( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Independent of a great amount of intellectual activity, of profound controversy, upon the most vital questions of Christianity, upon Canon Law and Church discipline, it is quite certain that in the Middle Ages there existed all over Europe a mania for books. I hope to show on some future occasion that there were not only book-fairs, book-sales, and book-stalls in the towns of Europe, but even circulating libraries with fixed prices for the loan of each volume.
At the present moment it will be sufficient to take the instance of a rich library collected by a body of monks, analyse it, and reflect upon the labour of collecting, multiplying, and preserving it at a time when they had to copy what could not be bought—to copy, bind, and illuminate. For this purpose I propose to analyse the renowned library at Glastonbury Abbey, as it was in the 13th century; to note the acquisitions made to it, especially in one memorable instance, and to mark the class of books transcribed and preserved. The inspection of the library of one of the greatest Benedictine monasteries is in itself an interesting matter, and will throw much light upon monastic labours, monastic studies, and monastic life; nay, more, will serve to dispel the proverbial clouds of monastic ignorance.
The first authentic record we have of the Glastonbury Library is in the works of John Glastonbury, who gives us an account of the books that were .in the Abbey in the year 1247, as catalogued by the precentor, William Britton. For the convenience of what we have to say, we shall classify them under subjects, and give the titles in English. They amount to more than 400 volumes. They were rich in the text of the Scriptures, and the text with glosses, for the list opens with
The Bible in two vols. ; another copy complete, old but legible ; complete in a smaller letter ; the second part from the Psalms (old) ; a large copy versified; another, in two vols. ; three versified copies, three vols. ; a copy, in six vols. ; in separate portions, some of them with glosses ; such as Psalters and the Book of Genesis glossed, thirteen vols. (one curious entry we find here, " two English books, old and useless," probably in Saxon, which had almost died out) ; volumes containing one or two of the Gospels, with glosses; the Acts of the Apostles, and Expositions of the Gospels, eight vols. ; the Epistles, six vols. ; Haimon on the Gospels, two vols. ; Exposition of the Gospels, two vols. ; Cassiodorus on the Epistles.
In the age which preceded the scholastic, the works of the fathers were of supreme authority, the final appeal in controversy ; and consequently we find a rich store of patristic theology at Glastonbury. Augustine, in separate works, seventeen vols. ; Jerome, eleven vols. ; Gregory, ten vols. ; Origen, three vols. ; Ambrose, five vols. ; Lives of the Fathers, two vols. ; Selections from the Fathers, one vol. ; Athanasius on the Trinity, one vol.
Canon Law was also a favourite study, especially the Decretals and Apostolic constitutions. When Angnellus, the Minister-General of the Franciscans, had established a school at Oxford, and procured the services of Grostête as a lecturer, he, on one occasion, took it into his head to go to the lecture-room, and hear what his young converts were being taught, when, to his utter alarm, he found that the subject under discussion was "Utrum esset Deus "—whether there was a God ! Nothing could calm his agitation but a solemn promise from the students to study the Decretals, and abandon these presumptuous questions, which promise being given, he at once sent to Rome for a copy.
Of the Apostolic constitutions I must say a few words. They consist of eight books, and a codex of eighty-five canons which are presumed to have been enacted by the Apostles themselves. The last canon which settles the books of the Old and New Testament speaks of " The Acts of us the Apostles." Opinions are divided as to whether these canons are of that ancient date : some certainly pertain to customs which only. came into vogue at a much later period, but they may have been interpolated. Eusebius, Athanasius, and Epiphanius are thought to allude to them ; but the fathers of the first three centuries are silent concerning them. Still they bear internal evidence of great antiquity, and it is not improbable that some of them may be of true Apostolic origin. The. whole subject has, however, been critically examined by Otto Carsten Krabbe, who endeavours to assign to each canon its proper period, and concludes : " We therefore infer, as we have said, that the eighty-five canons affirmed to be apostolical were enacted in the Apostolic churches at various periods ; and were subsequently to the fourth century reduced to the code which we now possess.' There was a copy of these venerable and venerated records at Glastonbury.
Apostolic Canons, three vols. ; the Decretals, six vols. ; the Old Decretals, three vols.; Prometheus' Gloss on the Decretals; Cases of Decretals, Institutes, and Codex ; Decretals of Yvo, and Catalogue of Roman Pontiffs and Kings of Britain ; Decretals of King Charles and Louis ; Decretals of Pope Gelasius ; The Mirror of the Church, two vols. ; another copy ; Canon of Theodore on Penitence, bound up with the Questions and Responses of Augustine and Pope Gregory, two vols. ; Isidore's Works, seven vols. ; The Summa" of Brother Raimond on Penitence.
They were rich in books on Philosophy and Logic, of which they had, ---
Logic, bound up with Plato, Timus, and De Animâ ; Aristotle and Boethius' Logic ; Augustine's Categories ; Alcuin on Dialectics, ten vols. ; Boethius' Consolations of Philosophy, and other works, ten vols. ; Medicine, Science of, six vols. ; Book of the Art of Rhetoric ; Virtue and Vices, five vols. ; Pliny " De Naturis "; Rabanus on the Nature of Things ; Rabanus and Isidore on the Nature of Things; Hildeperic and others.
Of Theology, and especially of Scholastic Theology, they had a fair collection :
Berengarius on the Apocalypse; Cassiodorus on the Psalter; Cassiodorus on the Epistles ; Peter Lombard's Book of Sentences, two vols.—another copy, two vols. ; Paschasius on the Body and Blood of Christ, and others bound up with it (a common custom)—Hildebert's Sermons on the "Discord of the Interior Man "—other Sermons by different authors—on Ecclesiastical Offices—Yvo on the Sacraments—Sermons selected from the Fathers—the Encheiridion of Pope Sixtus—Exposition of the Blessings of Jacob—and a collection of profitable words from various authors ; Hugo on the Sacraments ; Arnulphus on the Six Days' Work, with which were bound up Bernard on the Superfluity of Monks—on the Grades of Humility —a Book on the Sacraments of the Church—Innocent on the Misery of Humanity—a Dissuasion addressed by Valerian to Rufinus against taking a Wife; Arnulphus on the Six Words of our Lord on the Cross—the Epistles of Alexander and Dindimus—on the Life and Manners of the Bragmanni—a. Letter of Alexander to Aristotle on India, and another small copy of Arnulph's. Six Words of our Lord ; Anselm's Why God was made man, with his Letter to Urban--on Truth—on the Agreement of the Foreknowledge, the Predestination, and the Grace of God, with Free Will—other small works ; Cassianus on the Incarnation of Christ ; Peter of Ravenna's Sermons ; Rabanus on the Praise of the Cross, with a Sermon of Ambrose and Albinus on the Divinity of Christ ; Benedictine Rule, three vols. ; Gloss on Benedictine Rule ; Exposition of Benedictine Rule ; the Monks' Diadem; English Sermons (Saxon), two vols. ; Biography of the Saints, twenty-three vols. ; Aldhelm's Works, five vols. ; Albinus' Works, five vols. ; Alcuin's Works, three vols. ; Aldhelm's Prognostics, two copies, and Homilies—Sentences from the Fathers—Books of Augustine—Cyprian.
Of Books of Devotion there was a still larger collection: ---
Passional, in English; Passionals, eight vols. ; Passions of certain Apostles and Martyrs; Passions of Holy Virgins; general books of Devotion, 105 vols.
As one of their favourite and most useful occupations was history, it is natural to suppose they would have a good stock of that kind of writing. I have elsewhere dwelt upon the value of monastic chronicles and records of national history made and kept contemporaneously in those ages when there was no one else who could do so. Suffice it to say that our country, thanks to their persistent labours, is richer than any other in a long unbroken line of national history compiled in the Scriptoria of English Monasteries, without which the annals from the sixth to the fifteenth century would have been lost to us for ever. From the unknown authors who compiled the records handed over to Bede by the different bishops in the various divisions of the Saxon kingdoms, and the unknown compilers of the early portion of the Saxon Chronicle before the time of Plegmund,* to whom Alfred consigned the work, and from the completion of that work to the fifteenth century, upwards of forty monks lived who continued the records of this country in an unbroken line ; not a gap occurs from the record of the coming of Augustine in 596 to William of Worcester, whose chronicle ends at the year 1491 ; and it may be added, as a remarkable circumstance, that Caxton died the year following, so that the last English monkish historian and the first English printer, having both accomplished their work, took their departure together. We who are fond of history can afford to deduct something from the charge of dense ignorance of the monks when we reflect upon that unbroken chain of nine centuries of English history, woven by them for neither pay nor fame in the silence of the cloister. But we must return to Glastonbury. Of History they had :
Bede's Works—History of the English—vols. on the Metrical Art —on Rhetoric, etc., six vols, ; Orosius' History ; Aegisippus ; Frectilphus; Livy on the Deeds of the Romans ; Book on the Fall of Troy and Deeds of the Roman Emperors ; William of Malmesbury's Deeds of the English ; William of Malmesbury's Antiquities of Glastonbury ; Bede's Deeds of the English ; Gildas ; Brutus ; Deeds of the Normans ; Deeds of the Roman Pontiffs ; History of the Province of Africa ; Deeds of King Richard ; Deeds of Alexander ; Sallust, two vols. ; Chronicles, four vols.; History of Martyrs; Sallust, two vols.
Of Grammar and general literature they had :
Hugo's Didascalion; Topography of Ireland; Seneca—a book with another copy of Valerian's Dissuasion—a Letter of Peter of Blois—Sermons—Rules of Anchorites—on the Art of Grammar—and Poetry of John of Salsbury ; different books unenumerated, seven vols. ; Epistles of Cyprian, Fulbert, and Seneca, five vols. ; the Customs of Clugny ; on St. Mary, seven vols. ; a certain English book, unknown ; Cicero on Old Age ; Priscian, nine vols. ; Donatus, five vols. ; Grammar, seven vols. ; Remigius, three vols. ; Virgil's neid, Georgics, and Bucolics; Virgil's Æneid, an old copy; Horace ; volumes on different subjects, thirty-nine vols.
This library was increased by a number of books received from one Richard de Culmtone, probably. after the list had been made up by the librarian, as they are added as a supplement. They were :
Tancred on Matrimony ; Cases of Decretals on Dispensation and Precept; Tancred and certain new Decretals; Boethius on the Discipline of Scholars ; another copy ; an old Logic and book of Elenchi; Aristotle's Topica; Porphyry, six vols.
Brother Galfrid of Bath then sent fifteen volumes to the precentor, William Britton, for the Abbey library. The precentor also purchased twenty-five more volumes, and copied with his own hands the whole of the Scriptures for the library. Then, in the year 1271, John of Taunton, the abbot, gave forty volumes to it, consisting principally of concordances, commentaries ; some of St. Bernard's works; Augustine on the City of God, and other works; the Questions of Thomas Aquinas and his Sum of Theology.
In the year 1322 the library was again increased by the munificence of Walter of Taunton, the abbot, who gave several volumes.
In the year 1324 another abbot, Adam of Sodbury, gave a copy of the Scriptures complete ; two Psalters, beautifully bound; the Lives of the Saints; a book on the Properties of Things; a Benedictional and a Scholastic History.
But the labour of collection was not the only labour necessary to the maintenance and increase of a monastic library in the middle ages. Books had to be copied and recopied. Bibles and separate portions of the Bible were always in process of transcription ; a work reserved for mature and pious monks, who were bound by a solemn oath to transcribe the sacred text faithfully. All the books of devotion and large psalters, antiphonalia, and service books for the use of the Church, were also continually being renewed ; and when we remember that they were engaged in the Divine Office several hours a day out of the twenty-four, we may form some idea of their diligence. One remarkable instance of activity in this branch of monastic work is recorded in connection with Glastonbury Abbey, and with it I shall conclude, as it is a noble monument of the faithfulness of their devotion to the work of the scriptorium, and may serve to support the facts which this paper endeavours to establish.
It is recorded in the annals of Glastonbury that during the presidency of one abbot, more than fifty volumes were transcribed in the scriptorium. The following is a list :---
The Bible; Pliny's Natural History ; Cassiodorus on the Psalter ; three large Missals ; two Lectionaries ; a Breviary for the infirmary ; Jerome on Jeremiah and Isaiah ; Origen on the Old Testament; Origen's Homilies; Origen on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans; Jerome on the Epistles to the Galatians, the Ephesians, to Titus, and Philemon; Lives of the Fathers ; Collations from the Fathers ; Breviary from the Guest House; An Antiphonarium; one volume of Morals ; Cyprian ; a Register ; a book called " Paradise"; Jerome against Jovinian ; Ambrose against the Novatians ; Passions of the Saints, seven vols. ; Lives of the C esars ; Deeds of the Britons ; Deeds of the Saxons; Deeds of the Franks; Paschasius; Radbertus on the Body and Blood of Christ ; Certain " Summae "; the Abbot of Clairvaux' Book on Loving God; Hugo St. Victor on the Twelve Grades of Humility and on Prayer; Physiognomy, On Precious Stones, and the Book of Peter Alianus; Rhetoric, first and second parts ; Quintilian on Causes ; Augustine's Epistles, on the Lord's Prayer, and on the Psalm, "Have mercy upon me, O God"; a Benedictional; Yvots Decretals; Jerome on the Twelve Prophets and Lamentations; Augustine on the Trinity; Augustine on Genesis; Isidore's Etymology ; Paterius ; Augustine on " The Words of Our Lord "; Hugo on the Sacraments ; Cyprian on the Incarnation of Our Lord; Anselm's Why God was made Man.
This concludes all that can be now gleaned of the Library of Glastonbury Abbey, though by the time of the Dissolution we have every reason to suppose that it must have been considerably increased. Leland, who was sent round by the Government to gather information upon the subject, gives an enthusiastic account of the effect which the sight of the Glastonbury Library had upon him when, by the kindness of Abbot Whiting, he was allowed to go into it. And as Leland was one of the most notorious biblomaniacs of his day, we may be sure the library had very much increased. The following are his words : " Some years ago I was at Glastonbury, where there is the most ancient and famous monastery of our island, recreating my mind, which was exhausted by severe study, until a new ardour of reading and learning should seize me. That ardour came unexpectedly. Whereupon I betook myself to the library (not open to everybody), that I might diligently turn over the sacred relics of antiquity. Scarcely had I crossed the threshold when the sole contemplation of these ancient books filled me with I know not what—a sort of religious fear or stupor, and made me pause. Then, having saluted the genius of the place, I most curiously examined for some days all the shelves; during which search I found amongst marvellous old manuscripts of antiquity a fragment of the ` History of Meichin.'"
Glastonbury, though it stood as high, if not higher, than any other monastery in England for intellectual treasures, was not the only instance of diligence in book-collecting and book-transcribing. Malmesbury, the home of the renowned " William," Canterbury, Lindisfarne, Abingdon, Evesham, Peterboro', and more especially St. Albans, which produced Roger of Wendover, Matthew Paris, William Rishanger, and Thomas Walsingham--names well known to historians—all stand high on the list of literary monasteries ; and if we go out of our own country—to France, to Italy, to Germany, to Spain—the annals of all national history are to be found only in the labours of the monks.
To us Englishmen a considerable portion of these treasures was lost through the wanton iconoclasm of the reformers at the time and during the process of the Dissolution. Valuable books were torn out of their bindings for the jewels which adorned the covers, and their gold and silver clasps ; many that were unadorned were burnt or sold as waste-paper to anyone who would buy them. From this mad wreck of literature much was saved by the exertions of two men who could appreciate its value, Archbishop Parker and Sir Robert Cotton, whose collections are now—that of the former, at Oxford, and that of the latter, in the British Museum.
The spirit in which the "Visitors" set about their work may be seen from their own letters : they looked out more sharply for coin and plate than manuscripts. In a letter written to the Lord Privy Seal by the three who "visited" Glastonbury we read : " We have in money £300 and above, but the certainty of plate and other stuff here as yet we know not, for we have not had opportunity for the same, but shortly we intend (God willing) to proceed to the same, whereof we shall ascertain your lordship so shortly as we may. This is also to advertise your lordship that we have found a chalice of gold and divers other parcels of plate, which the Abbot had hidden secretly from all such commissioners which have been here in times past, and as yet he knoweth not that we have found the same. We assure your lordship it is the goodliest house of that sort that ever we have seen."
It is a melancholy fact that in the Reports of the Commissioners who visited the monasteries and carried out the work of spoliation with fanatic zeal we find ample accounts rendered of jewels, gold and silver plate, coin of the realm, and lists of revenues, all of which found their way to the Treasury; but these worthy men say nothing of the literary treasures they destroyed, which no amount of revenues, gold and silver plate, or coin of the realm can ever replace !