Page:Seventeen lectures on the study of medieval and modern history and kindred subjects.djvu/140

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
128
[VI.
Letters and Literature.

finding a provoking etcetera, which marks the point at which the gossip, or even the serious news, was expunged by the editor.

The other reason is that in very many cases the letters were little more than credentials. The real news was carried by the bearer of the letter, and the real force of the communication was not in the postscript, we may say, but in the postman. Still, we often come upon letters and letter-writers of real interest, and a good man may certainly be known by good letters, although many good men wrote very weak ones. John of Salisbury, among Becket's correspondents, wrote real letters, and those of Richard of Ilchester, preserved among Foliot's, are the writing of a business-like man. Even amidst the wearisome sameness of the Canterbury letters we now and then get a glimpse of life, such as in the letter of Master John from Lombardy, when he explains why he could not write from the Great S. Bernard. 'Pardon me for not writing. I have been on the Mount of Jove; on the one hand looking up to the heavens of the mountains, on the other shuddering at the hell of the valleys; feeling myself so much nearer to heaven that I was more sure that my prayer would be heard. "Lord," I said; "restore me to my brethren, that I may tell them, that they come not into this place of torment." Place of torment, indeed, where the marble pavement of the stony ground is ice alone, and you cannot set down a foot safely; where, strange to say, although it is so slippery that you cannot stand, the death, into which there is every facility for a fall, is certain death. I put my hand in my scrip, that I might scratch out a syllable or two to your sincerity; lo, I found my ink-bottle filled with a dry mass of ice: my fingers, too, refused to write: my beard was stiff with frost, and my breath congealed into a long icicle. I could not write the news I wished.' But this is a digression, and such scraps are not common.

Well, the mass of twelfth century letters is so large that, notwithstanding the drawbacks, they furnish a large contribution to the materials for national, literary, and social history. John of Salisbury, Peter of Blois, Arnulf .of Lisieux, Thomas Becket, Gilbert Foliot, the monks of Canterbury,