Page images
PDF
EPUB

TO A.D. 1142) CHRONICLERS.

ORDERICUS VITALIS

43

sober and accurate recorders of such matter as concerned realities of life, they saw in England the home of a people, not the playground of a king.

Florence of Worcester was a brother of the monastery in that town, where he died on the 7th of July, 1118. He wrote a Chronicle, which at first was a copy from that of Marianas Scotus, with inserled additions to enlarge the record of English events. His additions he took chiefly from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bede, Lives of Saints, and Asser's “Life of Alfred.” From 1082, where Marianus Scotus ended, Florence continued the work on the same plan, noting events abroad, although chiefly concerned with English history. He brought his record down to 1117, the year before his death; and it was continued to 1141 by other brethren of his monastery.

Eadmer, one of the Benedictines of Canterbury, who says that from childhood he was in the habit of noting and reinembering events, wrote, in six books, a History of his own TimeHistoria Novorumfrom the Conquest to the year 1122. Eadmer wrote also a life of his friend Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, and other' ecclesiastical biographies. He was a bright enthusiastic churchman, who refused a bishopric in Scotland because he might not subject it to the Primacy of Canter. bury. Archbishop Anselm is the central figure of his History.

But the chief chroniclers who wrote in the time of Henry I., and also during the first seven years of the reign of Stephen, were Ordericus Vitalis and William of Malmesbury. Orderic was by about twenty years the elder man, but as authors they were exactly contemporary, and they both ceased to writeprobably, therefore, they both died-in the same year, 1142.

4. Ordericus Vitalis, born during the reign of William the Conqueror, near Shrewsbury, at Atcham on the Severn, was the son of Odelire, a married priest from Orleans, who had come over to England with Roger de Montgomery, made Earl of Shrewsbury. Orderic was the name given to the child by the English curate who baptised him. When Orderic was ten years old he had lost his mother, and his father retired, as a monk of the strict Benedictine rule, into a monastery which he had caused the earl to found. Half his estates Odelire gave to the abbcy, and the other half as a fief to be held under the abbey by his second son, Everard, who remained outside in the world. Orderic was taken into the monastery with a father who soon found it to be too much indulgence of the flesh to have a

beloved child for his companion. Odelire sent him, therefore, a boy of eleven, to the Benedictine abbey of Ouche, buried among forests in Normandy, and known afterwards by its founder's name, as the Abbey of St. Evroult. There the child, in his twelfth year, received the tonsure on the day of the Feast of St. Maurice, and changed his lay name of Orderic for that of Vitalis, who was one of the two lieutenants of St. Maurice, named with him in the Church celebration of their martyrdom with the whole Roman legion under their command. Ordericus Vitalis spent all the rest of his life at St. Evroult, where there was a great library, as simply as the venerable Bede had spent his life at Jarrow. His work was an Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, in thirteen books. It begins with brief compilation, and becomes full from the year 1084, early in the seventh book. The first two books, written while Orderic was at work upon a later portion of his narrative, gave a compilation of Church History from the birth of Christ to the year 855; with the addition of a list of Popes from that date to the year 1142. The next four books, setting out with the foundation of monasteries in Normandy, are a history of the Abbey of St. Evroult, and of ccclesiastical affairs immediately concerning it. This was the part of the work first written. Then come the seven books (vii.-xiii.) which are now most to be valued, giving Orderic's conscientious and trustworthy, though confused record of the political events of his own time in Normandy and England. He is chronicler, not historian; shows no artistic faculty in the arrangement of his work. But it abounds in trustworthy suggestive facts, genuine copies of letters, epitaphs, and proceedings in council; shows good sense, as well as piety, in its judgments, and some skilful suggestion of character in the speeches which the author now and then attributes to his heroes. The time of Orderic's death is inferred from the date of the conclusion of his history, 1142, when he was sixty-seven years old.

5. The artistic faculty wanting in Orderic was not wanting in William of Malmesbury, who almost rose from the chronicler into the historian. He was born probably about the year 1095 and of his parents one was English and one Norman. He went as a boy into the monastery at Malmesbury, was known there as an enthusiast for books, sought, bought, and read them, and gave all the intervals between religious exercises to his active literary work. He was made librarian at Malmesbury, and would not be made abbot. Robert, Earl of Gloucester, that 45

TO A.D. 1142] ROGER INFANS. ATHELARD natural son of Henry I. who fought afterwards for his sister against King Stephen, was a man of refined taste, and, among our nobles, then the great patron of letters. To him William of Malinesbury dedicated his chief work, the History of the Kings of England (“De Gestis Regum"), as well as other writings. The History of English Kings is in five books, beginning with the arrival of the First English in 449, reaching to the Norman Conquest by the close of Book 2, giving the third book to William the Conqueror, the fourth to William Rufus, and the fifth to Henry I., as far as the twentieth year of his reign. Under a separate title, Historia NovellaModern History - William, at the request of Robert of Gloucester, continued his record of current events, in three short books, to the year 1142, where he broke off in the story of his patron's contest with King Stephen at Matilda's escape over the ice from Oxford to Wallingford. “This,” he said, “I purpose describing more fully if, by God's permission, I shall ever learn the truth of it from those who were present.” As he wrote no more, the time of William of Malmesbury's death is inferred from the date of the conclusion of his history, 1142, when his age was about forty-seven. So able a scholar had, of course, many commissions from the other monasteries to produce Lives of their Saints. He wrote also in four books a History of the Prelates of EnglandDe Gestis Pontificum."

6. We have interesting evidence of the impulse given by the Arabs to the advance of Science, in the literature of this country during the reign of Henry I. The old school may be said to be represented by continued work on the calculation of Easter, and in 1124 Roger Infans, who says that he was then very young, produced a Computus, following and connecting that of Gerland. The new school is now represented in its first faint dawn by Athelard of Bath, born some time in the reign of William the Conqueror. He studied at Tours and Laon, taught at Laon, and went eastward ; made his way to Greece and Asia Minor, perhaps even to Bagdad; and coming home to England in the reign of Henry I., on his way home taught the Arabian sciences, which he then discussed in a book of Questions in Nature_“ Quæstiones Naturales”. In this book Athelard represented himself, on his return to England, hearing from his friends their complaint of “violent princes, vinolent chiefs, mercenery judges," and more ills of life. These ills, he said, he should cure by forgetting them, and withdrawing his mind to the

study of Nature. His nephew, interested also in the causes of things, asked Athelard for an account of his Arabian studies, and the book was his answer. He had left his nephew, seven years ago, a youth in his class at Laon. It had been agreed then that the uncle should seek knowledge of the Arabs, and the nephew be taught by the Franks. The nephew doubted the advantage of his uncle's course of study. What could he show for it? To give proof of its value, Athelard proceeded to results: “And because," he said, “it is the inborn vice of this generation to think nothing discovered by the moderns worth receiving; whence it comes that if you wish to publish anything of your own you say, putting it off on another person, It was Somebody who said it, not I-50, that I may not go quite unheard, Mr. Somebody is father to all I know, not I.” He then proposed and discussed sixty-seven Questions in Nature, beginning with the grass, and rising to the stars, the nephew solving problems in accordance with the knowledge of the West, the uncle according to knowledge of the East, where the Arabians were then bringing a free spirit of inquiry to the mysteries of science. Athelard of Bath wrote also on the Abacus and the Astrolabe, translated an Arabic work upon Astronomy, and was the first bringer of Euclid into England by a translation, which remained the text-book of succeeding mathematicians, and was among the works first issued from the printing-press.

7. Athelard of Bath expressed his love of science in a little allegory, De Eodem et Diverso“On the Same and the Different” -published before 1116. The taste for allegory was now gathering strength in Europe. It had arisen in the early Church, especially among the Greek Fathers, with ingenious interpretation of the Scriptures. Bede, following this example, showed how in Solomon's Temple the windows represented holy teachers through whom enters the light of heaven, and the cedar was the incorruptible beauty of the virtues. When the monasteries passed from their active work as missionary stations into intellectual strife concerning orthodoxy of opinions, volleys of subtle interpretation and strained parallel were exchanged continually by the combatants. As the monasteries became rich, wealth brought them leisure and temptation of the flesh, but still they were centres of intelligence; and as, in Southern Europe, along the coasts of the Mediterranean, contact with tuneful rhyming Arabs was awakening a soft strain of love music, the educated men of leisure in the monasteries must also exercise their skill. TO A.D. 1147]

GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH

47

Love, it was said, after the Arabs, is the only noble theme of song. We also, said the church-bound, obey poet's law and sing of love ; but when we name a lady we mean Holy Church, or we mean the Virgin, or we mean some virtue. It is earthly love to the ear, but there is always an underlying spiritual sense. Thus we shall find, in a few generations more, the taste for allegory colouring almost the whole texture of European literature, and then remaining for a long time dominant. Athelard's little allegory is the hrst example in our literature of what afterwards became one of the commonest of allegoric forms. He represents Philosophy and Philocosmia, or love of worldly enjoyment, as having appeared to him, when he was a student on the banks of the Loire, in the form of two women, who dis. puted for his affections until he threw himself into the arms of Philosophy, drove away her rival with disgrace, and sought the object of his choice with an ardour that carried him in search of knowledge to the distant Arabs.

8. We now pass from the literature of the reign of Henry I. to that of Stephen (1135—1154), remembering that the last seven years of the work of Ordericus Vitalis and William of Malmesbury, and some years of the work of Athelard of Bath, fall within Stephen's reign. Five years after Orderic and William of Malmesbury had ceased to write, Geoffrey of Monmouth completed his Latin History of British Kings. The patron of William of Malmesbury was the patron also of Geoffrey of Monmouth; the “History of the Kings of England” and the " History of British Kings” are both dedicated to Robert Earl of Gloucester. In one of these works William of Malmesbury brought chronicle writing to perfection; in the other Geoffrey of Monmouth produced out of the form of the chronicle the spirit that was to animate new forms of literature, and opened a spring of poetry that we find running through the fields of English Literature in all after time.

Geoffrey was a Welsh priest, in whom there was blood of the Cymry quickening his genius. He had made a translation of the Prophecies of Merlin, when, as he tells us, Walter Calenius, Archdeacon of Oxford, found in Brittany an ancient History of Britain, written in the Cymric tongue. He knew no man better able to translate it than Geoffrey of Monmouth, who had credit as an elegant writer of Latin verse and prose. Geoffrey undertook the task, and formed accordingly his History of British Kings in four books, dedicated to Robert Earl of Gloucester.

« PreviousContinue »