands of ordinary readers then than now: as for the poets, I have spoken before. The great Roman historians were, I fear, less directly known. Some parts of Cæsar's Commentaries, Suetonius, Florus, Eutropius, Justin, were, I think, directly known; I question whether Livy or Tacitus was; except so much as had filtered through the Historia Miscella, or the translations and additions to the Chronicon of Eusebius. Seneca certainly was read and utilised; there is indeed a manuscript of Seneca which contains on a fly-leaf a trace of having been at the English court about this very time. But John of Salisbury's acquaintance with Roman literature can only be estimated by a careful reading of the Polycraticus; but we must remember that what he could read was at least within the reach of his contemporaries.
I have not said much in these lectures about the vernacular writers of the reign, whether of the Norman or English race; for indeed they can hardly as yet be said to be literary people. But I must not finish without a word about them, lest I should be thought to undervalue them. The poem of Jordan Fantosme, on the rebellion of the sons of Henry in 1173 and 1 1 74; the poem on the Conquest of Ireland; the original French poem of Ambrose, on which the Gesta Ricardi are founded; the Life of S. Thomas of Canterbury, by Garnier of Pont S. Maxence; the valuable poetic chronicle of Benedict of S. Maur, are the beginnings of a new literature the value of which is prospective; predecessors of Villehardouin and Joinville and the Chronique d'Outremer, after the law, if there be such a law, that in the development of a vernacular literature poetry takes precedence of prose. I sometimes think that the growth of this school or schools of composition was owing to the increased interest taken by women in the history of their country; certainly the spread and strengthening of it tends to show that the classes to whom the use of Latin, except in the Church services, was becoming less and less familiar, were beginning to care to have a literature of their own. It shows, moreover, taken in connexion with that deadly liveliness of the Latin poetry which I have adverted to, that, whilst Latin was still a ready enough medium for serious writing, it was necessary to find something better and freer than Latin verse to interest people. Medieval Latin prose never dies out; medieval Latin verse continues to live only as a pedantic and attenuated survival from the moment that either Norman French, or medieval English poetry comes into fashion. Into these fields of investigation I do not now propose to intrude. I shall have done something to reconcile myself with the perfunctory and superficial way in which alone my irksome duty on these occasions can be discharged, if I have called your attention to the literary side of a period of our history which, although it may be the fashion to regard it as obscure and barbarous, still contains the germination and early growth of institutions which are vital portions of our national existence. An age so important as that of Henry II in constitutional growth could not be an age of barrenness and deadness in any department of culture, altogether; that it was not is amply proved not only by the remains of literary work which are still preserved to us, but by the glimpse they give us into circles of scholar-like activity, a highly stimulated growth of literature, and an extent of education which we ought to be the last to undervalue.