« PreviousContinue »
perchance he will name that Guido de Jars, in his fortieth year, began to copy the Bible on vellum, with rich and elegant decorations, and that the suns of half a century had risen and set, ere, with unintermitting labour and unwearied zeal, he finished it in his ninetieth. He will also tell us, that when a book was to be sold, it was customary to assemble all persons of consequence and character in the neighbourhood, and to make a formal record that they were present on this occasion. Thus, amongst the royal MSS. is a book thus described:—
"This book of the Sentences belongs to Master Robert, archdeacon of Lincoln, which he bought of Geoffrey the chaplain, brother of Henry vicar of Northelkingston, in the presence of Master Robert de Lee, Master John of Lirling, Richard of Luda, clerk, Richard the Almoner, the said Henry the vicar and his clerk, and others: and the said archdeacon gave the said book to God and saint Oswald, and to Peter abbot of Barton, and the convent of Barden." These are a few, a very few of such instances as a spirit of the fourteenth century might allude to—to testify the value of books. Indeed, even so late as the reign of Henry the VI., when the invention of paper greatly facilitated the multiplication of MSS. the impediments to study, from the scarcity of books, must have been very great, for in the statutes of St. Mary's College, Oxford, is this order—u Let no scholar occupy a book in the library above one hour, or two hours at the most; lest others shall be hindered from the use of the same."
The scarcity of parchment seems indeed at times to have been a greater hindrance to the promulgation of literature than even the laborious and tedious transcription of the books. About 1120, one Master Hugh, being appointed by the convent of St. Edmondsbury to write a copy of the Bible, for their library, could procure no parchment in England. The following particulars of the scarcity of books before the era of printing, gathered chiefly by Warton, are interesting.
In 855, Lupus, abbot of Ferrieres in France, sent two of his monks to Pope Benedict the third, to beg a copy of Cicero de Oratore, and Quintilian's Institutes, and some other books: for, says the abbot, although we have part of these books, yet there is no whole or complete copy of them in all France.
Albert, abbot of Gemblours, who with incredible labour and immense expense had collected a hundred volumes on theological, and fifty on general subjects, imagined he had formed a splendid library. About 790, Charlemagne granted an unlimited right to hunting to the abbot and monks of Sithin, for making their gloves and girdles of the skins of the deer they killed, and covers for their books.
At the beginning of the tenth century, books were so scarce in Spain, that one and the same copy of the Bible, St. Jerome's Epistles, and some volumes of ecclesiastical offices and martyrologies, often served several different monasteries.
Amongst the constitutions given to the monks of England by Archbishop Lanfranc, in 1072, the following injunction occurs: At the beginning of Lent, the librarian is ordered to deliver a book to each of the religious; a whole year was allowed for the perusal of this book! and at the returning Lent, those monks who had neglected to read the books they had respectively received, are commanded to prostrate themselves before the abbot to supplicate his indulgence. This regulation was partly occasioned by the low state of literature in which Lanfranc found the English monasteries to be; but at the same time it was a matter of necessity, and partly to be referred to the scarcity of copies of useful and suitable authors.
John de Pontissara, Bishop of Winchester, borrowed of his cathedral convent of St. Swithin at Winchester, in 1299, Bibliam Bene Gloss Atam, or the Bible, with marginal annotations, in two large folio volumes; but he gives a bond for due return of the loan, drawn up with great solemnity. This Bible had been bequeathed to the Convent the same year by his predecessor, Bishop Nicholas de Ely: and in consideration of so important a bequest, and 100 marks in money, the monks founded a daily mass for the soul of the donor.
About 1225 Roger de Tusula, dean of York, gave several Latin Bibles to the University of Oxford, with a condition that the students who perused them should deposit a cautionary pledge.
The Library of that University, before the year 1300, consisted only of a few tracts, chained or kept in chests in the choir of St. Mary's Church.
Books often brought excessive prices in the middle ages. In 1174, Walter, Prior of St. Swithin's at Winchester, and afterwards abbot of Westminster, purchased of the monks of Dorchester in Oxfordshire Bede's Homilies and St. Austin's Psalter, for twelve measures of barley, and a pall on which was
embroidered in silver the history of Birinus converting a Saxon king.
About 1400, a copy of John de Meun's Roman de la Rose was sold before the palace-gate at Paris for forty crowns, or 33/. 6v. 6d.
In Edward the Third's reign, one hundred marks (equal to 1000/.) were paid to Isabella de Lancaster, a nun of Ambresbury, for a book of romance, purchased from her for the king's use.
Warton mentions a book of the Gospels, in the Cotton Library, as a fine specimen of Saxon calligraphy and decorations. It is written by Eadfrid, Bishop of Durham, in the most exquisite manner. Ethelwold his successor did the illuminations, the capital letters, the picture of the cross, and the Evangelists, with infinite labour and elegance; and Bilfred, the anchorite, covered the book, thus written and adorned, with silver plates and precious stones. It was finished about 720.
The encouragement given in the English monasteries for transcribing books was very considerable. In every great abbey there was an apartment called "The Scriptorium;" where many writers were constantly busied in transcribing not only the Service Books for the choir, but books for the Library. The Scriptorium of St Alban's Abbey was built by Abbot Paulin, a Norman, who ordered many volumes to be written there, about 1080. Archbishop Lanfranc furnished the copies. Estates were often granted for the support of the Scriptorium That at St. Edmundsbury was endowed with two mills. The tithes of a rectory were appropriated to the Cathedral convent of St. Swithin, at Win
chester, ad libros transcribendos, in the year 1171.
Nigel in the year 1160 gave the monks of Ely two churches, ad libros faciendos.
When the library at Croyland Abbey was burnt in 1091, seven hundred volumes were consumed which must have been thus laboriously produced.
Fifty-eight volumes were transcribed at Glastonbury during the government of one Abbot, about the year 1300. And in the library of this monastery the richest in England, there were upwards of four hundred volumes in the year 1248.
But whilst there is sufficient cause to admire the penmen of former days, in the mere transcription of books, shall we not marvel at the beauty with which they were invested; the rich and brilliant illuminations, the finely tinted paintings, the magnificent and laborious ornament with which not merely every page, but in many manuscripts almost every line was decorated! They, such as have been preserved, form a valuable proportion of the riches of the principal European libraries: of the Vatican of Rome; the Imperial at Vienna; St. Mark's at Venice; the Escurial in Spain ; and the principal public libaries in England.
The art of thus illuminating MSS., now entirely lost, had attained the highest degree of perfection, and is, indeed, of ancient origin. In the remotest times the common colours of black and white have been varied by luxury and taste. Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus mention purple and yellow skins, on which MSS. were written in gold and silver; and amongst the eastern nations rolls of this kind (that is