NO. CCCXXIV. APRIL, 1886. VOL. CLXII.
I. Matthew Parish
II. The Christian Brothers.—Religious Schools in France and England.
III. Archives of the Venetian Republic.
IV. Yeomen Farmers in Norway.
V. Oliver Cromwell: his character illustrated by himself.
VI. Travels in the British Empire.
VII. The Bishop of Durham on the Ignatian Epistles.
VIII. Books and Reading.
IX. Characteristics of Democracy.
X. The Gladstone-Morley Administration.
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CONTENTS OF NO. 324.
I.—Matthaei Parisiensis, Monachi Sancti Albani, Chronica Majora. Edited by Henry Richards Luard, D.D., Fellow of Trinity College, Registrary of the University, and Vicar of Great St. Mary's Cambridge. Published by the Authority of the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, under the direction of the Master of the Rolls. 7 vols. 8vo. London, Vol I. 1872—Vol. VII. 1883. 293
II.—1. The Christian Brothers, their Origin and Work, with a sketch of the Life of their Founder, The Venerable Jean Baptiste de la Salle. By Mrs. R. F. Wilson. London, 1883.
2. La Premiere Annee d'Instruction Morale et Civique: notions de droit et d'economie politique (Textes et Recits) pour repondre a la loi du 28 Mars 1882 sur l'enseignement primaire obligatoire: ouvrage accompagne de Resume, de Questionnaires, de Devoirs, et d'un Lexique des mots difficiles. Par Pierre Laloi. Quatorzieme Edition. Paris, 1885.
3. Report of the Committee of Council on Education (England and Wales). 1884-85.
4. Seventy-fourth Annual Report of the Incorporated National Society. 1885. 325
III.—The State Papers of the Venetian Republic; namely, Cancelleria Inferiore, Cancelleria Ducale, Cancelleria Secreta, preserved in the Convent of the Frari, at Venice. 356
IV.—1. Journal of a Residence in Norway during the years 1834, 1835, and 1836. By Samuel Laing, Esq. London, 1837.
2. Le Royaume de Norvege et le Peuple Norvegien. Par le Dr. O. I. Broch. Christiania, 1878.
3. Official Reports of Prefects on the Economic Condition of the Provinces of Norway in 1876-80. Christiania, 1884.
4. Publications of the Statistical Bureau Christiania. 384
V.—A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Esq.; Secretary, first to the Council of State, and afterwards to the Two Protectors, Oliver and Richard Cromwell. In Seven Volumes, containing authentic Memorials of the English affairs from the year 1638 to the Restoration of King Charles II. Vol. III. London, 1742. 414
VI.—1. Oceana, or England and her Colonies. By James Anthony Froude. London, 1886.
2. Through the British Empire. By Baron von Huebner. 2. vols. London, 1886.
3. The Western Pacific and New Guinea. By Hugh Hastings Romilly, Deputy Commissioner of the Western Pacific. London, 1886. 443
VII.—The Apostolic Fathers: S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp. Revised Texts, with Introductions, Notes, Dissertations, and Translations. By J. B. Lightfoot, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D., Bishop of Durham. London, 1885. 2 vols. 467
VIII.—1. An Address delivered to the Students of Edinburgh University on Nov. 3, 1885. By the Earl of Iddesleigh, Lord Rector of the University of Edinburgh.
2. Hearing, Reading and Thinking: an address to the Students attending the Lectures of the London Society for the Extension of University Teaching. By the Rt. Hon. G. J. Goschen, M.P.
3. The Choice of Books and other Literary Pieces. By Frederic Harrison. London, 1886. 501
IX.—1. Popular Government. Four Essays. By Sir Henry Sumner Maine. Second Edition. London, 1886.
2. Democracy in America. By Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated by Henry Reeve. New Edition. London, 1862.
3. On the State of Society in France before the Revolution of 1789. Translated by Henry Reeve. Second Edition. London, 1873. 518
And other Works.
X.—1. Fourth Midlothian Campaign. Political Speeches delivered, November, 1885, by the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, M.P. Edinburgh, 1886.
2. John Morley: The Irish Record of the New Chief Secretary, 1886.
3. Ireland: A Book of Light on the Irish Problem. Edited by Andrew Reid. London, 1886. 544
And other Works.
ART. I.—Matthaei Parisiensis, Monachi Sancti Albani, Chronica Majora. Edited by Henry Richards Luard, D.D., Fellow of Trinity College, Registrary of the University, and Vicar of Great St. Mary's, Cambridge. Published by the Authority of the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, under the direction of the Master of the Rolls. 7 vols. 8vo. London, Vol. I. 1872—Vol. VII. 1883.
Some of our readers are not likely yet to have forgotten the remarkable essay which the late Professor Brewer contributed to our pages in 1871, and which has since been reprinted in the volume of 'English Studies,' published shortly after the author's death in 1879. English History owes a larger debt to few men of our time than it owes to Mr. Brewer. As a teacher whose pupils were always eager to listen to all that fell from his lips, and whose enthusiasm never failed to awake a kindred spark in the minds of those who looked to him for light in dark places and guidance along tortuous paths of research, Mr. Brewer has had few equals, and perhaps has left no successor who can compare with him. As a writer he was always brilliant, lucid, and vigorous, and his unrivalled 'Introductions' to the Calendars of Letters and Papers, concerned with the reign of Henry VIII., will long continue to be read by all students of our History, as necessary and indispensable interpreters of the vast storehouses of original documents which he did so much to rescue from the oblivion or obscurity to which they had previously been consigned. But it was as an organizer of research that Mr. Brewer earned his greatest fame and achieved his greatest success, and it was to him more than to any one man, to his immense persistence in urging upon the powers that be a more generous freedom of access to our Records, and to his prodigious powers of work in arranging and tabulating the enormous masses of documents of all kinds which constitute the Apparatus of English History, that this country stands indebted, and will remain indebted as long as our literature lasts.
In the Essay on 'New Sources of English History' the learned author has given us a startling account of the deplorable condition into which some of the most precious of our national manuscripts had been allowed to fall—of the utterly chaotic state of our depositories—of the hopelessness, the despair which must needs have come upon one student after another who might be fortunate enough to be turned loose into the various prison-houses of our muniments—and of the efforts made, and happily at last made with splendid success, to cleanse the Augean stable, and to let the world know something of the wealth it contained. With characteristic modesty Mr. Brewer said nothing of his own part in all that laborious and sagacious organization which resulted in our obtaining the magnificent Calendars, which have opened out to us all 'that new world which is the old' that had become almost forgotten or unknown. He was not the man to assert himself, he knew that posterity would give him his due, but with a simple desire to stimulate research, and to show how much remained to be done, and how much to be discovered and made known, he drew the attention of his readers chiefly and primarily to the value of the Calendars, and to the important results which those Calendars had already produced, and were destined to produce hereafter. He had quite enough to say upon this point, and if his life had been spared, it is probable that he would eventually have given us a more comprehensive account of the series of volumes which, though now issuing from the press pari passu with the Calendars, were originally undertaken a little later. Such an Essay by such a master would indeed have been an important aid to the student, but at the time of Mr. Brewer's lamented death the day had hardly come for such a resume; and even now, though so much has been achieved, so much and so well, the hour has hardly arrived nor the man for taking a comprehensive survey, and giving to the public an intelligent and intelligible account of that other Library of Chronicles, and biographies, and letters, and cartularies, and those other memorials of the Middle Ages in England, which it is to be feared are hardly as well known as they ought to be, nor as widely studied as they deserve.
Meanwhile it is high time that attention should be drawn to that noble series of volumes now issuing from the press under the editorship of scholars whose reputation is assured, and whose work continues to enhance their reputation—high time that we should begin to do something like justice to the labourers, who have deserved so well at the hands of such Englishmen as have any sentiment of loyalty to the great thoughts, the great doings, and the noble lives of their forefathers. The philosopher, who 'holds the mirror up to nature,' has not of late, as a rule, missed his reward. The historian, who in his dogged, patient, toilsome fashion holds the mirror up to the life of bygone ages, has received among us scant recognition, and generally is rewarded with but barren honour. What has been done and still is doing will be best understood by briefly reviewing the progress of that movement, which has brought about the great revival of English Historical study, and under the influence of which the opinions and convictions of educated men have passed through a very decided change, one destined to produce still greater and more unlooked for changes of sentiment and belief before the present century shall have closed.
It is just fifty years since 'the Father of Record Reform,' as he has been justly called, received his patent creating him Master of the Rolls. Although as far back as the year 1800 a Commission was issued for the methodizing and digesting the National Records, and for printing such calendars and indexes as should be thought advisable; and though during the next twenty-seven years many works of supreme interest and importance were printed at the public expense, the enormous extent of our National Records were known to few, and the difficulty of consulting them, (dispersed as they were through a score of different depositories) was enough to deter all but the most resolute enquirers. It was Lord Langdale who first set himself to reduce the chaos of our archives into something like order. When the old Record Commission expired in 1837, it was by Lord Langdale's influence that the Public Record Act was passed on the 14th of August, 1838, whereby the Records named therein were placed under the custody of the Master of the Rolls for the time being, and hereupon a new era began. Nevertheless it was not till July 1850 that a vote was obtained from the Treasury for the erection of a national depository, wherein our vast archives should be assembled under a single roof, and not till 1855 that the magnificent Tabularium in Fetter Lane was opened for the reception of our muniments.
Lord Langdale died in April 1851; he was succeeded in the Mastership of the Rolls by Lord Romilly, then Sir John. A happier choice could not have been made. To Lord Langdale belongs the credit of carrying out the grand scheme for consolidating the various collections of documents, which, as we have said, had up to this time been widely dispersed, and the very existence of the larger mass of which was known only to a few experts. To Lord Romilly we owe it that the great original sources of English History so assembled have been rendered accessible to any student who desires to consult them; and it is to him, too, that we are indebted for the issue of that unrivalled series of 'Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland, from the Invasion of the Romans to the Reign of Henry VIII.,' which has laid the foundation for a science of history firmer and deeper and wider than before was believed to be even attainable.
Great men are at once the leaders and the product of their age. When Lord Langdale set himself to his task he was only attempting that which had been talked of since the reign of Edward II. For five centuries the unification of our National Records had been recommended and advised by lawyers, statesmen, and scholars from generation to generation, but no practical scheme had ever been suggested, and the difficulties in the way of reform were supposed to be insuperable. It was a Herculean task, and one that grew ever more arduous the longer it was postponed. During the first quarter of the present century profound dissatisfaction had begun to be felt at the condition of our historical literature. The ordinary text-books were full of fables, more than suspected to be fables, and which yet it was extremely difficult to disprove satisfactorily. Theories which had long passed current were being rudely assailed, and yet—in the face of the obstacles that hindered research—stubbornly held their ground, or were repeated with peremptory dogmatism. A deep distrust of the old methods and the old assumptions had given rise to a widespread desire to drag forth from their hiding-places any documents, however dry or recondite, which might throw some clear light upon our national life and manners, and not only upon mere events of national importance during Medieval times. A desire to know the truth was in the air. The science of history had passed out of its infancy, and the stirrings of a new craving—the passion of Research—were making themselves felt in that mysterious restlessness which indicates that the old smooth-faced docility, the old childish submission to tutelage, the old unquestioning acceptance of authority, has gone for ever, and a new life has begun. The year before Lord Langdale received his appointment as Master of the Rolls, the Surtees Society had been founded for the printing of unedited MSS. illustrative of the history of the northern counties; and in the same year that the old Record Commission expired, the English Historical Society was started, a society which numbered amongst its promoters such men as the late Mr. Kemble, Mr. H. O. Coxe, Sir T. Duffus Hardy, and Mr. Stevenson—the leaders and teachers of that school of younger men who have so ably followed in the steps of their seniors, and who, mounting on the shoulders of the giants, have gained a wider view than it was given to those others to attain. The five years that followed saw the foundation of the Camden, the Percy, and the Chetham Societies, not to mention many another that has done useful work in its way. The labours of these pioneers soon made it quite apparent that the sources of our national history—social, ecclesiastical, and political—were quite too voluminous for private enterprise to deal with, and would demand the co-operation of a body of trained scholars and the resources of the public exchequer to make them available as apparatus for the teachers of the future.
On the 26th of January, 1857, Sir John Romilly submitted to the Treasury his memorable proposal for the publication of certain materials for the History of England; and on the 9th of February a Treasury Minute was put forth approving of the plan that had been drawn up as one 'well calculated for the accomplishment of this important national object in an effectual and satisfactory manner within a reasonable time.' Forthwith arrangements were made for the issue of that series of works which is now known as the 'Rolls Series,' a collection which has already extended to upwards of 200 volumes.
The lines laid down by Sir John Romilly were almost exactly those which had been followed by the English Historical Society. Every editor was to 'give an account of the MSS. employed by him, of their age and their peculiarities;' he was to add 'a brief account of the life and times of the author, and any remarks necessary to explain the chronology; but no other note or comment was to be allowed, except what might be necessary to establish the correctness of the text.' The restriction was absolutely necessary if only for this, that when the 'Rolls Series' was first commenced even the most accomplished of its editors were mere learners. The time had not yet arrived for comments. The text was wanted first in its completeness and integrity.
Looking back to this period—little more than a quarter of a century ago—it is difficult for us to realize the deplorable condition into which our historical literature had been allowed to fall. Kemble's great work, the 'Codex Diplomaticus aevi Saxonici,' the first volume of which appeared in 1839, and his 'History of the Saxons in England,' published in 1849, came upon the great body of intelligent men as the revelation of new things. It is sufficient to turn to the chapter on the Constitutional History of England before the Conquest, in Hallam's 'History of the Middle Ages,' to be assured how meagre and superficial even Hallam's knowledge was of everything before the Norman invasion. It was no fault of his; he made good use of all such materials as were then accessible to the student—that is, all such as had been printed; for that incomparably larger apparatus which since Hallam's days has been published to the world, it was for all practical purposes as if it had never existed at all. Even men of culture and learning were persuaded that all that was ever likely to be known about the religious houses had been collected in the new edition of Dugdale's 'Monasticon.' It is hardly too much to say that of the history of English monasticism Hallam knew nothing. Dr. Lingard himself had very little more to say of the great Abbeys than his predecessors, and had a very inadequate conception of the part they played in the development of our institutions; and when Dr. Maitland wrote his brilliant 'Essays on the Dark Ages,' he hardly names St. Edmundsbury or St. Alban's, and though one of his most fascinating chapters is concerned with the early days of Croyland, his only authority for the beautiful story, which he has handled so skilfully, is a romantic narrative attributed to Ingulphus, which has been demonstrated to be a somewhat clumsy though a clever forgery. Of the Mendicant Orders—of the work they did, of the influence they exercised, and of the attitude adopted towards them in the 13th century by the parochial clergy on the one hand, and by the monks on the other—even less was known, if less were possible, than of their wealthier rivals.
Two years had scarcely elapsed since the issue of the Treasury Minute of February, 1857, before it began to be said that the history of England would have to be written anew. In the single year 1858 eleven works of the highest importance were printed, and it was evident that neither original materials nor scholarly editors would be wanting to make the 'Rolls Series' all that it was desired it should become. The 'Chronicles of the Monasteries of Abingdon and of St. Augustine at Canterbury,' the contemporary 'Life of Edward the Confessor,' and the priceless 'Monumenta Franciscana,' telling the wonderful story of the settlement of the Minorites among us, were printed from unique MSS. Next year the 'Chronicle of John of Oxnedes' was brought out by Sir Henry Ellis, and the 'Historia Anglicana' of Bartholomew Cotton, by Dr. Luard, neither work having ever before been printed. Volume followed volume in rapid succession, a steady improvement becoming observable in the style of editing, as the several editors became more familiar with the results of their predecessors' labours.
It was while working at Bartholomew Cotton that Dr. Luard was brought into intimate relations with the 13th century. Hitherto the composite character of such chronicles as had been published had indeed been perceived, but no attempt had been made to trace the original authority for statements repeated in the same words by one writer after another. Dr. Luard opened out a new line of enquiry, and in his edition of Cotton's Chronicle he endeavoured to distinguish in every instance the material which might fairly be called original from that which his author had borrowed from older writers and incorporated into his text. The borrowed matter was printed in smaller type, and the sources from which it had been derived were indicated by references given at the foot of the page. Cottons' own additions were printed in a bolder type, so as at once to catch the eye. While conducting the laborious researches necessitated by this new method of editing his text, it became clear to Dr. Luard that Cotton had borrowed largely from Matthew Paris—who had lived just a generation before him—and that he had also borrowed from a mysterious writer much read in the 14th and 15th centuries, who went by the name of Matthew of Westminster. As to this Matthew of Westminster, Dr. Luard postponed dealing with him till some future time. He might prove a mere mythic personage, and it was suspected he would; but Matthew Paris was certainly no shadow, but a very real man, whose greatness seemed to grow greater the more he was studied and the better he was known. Yet as Dr. Luard became more familiar with the text of Paris, he was soon convinced that in its printed form it was bristling with the grossest inaccuracies of all kinds. Originally it had been published under the authority of Archbishop Parker in 1571; and though other editions had appeared, in this country and on the Continent, several times since then, Paris's great work had remained exactly in the same state as Parker (or whoever his agent was) had left it three centuries ago. That is to say, that by far the most important work on English history during the 13th century—not to mention European affairs—and by far the most minute and trustworthy picture of English life and manners during the reign of Henry III.—a record, too, drawn up by a contemporary writer of rare genius and literary skill—was defaced by blunders, audacious tampering with the text and gross inaccuracies, to such an extent that no conscientious student could allow himself to quote the printed work without first referring to one of the very MSS. which the Archbishop professed to have used.
Nevertheless, the task of bringing out a critical edition of the 'Chronica Majora' did not appear less formidable as fresh sources of information cropped up; and Dr. Luard shrank from the immense labour that such an edition involved, it was because he had formed a correct notion of its magnitude. In 1861 he brought out in the same series the 'Letters of Robert Grosseteste,' the heroic and magnanimous Bishop of Lincoln; and while working at this volume, the England of the 13th century became more and more alive and present to the mind of the student.
But distinctly and grandly as one noble character after another revealed itself, there was a strange mist that required to be dispelled before even the importance of great events could be rightly estimated. The inner life of the monasteries, great and small, must be enquired into, so far as it was possible to get any information on so obscure a subject; and, above all, the paramount influence which so magnificent an institution as the Abbey of St. Alban's exercised upon the intellectual life of the country must be studied with patient impartiality. Before a scholar with so lofty an ideal of an editor's duty could venture upon his magnum opus, there was indeed an enormous mass of preliminary work to get through. The horizon seemed to widen everywhere as the years of historical discovery went on. It was left to Mr. Riley to attack that wonderful collection of documents to which he gave the title of 'Chronica Monasterii Sancti Albani'—a series occupying twelve thick volumes, and which furnish us not only with a priceless apparatus, by the help of which a hundred problems perplexing the historian are furnished with a clue towards their solution—but which afford such an insight into the life of the greatest monastery in England during its best times as nobody expected could ever be forthcoming. While Mr. Riley was occupied with the Chronicles of St. Alban's and the lives of its Abbots, Dr. Luard was engaged in collecting all the Annals of the lesser monasteries which he could lay his hands on. Some of these had already been printed more or less carelessly; others had never seen the light since they were written. Such as were printed were extremely difficult to procure—scarce and costly. Dr. Luard took six years in bringing out his five volumes—volumes referring to the golden age of English Monasticism, which threw all sorts of side-light upon Mr. Riley's 'Chronicles,' while they were in turn continually being explained and illustrated by them.
While the 'Monastic Annals' were passing through the press, a very startling announcement was made by no less a person than Sir Frederick Madden, Keeper of the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum. Sir Frederick declared that he had come upon a copy of what was commonly called the 'Historia Minor' of Matthew Paris, not only written by the author himself, but actually annotated, corrected, and illustrated with drawings by his own hand. Such an announcement made by an expert of European reputation, one who had been handling MSS. all his life, necessarily created a sensation in the literary world. If it were accepted and proved true, it was one of the most curious romances in the history of literature. But was it true? To most critics the antecedent improbability of the theory put forth by Sir Frederick was so great as to relegate it to the domain of extravagant paradox; but the name and fame of its supporter were too high to allow of its being dismissed without refutation. For two or three years no one ventured to enter the lists against so formidable a champion who had staked his reputation upon the issue. At last another great specialist, not a whit less competent than the other, came forward to controvert the opinions and theory which had been so confidently maintained by Sir Frederick. In 1871 Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy brought out the third volume of his Catalogue, and it was in the famous Introduction to this volume that the Madden Hypothesis was first assailed with damaging effect. Sir Thomas, it must be remembered, was Deputy Keeper of the Records. Sir Frederick was Keeper of the Department of Manuscripts at the British Museum. Each was the representative man in his own department, and a very pretty quarrel arose. Into the merits of that quarrel it is impossible to enter here; it is a matter for specialists, not for outsiders, to pronounce upon. This, however, may be said with confidence, that if we except that school of very able and accomplished experts which the British Museum has trained, experts whose range of diplomatic knowledge must needs be wider than that of any 'Record man,' the refutation of Sir Frederick Madden by Sir Thomas Duffus was generally regarded as unanswerable and triumphant. With the exception indicated—a very important exception indeed—the Madden Hypothesis was believed to be utterly demolished, in fact 'blown into the air.' Nevertheless there are those, from whom something may be expected some day in the way of rejoinder who are by no means sure that the last word on this question has been said that deserve to be said, and even so scrupulous and sagacious a critic as Dr. Luard seems to be less certain than he was that Madden was quite wrong in all he affirmed, and Hardy quite right in all he denied.
The attention which had been drawn to Matthew Paris by this remarkable controversy could not but have its effect in awakening a desire for that critical edition of the larger Chronicle which Dr. Luard had been so long preparing. The way was cleared for such an edition now; it was not likely that any more MSS. of the author would be discovered. Such as were deposited in the various libraries had been carefully scrutinized, or their homes were known, and the long years of preparatory study had been turned to good account—no pains had been spared nor any labour grudged. In 1872 the first volume of the 'Chronica Majora' appeared in the 'Rolls Series.' In 1884 the seventh and last volume was issued, containing the learned editor's last preface, glossary, and emendations, and an Index to the whole work, extending over nearly 600 pages. It is a long time since an English scholar has had the good fortune to carry to its completion so important a work as this, projected on so large a scale, executed with such conscientious care—characterized by so much critical skill and scrupulous accuracy—all this achieved single-handed in the midst of other duties, professional and academical, which would be quite sufficient to exhaust the energies of an ordinary man.
Now that the work has been done, and done so thoroughly that it may safely be asserted the standard edition of the 'Chronic Majora' has been published once for all, we are in a better position than we ever were heretofore for taking a survey of the life and labours of its author, and for answering the enquiries which of late have been made with increasing frequency, and made too among those who might have been expected to be able to answer them. Who and what was Matthew Paris? What did he do, and what did he write that the learned few should speak of him with so much reverence, though to the unlearned many he is little more than a famous and familiar name?
Perhaps before dealing with his personal history, or entering into any examination of his literary labours, it will be well first to answer the question—What was Matthew Paris? for it is simply impossible to estimate rightly the debt we owe to him, or to understand the brief account that could be drawn up of his career till we have learned to know something of the profession to which he belonged, and the great foundation of which he was so distinguished an ornament. By profession Matthew Paris was a monk. A monk 'professed' is a term indicating the higher grade to which not every brother in a monastery attained. The very term 'profession' may be traced to the cloister. In its usual acceptation it is modern.
To dilate upon the various monastic orders, which were almost as numerous in the 13th century as the different religious denominations are in the 19th, would be out of place here. Suffice it to say that the English monasteries in Henry III.'s time counted by hundreds. But there were monasteries and monasteries. Some the homes of the scholar, the devout and the high-minded, the seats of learning and the resting-places of the studious and the aged, who hated war and tumult, and only longed for repose. Some that were mere hiding holes for the lazy and the incompetent, the failures among the younger sons of the gentry, who had not the power of pushing their way in the world, or whose career had been a disappointment. Such men, where all else failed, could get themselves admitted into some smaller religious house by the interest of the patron; sometimes bringing in a trifling addition to the common property, sometimes simply 'pitchforked' into a vacancy, it is difficult to say how. Then they became 'brethren' of the monastery, and sharers in most of the good things that it could offer; they were almost exactly in the same position as Fellows of Colleges were twenty years ago, holding their preferment for life, with this difference, that a Fellowship at the smallest College in Oxford or Cambridge always implied some qualification for the post. A College Fellow, at the worst, must have had some claims to learning or culture; whereas in the smaller and more remote monasteries a man might be scandalously ignorant, and yet gain admittance as a brother of the house.
Between the highest and the lowest of that great army of monks, dispersed through the length and breadth of the land, when English monarchism had declined from its earlier ideal, there was as great a distance as there is at this moment between the Fellows of Balliol or Trinity, and the poor brethren of the Charterhouse, or the bedesmen in the cathedrals of the old foundation.
In the first half of the 13th century English monarchism was at its best; the 12th century was emphatically the reformation age of British monarchism. All the many schemes for starting new orders with improved Rules, and all the efforts to improve the discipline of the religious houses and fan the fire of devotion among their members, assumed that the monasteries were then living institutions with vast powers for good; and institutions which needed only to be reformed to make them all that the most earnest and ardent enthusiast claimed that they ought to be, and might become. In the fifty years preceding the accession of King John, more than 200 monasteries had been built and endowed—some of them munificently endowed, and the only purely English order (that of St. Gilbert of Sempringham) had been founded, and in little more than fifty years could count no less than fourteen considerable houses. Englishmen believed in the monastic system as they have never believed in anything else since then; never have such prodigious sacrifices been made, never has such lavish munificence been shown by the upper classes as during the century ending with the accession of Edward I. In the next hundred years they were chiefly the townsmen and traders, not the landed proprietors, who emptied their money-bags into the lap of the Begging friars. Certainly the great religious houses at the end of the 13th century had the entire confidence of the country, and it is impossible to understand the long reign of Henry III. unless we are fully awake to the fact that then, too, the monasteries were not only thriving and powerful, but were institutions on whose help and power the people leant with an assured confidence, because they were pre-eminently the people's friends. But between the old foundations which had a history and the new houses that were springing up in every shire, some feeling of jealousy and soreness was sure to arise. The old abbeys, with a history that looked back into a past all clouds and mist, but none the less glorious for that, affected a supercilious tone towards the mushrooms that had of late sprouted into vigorous life. A man need not be an old man who can remember when the Eton and Winchester boys at the Universities affected an air of contempt for all the 'modern' places of education, and disdained to number such institutions as Cheltenham or Clifton among the 'public schools.' These were all very well in their way, but where were their traditions? So with the older and grander Benedictine monasteries, with charters from Saxon kings, let alone anything else. Glastonbury, where men said two of the Apostles had built themselves a house of prayer, and where St. Patrick and St. Dunstan lay entombed; Canterbury, where Augustine, the English apostle, found a home; Malmesbury, where St. Aldhelm preached to the barbarous people, and when they tired of his sermon played to them upon his harp, and, anticipating Mr. Sankey, sang David's Psalms to the crowds that moved by him as they passed over the bridge of Avon. These venerable foundations, about whose origin a glamour of mystery had gathered, whose history had become strangely obscured by the body of myths that had grown up in the lapse of centuries—which had survived pillage and anarchy, and all the horrors of fire and sword, desolating, devastating—were there before men's eyes, testifying to the amazing vitality which a millennium of strange vicissitude had not only not destroyed, but not even impaired. Such a mighty pile of buildings, as had risen up to heaven there in the old Roman town of Verulam, appealed to the imagination of mankind—the very materials of the massive tower, ruddy in the blaze of the noon-day, must have been a wonder and astonishment to many an awe-struck pilgrim perplexed at the first sight of Roman bricks burnt on the spot a thousand years ago. There stood the mighty Roman rampart, vast, enormous—the ground beneath his feet teeming with the tangible memories of grisly conflict, or of an old civilization that had been blotted out long ago—the swords of Roman legionaries, the bones of British heroes, coins with legends that few could read turned up by the ploughman's share. Yonder, men said, away there at Redburn, the heathen pursuers had come upon England's proto-martyr and slain the saint of God, whose bones since then had been gathered up, and were now resting in their sumptuous shrine. When the Norman came, and the new order was set up in the land—not a day before it was needed—the thirteenth Abbot of St. Alban's was of the blood royal, and heir, they said, to Cnut, the Danish king, who had passed away. It was to him that the awful Conqueror made oath he would bind himself by the Confessor's laws, an oath which, if he ever meant to keep, he meant to interpret according to his mood. Even the very laxity and shortcomings of the abbots of generations back, which tradition, and something more to be trusted than tradition, declared to have been matters of scandal, proved no more than that the great Abbey could live through evil times, outride the storms which would wreck weaker vessels, and right itself, though overloaded with abuses which timid pilots would have shrunk from throwing overboard: and now that 400 years had passed since Offa, the Saxon king—(stirred thereto by Karl, the Emperor)—had founded the monastery in St. Alban's honour, and from generation to generation vast building operations had been going on almost without interruption, and the old Abbey still held up its head proudly, its Abbot taking precedence of every other in the land; any man might be excused for thinking that to become a monk of St. Alban's Abbey was to become a personage of no small consideration.
Verily it was a great abbey in the days of King John. There, in the eighth year of that King's reign, was held that memorable council which, if it had been let alone, would doubtless have issued its protest against the intolerable aggression of the Pope and his curia. There, six years afterwards, another assembly was convened; the first occasion on which we find any historical proof that representatives were summoned to a national council in England. Eight times during his reign the ruffian King was himself a guest at the Abbey. Once after John's death, when Louis was desperately struggling to hold his own against young Henry's friends and supporters, he too came to St. Alban's, and threatened to give it over to fire and sword: only money saved it from a sack. There was always something to take, and yet always wonderful state kept up. The magnates in Church and State were for ever going in and out; the mere domestic expenditure was enormous. Yet, even when the country was groaning under horrible anarchy, and grinding taxation, and war and poverty, the building went on as if men lived only to glorify the great house, and to raise its church tower, or beautify the west front, or fill the windows with stained glass, or erect the splendid pulpit in the nave—a miracle of art.
It would be a very great mistake to conclude that all this lavish expenditure implied the enjoyment of large rents from land. The revenue derived from the tenants of the Abbey and the profits of farming were no doubt considerable; but that revenue could never have sufficed alone to defray the cost of keeping up the establishment. In point of fact, when a monastery, great or small, depended wholly upon its landed property, it invariably got into debt; sometimes it got hopelessly into debt. It is clear that before the Dissolution a very large number of the religious houses were insolvent. The striking paucity in the number of 'religious' at the time of the suppression—for hardly one house in ten had its full complement of inmates—is by no means wholly to be attributed to the reluctance on the part of people in general to take upon themselves the monastic vows. Where a monastery was financially in a critical condition, the brotherhood resorted to the expedient which is at this moment being carried out at more than one College in Oxford and Cambridge. Now, when times are bad, we temporarily suppress a Fellowship; then, on the death of a brother of the house, they chose no monk into his place.
The income from landed estates at St. Alban's was probably at no time equal to what may be called the extraordinary income. The offerings at the shrines of SS. Alban and Amphibalus, the proceeds of the offertory at those magnificent and dramatic functions in which the multitude delighted, and the douceurs that were always expected and almost always given in return for hospitality, which only in theory was free,—these and many another source of profit, which the universal habit of giving money for 'pious uses' supplied, all made up a sum total, in comparison with which the proceeds of the rent-roll were insignificant. In the taxation of Pope Nicholas (A. D. 1291) the whole revenue of the Abbey from rent and dues in the liberty of St. Alban's is set down at 392l. 8s. 3-1/4d., a sum which in those days would go as far as 5000l. a-year now. Even granting that this was only half the net income derivable from the Abbey's estates, which were widely distributed, an expenditure of 10,000l. a year would go in our own time a very little way towards meeting the charges which such an enormous establishment involved. The mere keeping up the buildings at all times entailed a very heavy annual outlay. Already in the 13th century the precincts of the Abbey were overcrowded with palatial edifices, which were never pulled down except to make room for larger ones. There were acres of roofs within the Abbey walls.
And what return was being made to the nation, that every rank and every class were keeping up a rivalry in munificence in favour of such an institution as this? What had they done, what were they doing, these seventy men, with their Abbot at their head, who were in the enjoyment of an income larger than that of many a principality? How was it that no one in those days accused them of being indolent drones? Mere burdens upon the earth, as they were called frequently enough, and loudly enough, and angrily enough, three centuries later? It was the age for the expansion of the monastic system—none then wished to sweep the monks away. One of the reasons why the monasteries had retained their hold upon the affection of the people, and were regarded with reverence and pride and confidence, lay in this, that they had moved with the times, and that the monasticism of the 13th was very different indeed from the monasticism of the 9th century. The primitive asceticism had almost vanished; it had not, however, died, leaving nothing in its place. No one now expected to find the religious houses filled with religious people, everyone holy, devout, and fervent; the personal sanctity of the inmates was one thing, the sanctity of their churches and shrines was quite another. In the old days the monks were separate from the world, living to save their own souls at best; examples to such as trembled at the wrath of God, and longed for the life to come. As time went on they mixed more boldly with the sinful world, and gradually they became more and more the illuminators of the darkness round them. Now they were regarded as in great measure the salt of the earth, and if that salt should lose its savour, where was such virtue elsewhere to be found? Personally, the men might be worldly—vicious, as a rule, they certainly were not—they were, mutatis mutandis, what in our time would be called cultured gentlemen, courteous, highly educated and refined, as compared with the great mass of their contemporaries; a privileged class who were not abusing their privileges; a class from whence all the art and letters and accomplishments of the time emanated, allied in blood as much with the low as the high, the aristocracy of intellect, and the pioneers of scientific and material progress. The model farming of the 13th century would be regarded as barbaric by our modern theorists; but such as it was, it was only to be met with on the demesne lands of the larger monasteries, and was a prodigious advance upon the petite culture of the open fields. The Priory at Norwich made an income out of its garden in the days of Edward III., and probably much earlier; the pisciculture of the religious houses remains a mystery as yet unsolved; the skill exhibited in the management of the water-power of many a district round even the smaller houses, still awakes wonder in those who think it worth their while to study it. At St. Alban's, as at Glastonbury, St. Edmund's Abbey, and elsewhere, the culture of the vine was made profitable for generations. The monasteries were the first to give personal freedom to the villeins, and the first to commute for money payments the vexatious services which worried the best men and maddened the worst. The landlords in the 13th century were real lords of the land. They were, as a class, very poor, spite of the privileges they enjoyed and the power that they possessed of making themselves disagreeable; and though the constitution of a manor was a limited monarchy, and the limits were very many, yet the lord could exercise a great deal of petty tyranny in his little kingdom if he were so disposed. In the manors which were in the possession of the religious houses the lord was necessarily non-resident, and the tenants were left to manage their own affairs with very little interference. The tenants of the monasteries were in a far more favoured condition than the tenants of some small lord, needy and greedy, who extorted his dues literally to the last farthing, and who knew exactly what the best beast was, on the land that owed him a heriot; and, when the tenant was in extremis, kept a sharp look-out that a fat bullock or a promising young horse should not be driven off before the owner died.
So the monasteries at the time we are now concerned with were regarded at once with pride and affection by the great bulk of the people; they were places of refuge where, in a turbulent time, men and women who had been stricken, bereaved or wronged, might find a quiet refuge and hide their heads and be forgotten and fall asleep, with the prayers of other sufferers to console and support them in their passage through the valley of the shadow of death. The gentlest spirits here could taste the bliss of a holy tranquillity; the ascetic could indulge his most fantastic self-immolation; the morbid visionary could dream at his will and give his imagination full play, none hindering him; evil demons might chatter and gibe and twit him at his prayers; choirs of angels might calm his despair with celestial lullabies; awful forms might rise from clouds of incense as the gorgeous procession moved along the vast church aisles, or stopped before some glittering shrine. What then? Who would question the reality of a miracle, or doubt that sublime revelations might be made to any holy monk as he wrestled in prayer with a rapture of the soul, and found himself lifted to the seventh heaven in ecstasy unutterable?
What has been said applies mainly to the older houses, those which were under what may be called the primitive Benedictine rule. If men were moved to rigid asceticism, however, and had a taste for bald simplicity; if art, and music, and ornate architecture, had no charm for them, and they dreamt that God could only be sought and found in the wilderness, the Cistercian houses offered such a congenial asylum. The Cistercians were the Puritans of the monasteries, and appealed to that mysterious sentiment which makes some minds shrink with fear from the touch of luxury, and regard culture as antagonistic to personal holiness. The sentiment was strong in the reign of Henry II., when nineteen Cistercian houses were founded; but it is not improbable that other motives, beside mere taste for a stricter discipline, led to the foundation of eight more in the reign of King John. Meanwhile the Benedictines had become by far the most learned and most educating body in the land, and pre-eminent above them all was the great Abbey of St. Alban's. If it was not at this time the centre of intellectual life in England, it was because at this time centralization was unknown. Eadmer, Florence of Worcester, Gervase of Canterbury, William of Malmesbury, Simeon of Durham, were all 12th-century Benedictines. They were all students and writers of history, and history meant literature till Peter Lombard arose at the end of the 12th century and revolutionized the world of thought—at any rate the domain of logic. John of Salisbury fiercely assails the intellectual innovators of his time on the ground that the new lights of the 12th century disdained to be students of history and affected contempt for the past. It was the old story; literary culture found itself in antagonism with scientific culture, and the vigorous childhood of scientific research was aggressive, insolent, and noisily insubordinate. The old seminaries, whose homes were in the Benedictine monasteries, refused to welcome the new learning. Its teachers settled themselves elsewhere; at Paris, on the other side of the water, they had a hard fight of it. Once in 1209 the Synod of Paris actually prohibited the reading of Aristotle's 'Metaphysics.' At Oxford they seem to have met with a more generous reception. Perhaps it was because that reception was too enthusiastic that King Stephen at the close of his miserable reign expelled Vacarius, the first teacher of scientific law in England. Whereupon young men of parts and ambition crossed the Channel, seeking and finding at Pavia and Bologna what was not to be had at home. The monastic schools held their own, and went on in the old groove; the intellectual revolution which soon came about by the agency of the Mendicant Orders was not yet dreamt of. St. Alban's, Malmesbury, and other such mighty foundations, stuck to the old studies, just as Eton and Winchester stuck to Latin Verse as the one thing needful, and reluctantly gave into the newfangled notion of having a 'modern side.'
Outside the Abbey precincts, a hundred yards from the great gate, and separated from it by the Rome land, which may possibly have served the boys as a playground, stood the Grammar School. Whether it offered a different training from that which was usually supplied to the scholars who were under training in the cloister, it is difficult to say. Within the precincts, when the 13th century began, there stood the great church—enriched by the accumulated offerings of centuries, and glowing with dazzling splendour of jewels and cloth of gold, and glass that glorified the very sunshine, and wonders of sculpture and colour and needlework filling the heart to overflowing with inexplicable hopes and longings for an ideal that seemed possible of realization, if only the Church in heaven should be as far removed above the actual of the Church on earth, as the glories of the Church on earth were removed above the squalid life of the common workday world. All this in witness that the great Abbey was, first and foremost, a religious foundation, raised in the first instance to the glory of God, and meant to help forward the worship of God, and make the worship worthy of the Most High.
But besides being primarily and emphatically a religious foundation, the Abbey in the 13th century had grown into something else, and had become the home of a corporation of scholars and students, who were the leaders of art and culture in an age when art and culture were to be met with nowhere outside the walls of a great monastery. There, in what might be called the museum of the Abbey, you might see no mean collection of antique gems that had once been the pride of Roman magistrates. Mysterious specimens of barbaric goldwork, fashioned by unknown craftsmen for the necks of nameless chieftains who had drawn the sword and perished, none knew when. Engraved gems that had been dug up in mysterious sepulchres, about which even imagination despaired of telling any story; relics of saints and martyrs, charters of Saxon kings, granted centuries before the Normans came to ring out the old and ring in the new. The wealth of mere archaeological specimens at St. Alban's made it such a museum of antiquities as provokes wonder and bitterness, as we read the catalogue of what was once there, and has perished utterly and for ever.
The range of buildings to the south of the church covered a far larger area than that which the church itself occupied. Uncertain though the exact site may be and is, there had already been added in Brother Matthew's time what we should now call an Art school, a Library, and, almost more famous than all, the Scriptorium. By-and-bye, too, came the printing-press which John Herford set up in 1480. Wynkyn de Worde was sometime schoolmaster of Saint Alban's, and Lady Juliana Berners' famous volume issued from the Abbey Press, while Caxton was still pursuing his craft in the almonry of another monastery at Westminster.
In the days of King John, however, people had so little idea of the possibility of the printing-press, that they were almost equally ignorant of such a material as paper for literary purposes. Yet it is a huge mistake which has not yet been exploded, as it ought to be, that reading and writing were rare accomplishments in the 13th century. Knowledge of a certain kind was disseminated far more effectively and far more universally than is generally believed. The country parson was expected to be the schoolmaster of his parish, and generally was so, and there was hardly a village in England during the reign of Henry III, in which there were not one or more persons who could write a clerkly hand, draw up accounts in Latin, and keep the records of the various petty courts and gatherings that were continually being held, sometimes to the annoyance and grievous vexation of the rural population. The professional writers were so numerous, and their training so severe, that they had got for themselves privileges of a very exceptional kind; the clerk took rank with the clergyman, and the writer of a book was almost as much esteemed as its author.
The scriptorium of a great monastery was at once the printing-press and the publishing office. It was the place where books were written, and whence they issued to the world. With the traditional exclusiveness of the older monasteries there was less desire, no doubt, to diffuse and disperse than to accumulate books, but the composing and the multiplication of books was always going on. The scriptorium was a great writing school too, and the rules of the art of writing which were laid down there were so rigidly and severely adhered to, that to this day it is difficult to decide at a glance whether a book was written in St. Alban's or St. Edmund's Abbey. Sometimes as many as twenty writers were employed at once, and besides these there were occasionally supernumeraries, who were professional scribes, and who were paid for their services; but nothing short of perfect penmanship, such trained skill, for instance, as would now be required for an engraver, would qualify a copyist to take part in the finished work, which the copying of important books required.
One of the conclusions which Sir Thomas Hardy arrived at during the course of his minute examination of Sir Frederick Madden's theory is so curious, and opens out such an unexpected view of the way in which our monasteries may have been brought under the influence of foreign literature, that it is worth while in this connection to quote the great critic's own words:
'After minutely examining every page of the manuscripts in question, as well as others, which were undoubtedly written in the monastery of St. Alban's, and comparing them with others executed in various parts of England and on the Continent, I can come to no other conclusion than that during the latter half of the 13th century, and perhaps a little earlier, there prevailed among the scribes in the Scriptorium of St. Alban's, a peculiar character of writing which is not recognizable in any other religious house in England during that period; but which is traceable in some foreign manuscripts, and even in private deeds executed in England in the neighbourhood of St. Alban's during the 12th and 13th centuries. These facts lead me to the inference, that the schoolmaster who taught the art of writing to Matthew Paris and the other members and scholars of the establishment at St. Alban's was a foreigner; that his pupils not only imitated their instructor in the formation of his letters, but also in his exceptional orthography.'
What questions suggest themselves as we accept the conclusion arrived at! Who was he, this 'foreigner,' who had come from across the sea to bring in his outlandish novelties into the great scriptorium? Was he some 'Frenchman' imported from sunny Champagne, where Thibaut, the mawkish singer was making verses which his people loved to listen to? Did he teach the young novices French as well as writing? Did he touch the lute himself on Feast-days, and charm them with some new lyric of Gasse Brusle, or delight them with one of Rutebeuf's merry ditties? France was all alive with song at this time, and princes were rivals now for poetic fame. It may be that this 'foreigner' brought in a taste for light literature as well as for a new fashion in penmanship, and made known to his pupils such alluring novelties as the 'Roman d'Alexandre, soon to be eclipsed by the 'Roman de la Rose.'
The scriptorium at St. Alban's was founded by Abbot Paul, a kinsman of Archbishop Lanfrance, when the great Abbey had already existed for three centuries. Paul became Abbot eleven years after the Conquest, and he showed himself an able and earnest administrator. From this time learning and a love of books became a tradition of the house. Abbot after abbot continued to add to the collection of MSS., and to increase the value of the library. But St. Alban's had never had a great historian of its own. Strange and shameful fact! East and west and north and south, all over the land, there were great writers holding up their proud heads. Out in the desolate wilds there at Peterborough, they had been actually keeping up a chronicle for centuries—aye, and written in the vernacular too. The lonely monastery of Ely, among the swamps, had its historian. Malmesbury boasted her learned William; and Worcester, which St. Wulstan had raised from the dust, as it were, only the other day, had already her Florence. In the great houses of the Northern Province there had been no lack of writers to whom the past was an open book. Even Westminster had long ago had her chronographer, and far away in furthest Wales, Geoffrey, the Monmouth man, was making men open their eyes very wide indeed with tales—idle tales they might be, but they were well worth the reading—and there was talk too of another young Welshman, Giraldus, who was on the way towards outdoing the other by-and-bye. What are we coming to? Holy St. Alban, shalt thou and thy house be put to shame?—that be far from us!
Thus it came to pass that about a century after the foundation of the scriptorium, and when the library had grown to an imposing size, Abbot Simon bestirred himself, and a new office was created in the Abbey, to wit, that of Historiographer. In our time we should have given this functionary a grander title, and called him Professor of History; but in the 12th century, they called him what he was, a writer of history, and from this time, in fact, the writing of history, after a certain authorized method, began, and what had been called, and deserves to be called, the St. Alban's School of History took its rise.
It is evident that before the 13th century had well begun, an historical compendium of great value had already been drawn up, which must have been compiled by careful students with a command of books such as during this age was rare.
'The compilation,' says Dr. Luard, 'whenever and by whomsoever it was written must be regarded as a very curious and remarkable one. The very large number of sources consulted, the miscellaneous character of many of the extracts, the mixture of history and legend, the giving fixed years to stories which even writers like Geoffrey of Monmouth had left undated, the care at one time and the carelessness at another, the slavishness with which one authority is followed, and the recklessness with which another is altered, the frequent confusion of dates, their ignorance and want of care, the blunders displayed in many instances from the compiler not understanding the author whom he is copying, as is especially the case in the extracts from the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle;" all these characteristics may well earn for the author the title that Lappenberg has given to him, though under the name of "Matthew of Westminster," namely, that of the "Verwirrer der Geschichte." At the same time there is no doubt that he had access to some materials which we no longer possess: and my object has been to trace all his statements, where possible, to their source, and to distinguish any additions that the compiler has made when they are merely rhetorical amplifications of his own, or when they are really from some source not now extant.'—Pref. to vol. i., p. xxxiii.
After all that can be said, the work surprises us by the erudition it displays. Nor is that surprise lessened when we have gone through the masterly analysis of its contents, which Dr. Luard has given us in the Preface to his first vol. Such as it was, it became the great text-book on which Roger of Wendover founded his own labours when he incorporated it into the chronicle which he left behind him. Roger of Wendover did good work, and laboriously epitomized, supplemented and improved, but he was a mere literary monk after all; a student, a bookworm, simple, conscientious, and truthful; a trustworthy reporter, 'a picker-up of learning's crumbs,' a monkish historiographer, in short; but by no means a historian of large views and of original mind. Roger of Wendover died in 1236, and Matthew Paris succeeded to his office and work.
From what has been said, the reader may be presumed to have gained something like an answer to our first question: What was Brother Matthew? Briefly, he was a representative monk of the most powerful monastery in England during the 13th century, when that monastery was at its best, and doing the work which in after times the Universities and great schools of the country took out of the hands of the religious houses; work, too, which since those days has been done by the printing-press, and by many other institutions better fitted to deal with the requirements of an immensely larger population, and to be the instruments of diffusing culture and refinement through the nation after it had outgrown the older machinery.
When we come to look into the personal history of Brother Matthew, the details of his biography need not detain us long. Sir Henry Taylor's famous line is only half true, after all;
'The world knows nothing of its greatest men'
really means that the world knows less about them than it would like to know. And yet the world knows almost as much about them as is good for it. The leading facts of a man's career are all that concern most of us—the main lines—not the details. Of Matthew Paris we know enough, because he has himself given us so faithful a picture of his times, and so charming an insight into the daily life which he led.
Unnecessary doubt has been suggested as to his parentage, and whether his extraction was or was not from a stock that could boast of gentle blood. For our part we incline strongly to the belief, that Brother Matthew was called Paris because that was his name, and had been his father's name before him. A family of that name held lands in Bedfordshire in Henry III.'s time; others of the same stock were settled in Lincolnshire earlier still; and the Cambridgeshire family (one of whom was among the visitors of the monasteries under Henry VIII.) boasted of a long line of ancestors, and retained their estates in the Eastern Counties till late in the 17th century. Young Matthew probably received his education in the school at St. Alban's, and soon showed a decided taste for learning and the student's life, and that in the 13th century meant an inclination for the life of the cloister. Many a precocious lad is even now taught from his childhood to look forward to the glories of a College Fellowship, and the career which such an academic success may open to him; and in the 13th century a schoolboy's ambition was directed to the goal of admission to a great monastery—that step on the ladder which whosoever could reach, there was no knowing how high he might climb—how high above the common sons of earth or, if he preferred it, how high towards the heaven that is above the earth.
Matthew was probably born about the year 1200, and in January 1217 he became a monk at St. Alban's, i. e., he became a novice. At this time a lad could commence his noviciate at 15; but the age was subsequently advanced to 19, the younger limit having been found, as a rule, too early even for the preliminary discipline required. On the day after the lad was admitted, a frightful scene took place in the monastery. A band of Fawkes de Breaute's cut-throats had stormed the town of St. Alban's, burst into the Abbey, and slaughtered at the door of the church one Robert Mai, a servant of the Abbot. William de Trumpington was Abbot at this time, a vigorous and resolute personage, who ruled the convent with a firm hand. Like all really able men, he was ably seconded, for he knew how to choose his subordinates. At first the monks had repented of their choice, and there were quarrels and litigation and appeals to the Pope, and many serious 'unpleasantnesses;' but as time went on, Abbot William had won the allegiance of all the convent, and they were proud of him. He was a man of books, among his other virtues, and had an eye for bookish men; and when he deposed Roger de Wendover from being Prior of Belvoir with a somewhat high hand, and brought him back to St. Alban's, he doubtless did so because he knew that at Belvoir he was a square man in a round hole, while in the scriptorium of the Abbey he would be in his right place. Certainly the event proved that the Abbot was right, and it was to this judicious removal of a student and man of letters to his proper home that we owe so much of our knowledge of those interesting minutiae of English history which the writer has revealed. It was under the eye of Robert de Wendover that Matthew Paris grew up, rendering him every year more and more substantial assistance in the library and in the scriptorium.
But the young man was not only a bookworm and a copyist, he soon got to be looked upon as a prodigy. He was a universal genius; he could do whatever he set his hand to, and better than any one else. He could draw, and paint, and illuminate, and work in metals. Some said he could even construct maps; he was versed in everything, and noticed everything from 'the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop upon the wall;' he was an expert in heraldry; he could tell you about whales, and camels, and buffaloes, and elephants—he could even draw an elephant—illustrate his history, in fact, with the elephant's portrait, the first elephant, he says, that had ever been seen in our northern climes. It was centuries before men had dreamt of what the science of geology would one day reveal. Then, too, he had vast capacity for work, and was a courtly person, and he had the gift of tongues, and had been a great traveller; he had early been sent by the convent to study at the University of Paris, and wherever he went, he was the man to make friends. When the Benedictines in Norway had convinced themselves that there was sore need of a reform of their rule and discipline, they applied to Pope Innocent IV. to send them a Visitor furnished with the necessary authority for carrying out so delicate and difficult a mission, and they made choice of Matthew Paris as the fittest possible person for such a work. Reluctantly Brother Matthew was compelled to undertake the task; he started on his northern voyage in 1248, and was absent about a year. In Norway he soon grew into high favour with King Hacon, who peradventure would have kept him at his side if he could. This seems to have been the most important episode in his otherwise uneventful life. But the advantages and opportunities which were at the command of any ambitious and studious young monk at St. Alban's were in themselves extraordinary. We have said that building was always going on. It was going on on a very large scale indeed in Abbot William's time. That means that there were the plans and sections and working drawings to be copied for the architect, and measurements and calculations by the thousand to be made—a school of architecture, in short: and besides that, what Roger de Wendover was in the scriptorium, that Walter of Colchester, pictor et sculptor incomparabilis, was in the painting room. Walter was a sculptor; indeed he wrought at his marvellous pulpit which the Abbot set up in the middle of the church: and he carved the story of St. Alban upon the great beam over the high altar, and did many another thing of which we have only too brief descriptions. Then, too, there was Richard, the monk who decorated the grand new guests' hall deliciose, as we are told, and who painted pictures and carried out other works of embellishment at a pace which none could have kept up, but that he had his father to help him with his brush, and another artist, John of Wallingford, to carry out his great designs, and many more skilled limners whose names have gone down into silence.
When Abbot William's reign came to an end, the monks were unanimous in choosing John of Hertford as his successor, and the new Abbot lost no time in showing favour to Matthew Paris. Next year Roger de Wendover died, and who could there be so worthy to succeed him as historiographer as the versatile and accomplished brother, who by this time was the boast of the great house? And historiographer accordingly Matthew became—mutatis mutandis, a sort of 13th-century editor of the 'Times;' his business was to gather from all points of the compass, if not the latest news, yet the best and most trustworthy reports upon whatever was worth recording. He had his correspondents all over Europe, and that he sifted the evidence as it came to him we know.
Wherever there was any great event that deserved a place in the Abbey Chronicle, some splendid pageant to describe, some battle, or treaty, or pestilence, or flood, or famine, straightway tidings came to the vigilant historiographer; and there was a comparison of the evidence brought in, and some testing of witnesses, and finally the narrative was drawn up and incorporated into Matthew's history. Again and again it happened that a great personage who, while himself making history, was anxious that his own part in a transaction should be represented favourably, would try and get the right side of the famous chronicler, and would furnish him with private information. Even the King himself thought it no scorn to communicate facts and documents to Brother Matthew. Once when Henry saw him in a crowd on a memorable occasion, he picked him out, and bade him take his seat by his side, and see to it that he made a true and faithful report of what was going on; and it is evident that the royal favour which he enjoyed through life must have extended to furnishing him with many a story and many a detail which none but the King could have supplied. The minute account of the attempt to assassinate Henry in 1238; the curious State paper giving a narrative of the dispute between the King and his nobles in 1242; the strange scene at the tomb of William Marshall in 1245, and scores of other incidents in the career of Bishop Grossteste and Richard of Cornwall, were evidently 'inspired,' and can only have come from eye-witnesses of the events recorded. Nevertheless Matthew, though he was willing enough to receive information, and to utilise facts and documents, was by no means the man to reproduce them exactly in the form in which they came to him. More than once he ventured to remonstrate with the King, and very much oftener than once he expresses his opinion of him in no measured terms. Some of the severest censures he had marked for omission, and some expressions he modified considerably, for we have the good fortune to possess his chronicle both in an earlier and in a later form; but even though the fuller and more outspoken record had perished, we should still have had enough proof to make it clear that we have in Matthew Paris an instance of a born historian, one who never consented to be a mere advocate, taking a side and seeing only half the truth of anything; but a man gifted with the judicial faculty, that precious gift without which a man may be anything you please—a rhetorician, a special pleader, a picturesque writer, a laborious collector of facts; but an historian never. And yet Matthew Paris was a magnificent hater, with a fund of indignant scorn and righteous anger which never fails him upon occasion. Friend of King and nobles as he was, he will not spare his words of wrathful censure upon the tyrant, or upon any that he held deserving of rebuke for cruelty, oppression and avarice. When he has to lay the lash on such as had proved themselves enemies to his much-loved Abbey, or who had wronged and defrauded it, he is well-nigh as fierce as Dante. He singles them out—the doomed wretches—and holds them, as it were, over the fire of hell before he drops them down into the burning flame.
Did Ralph Cheinduit, that blustering, burly knight, cry aloud 'A fig for St. Alban and his monks! Since they excommunicated me—look you! I have only increased in girth, behold me fat and jolly, in faith almost too big for my saddle. A fig for them all!' Did he say so, the impious wretch? Be it known that from that very day Sir Knight began to shrink and waste and pine, and if he had not repented and been absolved in time, he had gone down to the bottomless pit with never a hope of deliverance.
Did not Sir Adam Fitz William show the evil spirit that was in him when he sided against us time and again? And now, look to his awful end! Gorged with meat and drink one night, he sprawled upon his bed, indigestus, as you may say, and he never woke more. Aye! and he died intestate too. And as though that was not bad enough, his wife too died, straightway, like another Sapphira slain by the shock of the tidings. And then there was Alan de Beccles, too, always notorious for setting himself against us and our house, he too perished as the other did, for he loved choice dainties overmuch, and he dined late and he ate as none should eat, and when he could eat no more, suddenly his speech failed him and his veins burst, smitten with an apoplexy. And many another, whom it would take too long to name, following his evil course, and being prosecutors of Holy Alban's Church, perished for ever by God's vengeance.
It is no longer the fashion now to denounce the Pope and his myrmidons, but if the rage of Exeter Hall should ever recur, and the orators of the old platform should revive a taste for anti-papal agitation, they might find in Matthew Paris as rich a repertory of testimonials against Roman aggression and greed as the most rabid Irish Protestant could desire. 'O thou Pope,' he bursts out once, 'thou the father of all the fathers in Christ, how it is that thou sufferest the realms of Christendom to be fouled by such creatures as are thine?' The 'creatures' were the papal legates and nuncios and all their belongings, who were plundering England without shame. 'Harpies they were and blood-suckers,' says Matthew, 'mere plunderers, skinning the sheep, not shearing them only.' Then there were the King's Justiciars—'Justice'—nay, with that they had nothing to do. Why tell of their unrighteous deeds? he asks. 'Better forbear from vainly writing about the wrongers, and return to the story of the wronged.'
Of course the friars come in for their share of strong words—chiefly because the Pope made use of them so vilely, and not less because they set themselves above their betters—us, to wit—monks of the old houses.
'They started with such fair professions, they were going to be so very poor, and so very unworldly, and were going to supplement our work and interfere with nobody, and give us all a helping hand. Look at them now!' says Matthew; 'they march through the streets in pompous array with banners flaunting in the sun and waxen tapers, and rich burghers in holiday garments joining in the long train, and if they have no land they have money, good store, and as for their churches, they are eclipsing us all. Their invasion of our territory is a dreadful scandal, and they sneer at us and at all other religious men and women and they flout the parish priests and call them humdrums, and schism is at work horribly, and the people are running away from the old guides, and there is no end to them. Actually in the year of grace 1257,' he says, 'a new order of these fellows turned up in London. Friars of the sack, forsooth, because they were clothed in sackcloth! Of course they came armed with a papal licence as usual. What did these fellows come for? Was it to make confusion worse confounded? Alas! Alas! If we had only been as we were in the golden age, these friars would never have had a chance—not they! We too are not as the monks of old were; they lived the guileless life—austere, hard, self-denying, saintly! What are we in comparison with them?
'Did not we find the bones of our brethren there, hard by the High Altar, when we were beautifying the same? O ye degenerate sons of this degenerate age! Two centuries ago and our monks were men of faith and prayer. In the year of grace one thousand two hundred and fifty-one, we found more than thirty of them buried together, and their bones were lying there, white and sweet, redolent with the odor of sanctity every one; each man had been buried as he died, in his monastic habit, and his shoes upon his feet too. Aye, and such shoes—shoes made for wear and not for wantonness. The soles of these shoes were sound and strong, they might have served the purpose for poor men's naked feet even now, after centuries of lying in the grave. Blush ye! ye with your buckles, and your pointed toes and your fiddle faddle. These shoes upon the holy feet that we dug up were as round at the toe as at the heel, and the latchets were all of one piece with the uppers. No rosettes in those days, if you please! They fastened their shoes with a thong, and they wound that thong around their blessed ankles, and they cared not in those holy days whether their shoes were a pair. Left foot and right foot each was as the other: and we, when we gazed at the holy relics—we bowed our heads at the edifying sight, and we were dumbfounded, even to awe, as we swung our censers over the sacred graves of the ages past!'
The anecdotes and out-of-the-way pieces of information in the 'Chronica Majora,' which may be said to represent the paragraphs of modern journalism, are countless. Brother Matthew enlivens his history with these cross-lights at every page, and what gives to these scraps an added charm is that Matthew himself seems to be always with us when he prattles on. Not even Herodotus has succeeded more entirely in impressing his quaint personality upon his narrative. It is always something which he has seen, or heard from some living man who saw it with his own eyes.
'There was my friend John of Basingstoke, had studied at Paris, and a wonder of learning he was, but he told me himself that his best teacher by far was the young lady Constantina, daughter of an archbishop she. Archbishop of Athens, too—archbishops may marry out there! Before she was twenty she knew all that men may know; she was worth two universities of Paris any day; she foretold the coming of plagues and storms, and eclipses—and—more wonderful still—the coming of earthquakes too: and John of Basingstoke was her scholar, and whatever he knew that was deep and rare, he learnt it of the lady Constantina, the Archbishop's daughter.'
Matthew is very great when he has to tell of omens and portents:
'We were scurvily treated by Pope Innocent III.,' he says, 'in the days of Abbot John. Spite of all our privileges and indulgences, the Pope would have him come to Rome every third year; a sore burden and harm to us all. Forthwith evil omens came. Thrice in three years was our tower struck by lightning. After that wrong of his Holiness it was no wonder that the impression of the papal seal in wax, which we had taken good care to fix on the top of the steeple, availed not to keep off the thunderbolt—small good you see in that kind of thing.'
Besides the miscellaneous paragraphs, there are periodical reports of the weather, and the storms, and the droughts, and the harvests. Moreover, there are what answer to our police reports, and details of criminal proceedings against Jew and Gentile, and births and deaths and marriages, and now and then brief notes upon the state of the markets, and sometimes hints and reflections upon the desirability of certain reforms in Church and State; and all this not in the spirit of modern journalism, which at its best too often bears the marks of haste, and betrays the literary soldier of fortune paid for his work at so much a column, but genuine, hearty, throbbing with a certain passionate loyalty to a tradition, or an idea which you may say is exploded, grotesque, or fanciful, but which in the 13th century honest men and devout ones lived by and lived for, and were trying in their own way to carry out into action.
But now that we have got this precious 'Chronicle,' not to mention other works in the composition of which Brother Matthew had at least a large share—though our space forbids us dwelling upon them or their contents, and we must refer our readers to Dr. Luard's elaborate prefaces if they would desire to know all about them—another question suggests itself, which sooner or later will become a pressing question—What are we going to do with such a national work of which this country has great reason to be proud?
The days are gone by when a man was supposed to be educated in proportion as he was familiar with the literature of Greece and Rome and ignorant of everything else. Already at Oxford candidates for the highest honours in the final schools think it no shame to read their Plato or their Aristotle in English translations, and in half the time that was needed under the old plan they get a mastery of their Thucydides or Herodotus, devoting themselves to the subject-matter after they have proved at 'Moderations' that they have a respectable acquaintance with the language of the authors.
May the day be far off when Homer and AEschylus shall cease to be read in the original! The great writers of Hellas and Italy were poets or orators, great teachers or great thinkers; but they were something more. They were perfect instrumentalities too. Their thoughts, their lessons, their aspirations, their regrets, you may interpret and transfer into the speech and the idioms of the moderns; but the music of their language, the subtleties of melody and rhythm, and harmony and tone, can no more be translated than a symphony for the strings can be adequately represented upon the organ. You may persuade yourself that you have got the substance; you have missed the perfection of the form. Yet who but a narrow pedant will insist that the study of any literature, ancient or modern, is valuable chiefly for familiarizing us with the language, not for enriching our minds with the subject matter? Do we desire to understand the past and so to be better able to estimate the importance of great movements that are going on in the present or, by the help of the experience of bygone ages, to forecast the future? Then it behoves us to see that our induction shall be made from as wide a view as may be, and to avail ourselves of any light that may be gained. But it is mere waste of time to be for ever staring at the lamp which may be pretty to look at in itself, but is then most precious when it serves as a means to an end. If we are ever to construct a Science of History, the old methods must give place to something which may approximate to philosophic enquiry. When we come to think of it, how very small an area of time or space is covered by the historians of Greece and Rome: how small an area and how superficially dealt with! Even Thucydides hardly ventures to lift the veil which separates the civilization of his own age from that of an earlier period; he lifts it for a moment, then drops the curtain and passes on. It is true indeed that Herodotus introduces us to a world that is not Hellenic, and brings us into some sort of relation with men whose habits and art and religion had a character of their own; but then these nations were not as we, and not as men even of our race could ever become. We never seem to be in touch with Egypt or Assyria, and when he prattles on about these nations it is less as a historian than as an observant traveller that Herodotus delights and allures. Xenophon's passing notices of the manners and education, of the feudalism and the social life of the Medes, are too brief to be anything but tantalizing; but the neglect of Xenophon by professed students is not creditable, however significant. Perhaps of all the Greek writers Polybius was the man who had the truest conception of the historian's vocation; perhaps, too, it was just because he was so much before his age that his voluminous and ambitious work has come down to us little more than a fragment. Because he was something better than a compiler of annals, they who read history only to be amused found him dull, and the moderns have not yet reversed the verdict which was passed upon him. Who ever heard of a candidate for honours taking Polybius into the schools?