Historical Works of Venerable Bede/Volume 2/Life of Bede/Chapter 6

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It has been also maintained that Bede resided at the University of Cambridge, and taught there in the office of Professor. This has been maintained by certain members of that University, who have been eager to claim such an illustrious man as their own; whilst other writers of the University of Oxford have been induced, by a corresponding jealousy, to deny the fact.

The principal authority for this ill-supported statement is found in a volume called Liber Niger, preserved in the University of Cambridge. Out of that book, Hearne, in the year 1719, published "Nicolai Cantalupi Historiola de Antiquitate et Origine Universitatis Cantabrigiensis, simul cum Chronicis Sprotti Ox."[1]

In this history Bede is said, "at the request of Doctor Wilfrid, and at the bidding of Abbot Ceolfrid, to have left the territory belonging to the Monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, and being even then a monk in mind and regular discipline, though not in dress, to have gone, in the year 682, to Cambridge, where by sowing the seeds of knowledge for himself and others, by writing books and teaching the ignorant, he was of use before God and man in eradicating prevailing errors:"—"rogatu Wilfridi doctoris, jubente Ceolfrido Abbate, de territorio monasterii Petri et Pauli Wiremuder, mente licet non habitu monasticus, jam disciplinis inhærens, anno 682 (ætatis igitur decimo!) pervenisse Cantabrigiam, ubi sibi et aliis fructus scientiæ seminando, libros scribendo, inscios informando, profecerit coram Deo ethominibus in erroribus enervandis."

It is hardly necessary to observe, that this is said to have happened at a time when Bede was little more than nine years old! Seven years after he is stated to have had public honours conferred on him by the University, and at a later period to be still pursuing the duties of a teacher.

In support of these statements a letter is produced, purporting to be addressed to the Students of the University of Cambridge, by Albinus or Alcuin, the preceptor of Charlemagne. The following is a copy:—

"Discretis Christi hæredibus, immaculatæ Matris Cantabrigiæ scholaribus, Alcuinus, vita peccator, salutem et doctrinæ virtutibus gloriam. Quoniam ignorantia mater est erroris, rogo intime, ut inter vos assuescant pueri adstare laudibus superni Regis, non vulpium fodere cavernas, non fugaces leporum cursus sequi, discant nunc Scripturas Sacras, habita cognitione veritatis scientiæ, ut ita ætate perfecta alios docere possint. Recogitate, obsecro, carissimi, nobilissimum nostri temporis magistrum Bedam Presbyterum, vestræ Universitatis doctorem, sub quo, divina permittente gratia, gradum suscepi doctoralem A. ab Incarnatione Domini 692, qualem habuit in juventute studendi aninium, qualem nunc habet inter homines laudem, et multo magis apud Deum remunerationis gloriam. Valete semper in Christo Jesu, cujus gratia coadjuvati estis in doctrina. Amen."

It is added, that at an advanced period of life, when he was about to retire from the University, he thus addressed his disciples, "Discite, filioli, dum vobiscum sum. Nescio enim, quamdiu subsistam, et si post modicum tollat me Factor meus, et revertatur animus meus ad eum qui misit illum et in hanc vitam venire concessit, diu vixi. Bene consuluit mihi Dominus meus Jesus in hoc vitæ spatio, cupio dissolvi et esse cum Christo."

The whole of this history, however, recorded by Cantalupe, is evidently spurious. This is shown both by the anachronisms in which it abounds, and by the letter of Alcuin, and Bede's final exhortation, which are copied in some parts verbatim from the letter of Cuthbert, describing Bede's last illness.[2]

  1. This work has been twice published in English, under the following titles, "History and Antiquities of the University of Cambridge, in two parts, by Richard Parker, B.D., and Fellow of Caius College, in 1622. London, 1721; and again printed for J. Marcus, in the Poultry, London."
  2. See Bal. de ill. Maj. Brit. Scrip. Vesaliæ, 1548. J. Caii Histor. Cantab. Acad. 1574. Fuller's Worthies in Durham. Leland Comin. in Cyc. Can. in Itin. Hearn. Ox. 1768, vol. ix. Brian Twin, Antiq. Acad. Ox. Ap. I. 114. Voss, de Hist. Lat. Dyer's Hist, of Univ. of Camb. p. 40.